How do you know it's summer? Well, a good barometer might be when CGI budgets start blooming and giant storms caused by skyscraper-sized monsters start hitting North America. And by that measure, summer is in full swing as “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” stomps into theaters. Director Michael Dougherty's follow-up to the 2014 film starring everyone's favorite radioactive lizard is about what you expect from this type of movie. Unfortunately that cuts both ways — while Godzilla proves to be the king of the monsters in the monster bouts we came to see, his human counterparts get the short shrift.
In the wake of Godzilla's previous battle that leveled San Francisco, the existence of giant monsters, dubbed Titans, has the public and governments in shock. The U.S. Senate is holding closed-door hearings where it demands answers from Monarch, the crypto-zoological organization that has been studying these creatures for decades. At the same time, Monarch scientist Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) announces to her daughter, Madison (Millie Bobbie Brown), that she had completed work on an important piece of equipment to better help communicate and soothe these giant beasts.
She has some initial success until ecoterrorist Jonah Alan (Charles Dance) storms into her lab and takes her and Madison hostage for his own nefarious purposes. To help find her and understand what the technology might do, Monarch turns to Russell's estranged Titan-hating husband, Mark (Kyle Chandler). He agrees, reluctantly, but warns them of the dire consequences of not trying to wipe out all these monsters as soon as they are discovered.
As can only be expected from a movie with the subtitle “King of the Monsters,” the Titans are the real stars of this show. And, boy, does Dougherty ever try to emphasize this point. There is a lot of monster-on-monster fighting, usually preceded by several minutes of ominous music and seismic activity to make a grand reveal of which giant creature is arriving next. I'm not knocking monster battles, sometimes that's all you need for a little escapism, and Godzilla's final showdown with his ultimate nemesis is what summer blockbuster dreams are made out of.
And yet, by focusing so much on the beasts, Dougherty and the script loses the, well, humanity of it all. There are some compelling storylines here — strained family bonds, redemption, a life's work, clashing ideologies, the military option always looming in the background — all of which get buried underneath the rockslide caused by the next contender emerging from the ground. The characters seem to zip across the world, following Godzilla, without having gone anywhere themselves. I was struck by how many times the actor's job was to look up in awe as rain lashed against them.
Worst yet, toward the end of the second act, the script starts tacking on plot points that are “explained” with a line or two. I suppose these were meant to explain a little more about these creatures, their origins and behavior, but all it did was make you feel that the characters were making a big deal out of things that didn't really matter. Because in the end, it all comes down to a monster battle anyway.
At least the cast was top notch. Chandler has always been a good everyman that we can get behind and, for most of the film, he does seem like the only one thinking things out. Ken Watanabe reprises his role from the previous film and lends some gravitas. Thomas Middleditch and Bradley Whitford are in the mix too as Monarch employees (though what their jobs actually are is not very well defined), with Whitford in particular standing in the comic relief position. They are never given all too much to do, but at least they look like they are having fun.
There's not much more to say about “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” besides that if you want to watch giant monsters beat up on each other, have at it. Just fair warning, you might get annoyed with all the scenes with the human characters they just kept stuffing in there for filling.
David Rookhuyzen is a freelance movie reviewer for the Green Valley News.