When I was, give or take, 10 years old, back in the late 1970s, I would watch Japanese monster movies every Sunday. One channel (of about four or five that were locally available in that televisual Dark Age) specialized in the genre. For this particular weekly segment, it relied mostly on Toho Studios creatures—Rodan, Mothra, and above all, Godzilla—although it occasionally dabbled in Gamera, a giant irradiated turtle offered up, remarkably, by a rival studio that had previously produced Rashomon.
The jewel in the crown, the movie I would wait on for months, was Destroy All Monsters, a mash-up in which Godzilla et al. united to fight a greater menace still: Ghidorah, a three-headed flying creature intent on destroying more than just Tokyo. (That city, I think it’s fair to say, was the unluckiest metropolis ever when it came to destruction via giant-monster attack.)
Godzilla: King of Monsters, the new $150-million-plus Warner Bros. movie, is more or less a remake of Destroy All Monsters. (The attorneys employed by the studio apparently opted for “less,” because Destroy All Monsters is not, to the best of my knowledge, cited anywhere in connection to the film.) The movie is also the third entry in the studio’s half-hearted effort to create a “cinematic universe,” à la Marvel Studios. It is hard to imagine a film failing more completely at its goal.
Let’s begin with the obvious: No significant character from the prior two MonsterVerse films—2014’s Godzilla and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island—makes an appearance in this one, unless you count Godzilla, whose name is right there in the title. Tertiary stars reappear (Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn), but otherwise the film, co-written and directed by Michael Dougherty, could hardly be more deracinated from its theoretical forebears.
Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga star as divorced parents whose son was killed in the battle between Godzilla and the MUTOs of the previous Godzilla movie. Millie Bobby Brown (of Stranger Things fame) plays their daughter, providing just the right proportion of unnecessary family drama to fill out a wildly overlong 132-minute film. Farmiga’s character unites with an ex-military ecoterrorist (played by Charles Dance, looking as if he’s still angry about being crossbowed on the toilet in Game of Thrones) to wake up “titans”—i.e., giant monsters—in order to cull humankind to environmentally sustainable levels. This goes precisely as well as you might expect it to.
Among the many idiocies of the film is that it toggles back and forth carelessly between the ideas that its monsters were created by human beings’ nuclear experimentation and that they served as some prehuman, eco-happy balancing act. So we are treated to Mothra (both larval and, later, moth-y), Rodan (essentially a football-field-sized pteranodon), and the tripartite dragon Ghidorah, along with assorted other not-worthy-of-a-name monstrosities. One bears a notable resemblance to a giant snow crab.
I suppose it might be considered a spoiler to say who among these gargantuans wins its ultimate fight. But then again, it’s right there in the title. The biggest loser is, without a doubt, the city of Boston, still reeling from its five-game knockout in the NBA playoffs, only to be flattened once again by a horde of giants. For the rest of us, we have the words of an in-movie newscaster: “This is the single greatest disaster in human history.” It is, as a scan of the front page of any day’s newspaper would attest, an exaggeration. But it would not be out of place on a movie poster.