Godzilla: King of the Monsters hearkens back to the Kaiju beatdowns of the classic Japanese Toho films. Gone are the fleeting glimpses of the radioactive reptile that puzzled everyone in the 2014 version. The sequel turbocharges the action on all fronts. It's civilization crushing savagery as Godzilla and his adversaries pummel humanity on a global scale. The faults lie in the cardboard characters and their weak subplots. Thankfully they don't yap enough to ruin the monster buzz. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a summer popcorn spectacle that's red meat to the diehard fanbase.

Five years after the destruction of San Francisco, Godzilla has disappeared. The U.S. government has had enough of Monarch and its secrets. An oversight committee wants to put the military in charge of finding and killing the prehistoric monsters; now deemed Titans. Monarch lead scientist Dr. Ishirō Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) warns that's a huge mistake. The Titans are part of the world's natural order. Humanity is responsible for waking them up.

Meanwhile at a secret Monarch base, Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) has made a critical breakthrough. She has discovered a way to communicate directly with the Titans. It's the culmination of heartbreaking research. The San Francisco attack devastated her family. The breakthrough isn't a secret for long. Emma and her daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), are kidnapped by shadowy mercenaries with apocalyptic intentions. Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) must overcome his hatred of Monarch to save his ex-wife and daughter.

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Director/co-writer Michael Dougherty (Krampus) wastes no time getting started. Godzilla's presence is felt in the opening minute. A few scenes later, the luminous Mothra and terrifying King Ghidorah have joined the Kaiju party. The monster carnage starts off strong and is pretty much nonstop. Their ferocious land, sea, and underwater battles dominate the film's runtime. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a big-budget, special effects onslaught that will have you doing a CGI duck and cover. The Titans lay waste to anything and anyone in their paths.

I enjoyed the visual effects, but understand those that have minor complaints. Most of the climactic showdown scenes take place at night during some kind of wet weather. Those conditions obscure minute details and are often used as a crutch for shoddy CGI. Godzilla: King of the Monsters could have lightened up for deeper inspection, but the Kaiju battles do not remotely disappoint. There's a plethora of monster ass-kicking in the rain and snow.

The ensemble characters add unnecessary drama beyond the requisite running and screaming for their lives. The Russell family wallows in tragedy and divorce. Some of this is pertinent to the story, but mostly it feels like filler. Then you have another smarmy character (Bradley Whitford) whose entire job is counting down various timers for Kaiju attacks and imminent explosions. Godzilla: King of the Monsters could have dialed back the melodrama and subplots without missing a beat.

Michael Dougherty's greatest success is the scale of the film. Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and especially King Ghidorah fill the screen with epic destruction. Godzilla: King of the Monsters lives up to its Kaiju premise. Every belly will feel monster full walking out of the theater. Stick around for the first part of the credits. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is produced by Legendary Pictures and distributed by Warner Bros.

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Julian Roman