Review: Politically Daft ‘Godzilla 2’ Offers Kaiju Action in Digital Muck
Godzilla: King of the Monsters makes its intention explicit in the title itself. That you have come to the theatre for some kaiju action, and the film will honour you in that respect (part of studio’s MonsterVerse). In fact, you do get the monsters and a lot of them, fighting it out in our world. But.
Clearly, the studio has addressed the big complaint about Gareth Edwards’s 2014 reboot - that viewers didn’t get to see enough of the mythical beast. But this grievance has been addressed through a digital blur, and a script so sloppy that the silly 90s called back, urgently.
Michael Dougherty (Trick 'r Treat, Krampus) taking on the mantle from Edwards, begins his film in the present day, five years after the events that made the world realise that leviathans were in fact real. As it turns out, there are more than a dozen of them in dormant states at various parts of the world.
The main story is about Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) who gives us the film’s McGuffin, a device called Orca that can communicate with the monsters. Emma is estranged from her husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) since their marriage developed cracks following the demise of their child during the events of the last movie (Godzilla vs MUTO). We learn that Emma is better at communicating with the beasts than her own surviving daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown from Stranger Things).
An eco-terrorist lands up to spoil the party, and one by one the beasts wake up to run amok.
The film keeps referring to the monsters as titans, and a bunch of actors start doling out exposition at wholesale rates. The tragedy of the whole proposition is that it employs a talented bunch, a very talented bunch (Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr. David Strathairn, Zhang Ziyi, Ken Watanabe) and wastes them completely.
Following the titans, these actors whoosh around the world (from America to Antarctica) beating geographical logic and all they do is stare at computer screens, look at things or the sky wide-eyed, and exchange ridiculous lines of dialogue.
The script (Dougherty co-wrote it with Max Borenstein, and Zach Shields) tries to argue that humans are infections to this planet, and that these prehistoric behemoths are its antibodies. This argument amps itself to laughable peaks when the film reveals its big twist by making one of its chief characters Thanos like, who wants to bring about a natural order to restore the planet. Since the high stakes begin with this turn of the plot, it becomes impossible to take the proceedings seriously.
You can look for subversive theories in Dougherty’s take. Is he going for a sly satire by making humans believe in one supreme being as their saviour?
But when we enter an ancient underwater city like Atlantis and witness a Japanese man detonate a nuclear weapon, it all becomes clear. The irony stabs itself to death considering Godzilla came to life in Japan as a metaphor for nuclear holocaust. Dougherty, like the industry he belongs to, displays a bagful of brazen ignorance about the rest of the world.
Finally, the monsters. How do they play out? You get a giant moth in Mothra, a volcanic flying hawk in Rodan, and the most ferocious of them all, King Ghidorah, a fire breathing three-headed dragon who in the film’s parlance is the alpha battling for supremacy against our favourite lizard.
Even if you look away from the misdirection of the plot, the possibility of so many big beasts exchanging blows should be worth your time. But the skirmishes play out during nights through rain and storm, so much so that you battle for clarity along with the monsters.
For all the complaints against it, Gareth Edwards’ reboot at least had not just ambition, but also a well-anchored sense of scale. And the Spielbergian school of cinematic foreplay only made it stand out so distinctly. Dougherty neither has the visual aspiration of his predecessor nor does he possess the campy cool vein to make the movie fun. Its political daftness only makes it worse.
Go watch the trailer of the film again. It serves the universe better than the full blown feature.
(The writer is a journalist, a screenwriter, and a content developer who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. He tweets @RanjibMazumder)