The essence of a Godzilla movie: Look up. Gape. Run. Scream. Property damage.
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” hits all those expected beats.
Lots of running. Tons of screaming. As for property damage … Oh my. Tough break, Washington, D.C. Gosh, Fenway Park. We hardly knew ye.
Yes, but is the picture any good? Uhhh. It’s a Godzilla movie. So I’m going to say, “not really.”
Technically, of course, Godzilla has come a long way since the guy-in-the-rubber-suit days of the 1950s, when he first saw the light of a projector bulb. With Hollywood taking the reins from his originator, Tokyo’s Toho company, and throwing multimillions of the latest CG technology at him, he’s now one impressive sight. Massive, scaly, weighty: tons of reptilian menace on big clawed feet.
And his Toho cohorts have gotten similar upgrades this time as well: Rodan, Mothra and, biggest and baddest of all, Ghirdorah, the three-headed, fire-breathing flying dragon. “Monster Zero,” the humans in the picture dub him. The alpha-est of alpha creatures. And boy, does he hate Godzilla.
The feeling is mutual.
Around the globe these two go, from Antarctica to the U.S. and stops in between, grappling, biting, crushing and whaling the living bejesus out of each other. Puny humans stampede in terror. As an undercard, Mothra and Rodan battle and batter.
Curiously though, director Michael Dougherty and his filmmaking team obscure the battle footage in darkness, smoke and downpours, making murky much of the imagery. This was also a problem with 2014’s “Godzilla,” from director Gareth Edwards, the opening salvo in what’s being called Monsterverse, a joint franchise effort from Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment. King Kong is part of that -verse, and the end of this movie unmistakably teases to a sequel in which the two big guys square off on Skull Island.
The picture elaborates on a theme that’s been central to the series since the 1954 original movie in which Godzilla, or Gojira in Japanese, was brought to life by atom-bomb tests. This “Godzilla” puts forth the proposition that mankind is the real monster. A scientist (played by Vera Farmiga) calls humankind — polluter, overpopulator, warmonger — an “infection.” She, along with an eco-terrorist (Charles Dance), believe the megamonsters are nature’s way of controlling the infection by killing off troublesome human beings. In order to save the planet, humanity has got to go.
Opposing that point of view is a scientist (Ken Watanabe, back from seeing service in the 2014 movie) who argues for coexisting with the monsters, Godzilla, especially.
Meanwhile, Kyle Chandler, playing the Farmiga character’s ex-husband, keeps popping up at many key junctures frantically and ineffectively searching for his ex-wife and their daughter (Millie Bobby Brown), who’s being dragged along by Mom in her save-the-planet efforts. Dad is underfoot of the military’s Godzilla-fighting efforts more often than not.
As usual, the military is useless against the monsters. Only a monster can defeat a monster, and for a while Godzilla gets the worst of it from Ghidorah. At one point, he’s down for the count.
But revive he does. Godzilla after all, never dies. Especially not when a matchup with King Kong beckons.
★★ “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” with Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance. Directed by Michael Dougherty, from a screenplay by Dougherty and Zach Shields. 132 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sequences of monster action, violence and destruction and some language. Opens May 31 at multiple theaters.