London (AP) – It’s been a bit since moviegoers had the chance to catch up with Godzilla, five years in fact, which in cinematic franchise time feels like at least a few decades. In other words, it’s understandable if you go into “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” a little rusty on just what went down in Tokyo and San Francisco back in 2014.
To help us along, the filmmakers have shifted the focus to another family entirely for this installment, from the inert Brodys (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen) to the Russells, a now-broken family of scientists who lived in San Francisco during the 2014 attack. There are a few holdovers though, mostly employees of Monarch, the secret multinational organization that studies the titans, like Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Dr. Graham (Sally Hawkins), who are being accused of hiding Godzilla from world governments who’d rather just destroy them all.
As far as the newcomers go, Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) also works for Monarch and has developed a machine called the Orca, which simulates the sounds of the various titans. She believes this can be used to help manage them. Emma lives with her 14-year-old daughter, Madison (“Stranger Things’” Millie Bobby Brown in her first major film role), who is precociously enchanted by her mother’s work and admires the primordial creatures.
Madison’s father Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler, whose intensity is at level 10 for most of the movie) is not really in the picture, having left after the San Francisco incident, but is drawn back in when Emma and Madison (and the Orca) are kidnapped by some militant eco-terrorists led by Jonah Alan (Charles Dance).
This group wants to use the titans, of which there are now “17 and counting” including a pretty dazzling Mothra and a less-enchanting three-headed “Monster Zero,” to help reset the planet and reverse climate change and overpopulation. There’s some convenient explanation of why the radiation from the titans actually helps revitalize vegetation, which, like many of the silly plot devices in this movie, you kind of just let slide. That said, anyone currently watching “Chernobyl” on HBO will likely be very stressed out about the amount of radiation all the humans are likely absorbing just by being in proximity to all these creatures.
Michael Dougherty has taken the directing reins this time, from Gareth Edwards, and has done a fine job capturing the grandness of the titans, keeping the action coherent and balancing the human element thanks to a terrific cast that also includes O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Thomas Middleditch. His script is also pleasingly light and often funny, although Bradley Whitford’s Dr. Stanton goes a little overboard trying to be the comic relief.
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of monster action violence and destruction, and for some language.” Running time: 131 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.