By Brian Lowry, CNN
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” rekindles a 1950s subtitle, but this latest addition to Warner Bros.’ ambitious plans to create a lucrative “Monsterverse” generates more smoke than actual fire.
Mostly, “Godzilla” exhibits a level of reverence that a cinematic series known for its schlock value doesn’t necessarily deserve. Those who spent Saturday mornings watching men in suits knock over toy buildings might appreciate the special-effects upgrade, but mostly, all the sound and fury just evokes sympathy for the human actors, leaving a prestigious international cast to stare in awe at the mayhem.
In what feels very much like a sign of the times, Warner Bros. has committed to series of Monsterverse movies, with the disappointingly weak “Kong: Skull Island” followed by this slightly better entry, and the inevitable faceoff, “Godzilla vs. Kong,” scheduled for next year.
Still, all the efforts to flesh out the mythology — about gigantic titans that have secretly resided among us — transparently play as an excuse to justify that endeavor, with the franchise’s bigger-is-better mentality providing a good metaphor for Hollywood’s infatuation with blockbusters and putting big stars (literally, in this case) on the marquee.
“Godzilla” doesn’t start from scratch, rising from the ashes of the 2014 movie, bringing back a few key players — Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe — while adding new faces, among them a monster-savvy family with issues played by Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga and “Stranger Things'” Millie Bobby Brown, in her movie debut.
Frankly, though, the humans mostly just gape as director/co-writer Michael Dougherty reassembles the real stars: monsters of yore Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah, the three-headed beast who specializes in destruction and winds up turning Godzilla into a de facto hero. Basically, it’s a redo of 1965’s not-so-epic “Godzilla vs. Monster Zero,” asking whether three heads are truly better than one.
The original “Godzilla” served as a proxy for apprehensions about nuclear weapons and tampering with the unknown, which makes it appropriate that this latest version carries a central environmental message.
The underlying logic of that plot, however, is as murky as much of the action, which is invariably shot through pounding rain, as Ghidorah has the unfortunate habit of bringing bad weather along with him. (Would it have killed someone to film at least one sequence in broad daylight, without buffeting the poor cast with water?)
There are plenty of amusing callbacks strewn throughout the film — including snippets of the “Godzilla” musical theme — but the main attraction is seeing these gigantic creatures brought to life via the wonders of computer-generated imagery.
Yet the net effect is more numbing than stirring, with only a few monster-on-monster tussles that come close to being worth the price of admission. Besides, the cheesy badness of the special effects and stiffly dubbed dialogue were part of what made the old Japanese imports fun in a goofy sort of way.
Introduced to the US in 1954, “Godzilla” has officially reached senior-citizen status — a run that has included multiple revivals, among them a 1998 version most memorable for its marketing campaign, “Size does matter.”
This “Godzilla” is plenty big all right, but as the final credits make clear, it’s basically an extended coming attraction for a what’s likely to be a more highly anticipated movie.
So much for the undercard. See you next year at the main event.
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” premieres May 31 in the US. It’s rated PG-13. Like CNN, Warner Bros. is a unit of WarnerMedia.