For most of GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS, the eponymous monsters pretty much go about their business without taking any notice of the small, scuttling humans that flee in their wake. For their part, the humans, when they are not scuttling, are providing the exposition between bouts of special effects eruptions. Hence, if you don’t know going in that Mothra is not only the queen of monsters, but also on the right side of said monsters’ attitude towards the scuttling humans, or that Monarch is the agency in charge of keeping tabs on the monsters waking from their millennia-long naps, no worries. All is made abundantly and relentlessly clear, livened only with occasional, and much welcome, digressions from techies Thomas Middleditch and Bradley Whitford holding forth on monster mating videos and the hollow earth theory.
This sequel to 2014’s GODZILLA picks up with a flashback to the devastation visited upon San Francisco by the monsters, and with mama Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) screaming in the flaming rubble for her only son. He, alas, is no more, and five years on, neither is her marriage to Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler). The estrangement also includes their daughter, Maddie (Millie Bobbie Brown), who is increasingly worried about her mother’s obsession with having meaningful dialogue with the monsters via a nifty audio device called the Orca. She should be. Mom’s judgement is not everything it could me. She has, after all, not only whisked Maddie to a top-secret Monarch installation, she has given the teen access to the parts of the base where its monster cocoon lives. As the monster cocoon is waking up from its hibernation. It doesn’t make much sense, but then, so little else does here.
Designed to be competing tropes of bombastic action and tedious exposition, the entire effort boils down to the fate of the world being determined by how well mom and dad and Maddie handle their domestic issues. Events depend on coincidences of uncomfortably improbable proportions, and travel between distant points happening almost instantaneously, and not the ones Whitford credits to the putative network of tunnels through the hollow earth. How there are tunnels in a >hollow< earth are never explored, but there is a set-up for another sequel, so maybe there will be more about that later.
But I digress.
Ken Watanabe returns as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, a man given to wry quips and an absolute belief in Godzilla’s protective nature when it comes to the scuttling humans. Just go with it. Characters who have spent five years with a giant, radioactive lizard on the loose may have succumbed to a form of Stockholm Syndrome. As an outside observer, I can only think that Godzilla is less interested in us than he is in defeating the evil King Ghidorah, who wants to take over as the alpha monster. At least, that’s what they expository dialogue reveals in yet another interlude of chatter in front of brightly lit screens and hi-tech machines that do everything but go ping.
Charles Dance shows up to bring his Lannister brand of evil as an eco-terrorist, and Sally Hawkins chirps her way through a perfunctory role as yet another scientist in the room, while David Strathairn looks suitably bemused as the admiral intoning such time-worn mantras as “may God have mercy on our souls” as things become progressively bleaker.
At least the visuals are rousing. Cars fly, lighting fills the sky, and so do monsters as they emerge from spewing lava or create ice chasms as deep as they are long. And they are very long. King Ghidorah is particularly well-rendered, with three heads that snipe fitfully at one another as they squabble over food (scurrying humans) and take on Godzilla himself. Also notable is how effectively a moth is made to look genuinely scary, even with the aetherial glowing wings.
The rest is just so much dreck, despite the environmental message. This a film where the restraining field is activated after a monster is revived, and the emotional arc of any given human is less fully realized than the irritation these monsters so obviously feel about having to interact with any of the scurrying humans. Kudos to a cast that, despite everything, still goes full bore melodrama when there is nothing consistent in what makes their characters tick. Next time, let’s just let the monsters out to play without the distraction for them or for us of those scurrying humans.