Night sequences in the final season of “Game of Thrones” inspired a litany of complaints from fans and critics that they couldn’t see what the hell was going on. Now we have “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” — and with it, fresh inspiration for squinting. If you thought you couldn’t make out what was happening during The Battle of Winterfell, prepare thyself for an entire film built on the concept that, when giant monsters battle each other, they actually create tropical storms, gusting rain, and a baffling amount of cloud cover.
Bad weather is the least of the problems that beset Michael Dougherty’s inept sequel, the latest film in Warner Bros.’ growing MonsterVerse. Picking up five years after Gareth Edwards’ superior 2014 feature “Godzilla,” the new film attempts to imagine a post-monster (or, in “Godzilla” parlance, post-Titan) world. San Francisco is a memorial, the planet is dotted with secretive outposts run by “crypto-zoological agency” Monarch, and the government is hellbent on enacting a plan to kill the remaining monsters.
None of this is terribly involving, so Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) who, along with her teenage daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) and estranged husband Mark (Kyle Chandler), have been shoe-horned into the mythos of the MonsterVerse in an effort to make audiences care about the tragedy that broke up the family … just as Godzilla and friends destroyed San Francisco. (It does not work.) Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (a returning Ken Watanabe) still loves the big monster who seems to maybe love humans back. And Dr. Russell has invented ORCA, a machine meant to “speak” to various Titans by mashing up their “bio-acoustics” like the world’s strangest mixtape. This puts her in the crosshairs of rogue eco-terrorist Jonah Alan (Charles Dance), who wants to use her contraption to, well, it’s not entirely clear.
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Like so many things that unfold in “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” it really doesn’t matter. After Emma and Madison are kidnapped by Jonah, there’s a nonsensically flip-flopping character (not to be revealed here, as it’s something of a major spoiler) who sets about using the ORCA to wake up the rest of the planet’s Titans, many of whom have been contained in Monarch’s various outposts. (Why? How? When? Who knows?) Drawn from the Thanos school of philosophy, said character believes that letting loose the Titans will bring balance to an ailing world. In Dr. Serizawa’s parlance, it’s time to “let them fight” and see what shakes out.
Fight they do. As the film’s many monsters hash it out, the human contingent hem and haw about how to stop this terrible turn of events. In addition to returning stars like Sally Hawkins and David Strathairn, there’s an eye-popping set of supporting talent including Ziyi Zhang, Thomas Middleditch, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Anthony Ramos, and a truly wacky Bradley Whitford. (They’re largely introduced during one exposition-packed meeting that happens well into the film’s first act, setting the stage for audiences to wonder just who else might emerge at any given time.)
As for the Titans, we’ve got Mothra, a stunning giant moth with an allegiance to Godzilla; the three-headed dragon-like King Ghidorah; and winged Rodan. There’s also an impressive selection of lesser behemoths, but most of them appear during understandably panicked newscasts that appear to be filmed through Vaseline. At least the Titan faceoffs are something to behold, despite the boneheaded decision to set so many of the film’s juiciest battles in a monsoon. Occasionally bogged down by human POVs, with the camera peering though portholes and helicopter windows, Dougherty and his team do at least wisely zoom out for a series of wide shots that remind both the audience and the human characters just how massive these monsters are, and how terrifying it can be when they fight.
As the Titans continue to rise, Mark and his band of Monarch pals (including at least one with a secret twin, a footnote revealed for no discernible reason) manage to be everywhere they need to be at any given moment, thanks to a massive super-speed jet that seems directly inspired by a similar vehicle in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” never met a sci-fi film it didn’t want to rip off — brace yourself for a dramatic sequence that pulls so liberally from “Armageddon” that we can only assume Michael Bay is readying a lawsuit — and the result is a sloppy, stitched-together offering with no sense of self.
At least Godzilla seems to remember who he is — all the better to gear up for the next MonsterVerse film: 2020’s “Godzilla vs. Kong” — and when the biggest monster of them all appears, he slips right back into his role as Earth’s most unlikely defender. Godzilla’s interest in saving humanity never made much sense, but it’s this CGI creation with no dialogue that gives the film the continuity and character it lacks elsewhere. When Godzilla lights up his nuke-powered tail and lets loose his interminable scream, for just a moment, the MonsterVerse has something to offer.
Warner Bros. will release “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” in theaters on Friday, May 31.