I love a good monster movie. On occasion they resurrect childhood joy, watching massive creatures stomping on skyscrapers and battling one another to determine hierarchical dominance. All Kaiju movies deal with the same problem: The movie has to be about people. Boring, non city-destroying people sit back to offer breaks between giant monsters being awesome. The people try to provide some perspective as they deal with ramifications of gigantic monsters. But are the humans really necessary?
I kept thinking about this while watching “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” a woefully imperfect movie that exposes a lot of the failings of a modern Kaiju film. The truth is, I would much rather watch an edited version of the movie that focuses on the manic insanity of giant monster fights. I’m not suggesting cut all the humans out completely, but filmmakers could just stop trying to develop human characters. I still want to see screaming crowds of people fleeing in terror, and the occasional military personnel shouting orders and screaming in terror as they are blasted out of the sky by laser breath.
The bulk of the movie revolves around the plot of a secret group of scientists working under the moniker “Monarch.” They have been secretly researching the alarming number of supersized, city-stomping creatures. Doctor Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) has developed technology that allows her to communicate with the “Titans.” For some reason she decides the world-destroying creatures need to be released so the virus that is humanity can be erradicated and Earth can be saved. Makes total sense. Her estranged husband (Kyle Chandler) tries cobbling a plan to stop her—and, for added emotional tension, there’s a teenage daughter involved (Millie Bobby Brown) so millennial ticket-buyers recognize at least one person in the cast.
I understand the “why” behind these choices. Traditionally, movies have rules of structure and character progressions. There are specific requirements for protagonists and antagonists, but rarely are the monsters the protagonists. The movies have to be flooded with scientists, military and commoners to bring some “humanity” to the conflict.
Monster movies are treated like disaster films, wherein human characters have to deal with the fallout of an uncontrollable event. That angle has led to a lot of similar, uninspired monster movies. Even calling the movie “Godzilla” rings false. Legendary’s first attempt at a Godzilla should have been called “Bryan Cranston, His Boring Son & Eventually Godzilla.” The sequel suffers from the same problem: Monsters are treated like cutaways and trying to shoehorn humanity into it feels redundant and utterly pointless.
The best things about this “Godzilla” sequel are the amazing visuals and stellar score. When the movie just focuses on skyscraper-sized monsters beating the hell out of each other, it’s one hell of a spectacle.
I think it’s time for the monster movie to evolve into something less formulaic. The genre is in desperate need for innovation. Maybe it’s a Terrance Mallick-inspired surrealist piece where we see forces of nature working their way through the world; only moving in and out of the life of those about to be stepped on or eviscerated by the far more fascinating, ferocious, fiery fiends.
There’s enough epic action to justify a trip to the theater to witness some truly enormous and entertaining scenes. There was an occasional twinge of old-school monster movie mayhem at seeing some of my favorite cinematic Goliaths transformed from rubber to mind-blowing computer-generated realism. There are a lot of talented actors trying to elevate the material, most notably the great Bradley Whitford, Thomas Middleditch and Ken Watanbe. Each manage to bring some scenery-chewing goodness to the proceedings. While the second attempt at a modern “Godzilla” might not exactly be “King,” it’s a modestly entertaining movie with some good popcorn thrills for fans of the genre.