Can humanity co-exist with the natural world that surrounds it? And if not, what are the resulting consequences? Those are the central questions behind this year’s monster battle royal, Godzilla: King of the Monsters. It is an interesting — and increasingly relevant — message to place at the heart of this franchise, one that goes back to the very first Godzilla movie. The 1954 classic was rooted in humanity’s creation of the atomic bomb, one of the more devastating ways to kill large groups of people. While there is an attempt to add some meaning to the larger than life monster battle in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, it comes out muddled due to the poorly written human characters.
The thematic concerns of the film are rather ambitious — and for that King of the Monsters deserves a little praise. Godzilla: King of the Monsters attempts to explore the conflicts inherent to humans co-inhabiting the earth with giant monsters. Humans have been the dominant species on the planet for a long stretch of time, so the return of the titans — which began with 2014’s Godzilla — complicates that human driven world view. Godzilla is physically too big to ignore, a force of nature that humanity must reckon with in some way. This meditation on how humans can live alongside the titans is an interesting idea to explore in a Godzilla film, and is well- represented in the film’s direction.
Each battle between the monsters in this film always occurs with humans in the near vicinity, showing just how little control humanity has over the titans, nor the natural forces they represent. The balance between human needs and the whims of nature is a difficult one to maintain. With increased efforts to deal with pollution and greater awareness of the issue, King of the Monsters chose a very relevant issue to tackle in its story. It’s an ambitious concept to build a Godzilla film around and is something worthy of admiration. The only problem is that to fully explore this theme fully, human characters must become an integral part of the story — and the human cast in this film is quite dull.
Despite being enjoyable as a visual spectacle, a recurring problem with the Monsterverse films are the lack of effort put into the characterization of the human characters. The monster tends to receive more characterization than any of the humans, the best example being Kong in his self-titled film. The great ape was a tragic and lonely figure, whereas his supporting cast was a group of cardboard cut-outs. King of the Monsters’ cast of human characters is more of the same, despite the film sporting an excellent group of actors.
The only characters with any sort of narrative arc are the Russell family — though it isn’t very compelling. The family drama, which is connected to Godzilla and the other monsters in the film, isn’t fully developed. It primarily exists to create a scenario in which the various monsters on earth need to fight each other. This focus on leading audiences to the next monster fight means the characters are not well defined and their relationships to each other are very archetypal.
It can be said that the point of the Monsterverse films are primarily about seeing Godzilla and his fellow titans clash over major cities, but King of the Monsters relies on humanity far too much for that to be the case. Character sacrifices occur that hold little to no emotional weight for the audience, and during fight sequences the film constantly cuts to the human drama occurring below the giant monsters. It is rather irksome to have the not compelling human drama take focus from Godzilla pummeling other monsters into the ground.
The Monsterverse films are largely about how humans interact with and perceive these ancient beasts. With that in mind, the human characters are essential to this film’s narrative structure because the story being told is not solely centered around Godzilla and the other monsters. Therefore, a poorly developed human cast is ultimately harmful to the film as a whole.
The characterization of the human characters is also weakened by the over-reliance on exposition in King of the Monsters. Exposition is a necessity in film’s of this genre, but it shouldn’t be the primary use of dialogue in a film. Between long pieces of exposition and frequent quips, Godzilla: King of the Monsters lacks almost any form of genuine human communication. This creates a problem when many of the film’s emotional beats rely heavily on character relationships. It also harms the film’s central argument, with the script favoring a rather long description of humanity’s abuses of the environment, rather than actually showing said abuses and having characters react to those abuses.
Where the film does succeed is in the looks of the monsters themselves, the visuals spender of their physical conflicts, and some impressive cinematography. The monster designs are great, with the film’s concept designers using each monster’s visual look to signify their role in the story. Ghidorah’s design is inherently more sinister than any of the other titans featured in the series, allowing him to appear as the easily identifiable villain. Another example can be found in King of the Monsters’ more heroic titans. Despite there being no string correlation between moths and lizards, the film uses color to create a visual association between Mothra and Godzilla. It’s a simple way to create an onscreen relationship between the two monsters, and is far more effective than any piece of exposition.
The battles between the titans are, as mentioned earlier, large in scale, emphasizing the power each beast commands. The larger cast of monsters in this film and the the creativity of the production team keep the battles between the monster from going stale. As a result, none of the fight scenes feel repetitive, with each titanic clash engaging the audience’s attention. King of the Monsters has everything one would want out of a Godzilla film, and it is welcome after the lack of monster action in 2014’s Godzilla.
Godzilla King of the Monsters is a visually stunning film that will appeal to fans of the giant lizard. It also carries a deeper meaning behind its monster battles, which does add a level of depth that the first film lacked. However, the lack of interesting human characters is becoming more apparent as the they becoming increasingly central to the Monsterverse films’ story-lines.