Lacking the elegant simplicity of its 2014 predecessor and the all-out fun factor of Kong: Skull Island, King of the Monsters is a major misstep for the expanding MonsterVerse. Whilst we do get moments of exhilaration – as you’d expect from a film featuring a giant lizard firing nuclear energy out of its mouth at the three-headed hydra-like King Ghidorah – they’re inexplicably too few and far between.
Instead, in an attempt to add to the human drama that the series has thus far largely lacked, it over-complicates its plot to the point of incoherence. In theory, it should be simple enough; humankind meddles with nature in a Thanos-esque attempt to thin out Earth’s population. But in practice, it struggles to convey even the most-straightforward of its ideas without twisting itself in knots. Almost all of the complications arise from a lack of clarity in the unevenly written characters. Scene after scene they make baffling choices as they chase the film’s central monster summoning MacGuffin, those decisions, in turn, muddying the overall narrative. Rather than the humans providing the emotional “in” as intended, they do little but distract from the actual drawing points of the movie, i.e. Godzilla and his posse of Titans. No better is this highlighted than at one point late on where, just as Godzilla is about to throw down in battle, a helicopter swoops into shot and blots out the action. It’s exasperating.
Much more so, when you consider the stellar cast. Sally Hawkins, Thomas Middleditch and Ken Watanabe feed off scraps, Watanabe in particular given barely anything more than the task of saying “Godzilla” repeatedly in close up. Charles Dance is all but forgotten by the close. Vera Farmiga’s performance is solid in and of itself, but there’s only so much she can do with her character’s confused arc. Leaving just Millie Bobby Brown and Kyle Chandler alone carrying the torch for the movie’s human contingent with any credit. Which doesn’t bode well for the moments of sacrifice and redemption that fall as flat as pancakes when they arrive as a result.
Thankfully, when we do get the actual monsters they’re realised quite impressively. Each creature is a behemoth against the cityscapes which they do battle in. The aforementioned lightning-spewing King Ghidorah, the beautifully vibrant Mothra, and the juggernaut that is Godzilla take the starring roles, but they’re just three of many, each unique in design and a spectacle to behold. Their action setpieces aren’t always the most smoothly executed – choppy editing at times making it difficult to track who’s who and where they are in relation to one another – but when they do click, they do so in style. The final Godzilla vs Ghidorah showdown is everything that I’d hoped for heading into the film, a destructive wrecking ball of a tussle that I only wish there had been more of.
For sure it’s a concern that three films into the series we’re lacking in any throughline characters of note or depth, but on the evidence of this, I’ll stick with the monsters every day.
Rating (out of 5):