There are two things I can say with confidence having walked out of Godzilla II: King of the Monsters.
One: apparently, no-one other than Marvel have figured out how to force a cinematic universe into existence.
Two: director Michael Dougherty, as much as he would love to be, is no Steven Spielberg.
Godzilla II isn’t so much a disaster movie – like Gareth Edward’s towering, evocative 2014 predecessor – as a disaster.
On paper, there’s no reason that this couldn’t have been a launching pad for an exciting MonsterVerse, tossing iconic kaiju like Mothra, Ghidorah and Rodan into the mix alongside Godzilla (and, eventually, King Kong, who’s set to join the franchise next year after his introduction in 2017’s Kong: Skull Island.) There’s a murderer’s row of capable character actors on-screen – with the returning Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins joined by the likes of Charles Dance, Vera Farmiga, Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford and Ziyi Zhang – and honestly, who doesn’t want to see fuck-off big monsters punch each other for a couple hours?
But there’s no spark, no purpose, no joy nor horror here. I wasn’t expecting a film along the lines of Edwards’ first film – which I described in my original review as inverting “Spielberg’s people-first formula” – and Dougherty’s instincts, to instead focus on spectacle and wonder following in Ser Speilbergo’s footsteps, are in the right place. He pays frequent homage to Spielberg’s filmography; mostly Jurassic Park, but there’s also glimpses of Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and even A.I. here. But he’s stifled by muddy CGI – obscured and obfuscated by snow and water and shitty lighting, much like the last American attempt at Godzilla from decades earlier – and an inability to stage interesting action sequences.
Maybe it’s a mistake to place the blame at Dougherty’s feet. Bloated blockbusters like these come from committees; perhaps I should instead be pointing fingers at the overworked and underpaid effects team, or the three credited editors, who consistently smother the film’s rhythms and undermine any attempts to create momentum. (I suspect there’s post-production issues here, too; the mid-film scene of Mothra’s rebirth features a character whose inclusion is utterly inexplicable if you’re expecting a semblance of continuity.)
I dunno, though. Dougherty does carry a story and screenplay credit (alongside Zach Shields), and this is a truly dire script. Those oh-so capable character actors are tasked with little more than yelling exposition at one other and occasionally tearing up because I guess it was time for some ham-fisted attempts at evoking emotion? The climactic action scene establishes global stakes but has its military-clad heroes and heroines spending half their time trying to save Millie Bobby Brown as a city crumbles around them.
This is a film about mega-monsters wreaking havoc at a catastrophic scale, but there’s no weight to this thing; it’s limp and incoherent. It’s a real achievement to make million-dollar monsters beating each other up this boring, but by jove – they’ve done it.