On paper, it may seem like there aren't many ingredients needed for a good kaiju movie--you need the kaiju, of course, some sort of city, town, or other major set piece for them to destroy, and a handful of humans to motivate the story in one way or another. And yeah, getting those things right will give you a spectacle, to be sure. But what separates the good kaiju movies from the great ones is a little harder to pin down, and something that Godzilla: King Of The Monsters seems to understand perfectly.
A successor to both 2014's Godzilla and 2017's Kong: Skull Island, Godzilla: King Of The Monsters picks up some of the ongoing threads in the burgeoning franchise universe. It centers around the activities of Monarch, a semi-shady research organization dedicated to studying "titans" (read: kaiju) that have been discovered around the world. They're not exactly working in secret, thanks to Godzilla's rampage against another type of titan creature--the "Mutos"--that destroyed San Francisco back in the series' first movie. King Of The Monsters deals with that fallout directly: This is a world where everyone knows monsters exist and Monarch is under direct scrutiny from the military for their potentially irresponsible ideologies and practices.
But don't panic if you don't remember all that much about 2014 Godzilla--King Of The Monsters deals out a handful of recaps for anyone who isn't already in the know. They're a little clunky in terms of exposition, but they get the job done just fine. This isn't a movie interested in assigning any pre-requisite viewing homework--it really just wants to get out of its own way and show you some giant monsters.
That said, the human characters actually suffer a little from the plot's blatant need to get as much information about who they are and what they want out as quickly and as plainly as possible. Vera Farmiga's Dr. Emma Russell has a few confusing turns alongside Charles Dance's Jonah Allen--an ecoterrorist who really just feels like a modern Tywin Lannister out of Game of Thrones, right down to his line delivery and permanent scowl. Meanwhile, Bradley Whitford's Dr. Standon sometimes feels like he wandered in from a completely different, way more comedic movie. It can be a little jarring whenever the humans are the focus of a scene, but it's far from catastrophic, especially once you realize that they're ultimately just the utilitarian part of the story. The kaiju can't actually talk, so the humans have to do that part for them, even if their lines are a little clunky from time to time.
The plot can feel a little contrived now and then. Sometimes it wants to be a family drama between Dr. Russell and her estranged husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) with their daughter, Maddie (Millie Bobbie Brown), caught in the middle. Other times it's a deeply mythological worldbuilding extravaganza with Monarch's Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), Dr. Chen (Ziyi Zhang), and Dr. Graham (Sally Hawkins) dropping any number of insane titan-related facts about the way the Earth and nature work in the franchise. Neither of the narrative avenues really feel like they matter in this particular movie--though the worldbuilding will likely pay off at some point down the line in future installments. Still, if there's a weak link here, it's all the stuff happening between the giant monster fights.
The kaiju themselves are the heart of the movie. The core four, Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and Ghidorah, all manage to have their own unique characteristics and mannerisms. Ghidorah's three heads squabble with one another. Mothra somehow comes across as a sort of soothing, gentle presence despite being an absolutely massive and deadly bug. Rodan--and don't ask me how they accomplished this--genuinely manifests the weirdest sort of sycophant toady personality despite being a giant flaming pterodactyl. All while Godzilla himself brings it home with his benevolent and charming ferocity.
Watching them fight is an absolute blast. It's noisy and explosive, splashed with the sort of mesmerizing wide shots of stormy skies and silhouetted dragon wings that would look at home airbrushed on the side of a van--and I mean that in the best way possible. The fights are brutal and massive, but they're never too self-serious and they never lose focus on the fact that we, the audience, are actively watching and rooting for one giant monster to beat up another giant monster because one giant monster is our friend and the other is basically an overgrown playground bully.
Simply put: It's fun. It's fun to sit around and root for Godzilla to come save us, even if he's completely obliterating whole cities in the process. King Of The Monsters knows this in its bones, and that's what it wants to deliver. It's a kaiju movie where the kaiju themselves are the stars and that's what makes it such a great ride.