This fourth entry in the MonsterVerse delivers on the promise of its iconic bout, though is let down by a generic script and dull humans
Let's get this out of the way: Godzilla vs. Kong is an unbelievably stupid movie. It is about a giant lizard and a massive ape pummelling one another as skyscrapers crumble around them; stupid is the very nature of the beast. I'm not complaining, because what other way is there to deliver material like this? Do we really need something high-minded and mediative, or do we want to see Godzilla singeing Kong's CG chest hairs with a big blue laser?
The only real question one is likely to have about a movie called Godzilla vs. Kong is: does it satisfy the promises of that weighty title? The answer is, thankfully, yes. The “MonsterVerse” has been a fairly hit-and-miss affair so far, compromising – until now – three movies of variable quality. Godzilla vs. Kong is entirely superior to 2019's Godzilla: King of the Monsters, mainly because it is impossible to be worse. But it doesn't find the sprawling adventure of Kong: Skull Island (underrated), nor the majestic sense of scale of 2014's Godzilla. It's just big, dumb fun, padded out with more of the thing that has plagued this franchise from the very start: lengthy scenes of boring people talking.
It should be noted that the story to this movie is absolutely and unbelievably insane – and I'm not even talking about the Godzilla/Kong part. It begins with Kong, who's now being held in a giant containment centre for the sake of his own safety. Should he be released, Godzilla – Earth's “Titan Saviour” – would apparently see it as his job to hunt down Kong and kill him. Things change, however, when Godzilla launches an unprovoked attack on a civilian peninsular, prompting fears over his allegiances to the human race. Here's when the shady CEO of Apex Cybernetics (Demián Bichir) hires Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård), a “Hollow Earth conspiracy theorist,” to convince his old friend (Rebecca Hall, playing the “Kong Whisperer”) to release Skull Island's apex predator as part of a wider plan.
Turns out that beneath the Earth's surface there is a habitable plain where all the Titans originally hailed from in the first place. Also, a power source that's capable of defeating the rogue Godzilla. The idea is to let Kong unknowingly lead this ragtag crew – who will follow in spaceships (!) – through a wormhole to this place, where he's been promised to reunite with his family (!!). Director Adam Wingard, a noted genre buff, channels everything from Fantastic Voyage to Peter Jackson's King Kong for scenes set in Hollow Earth, which makes for an admittedly fun section of the film in a “how did we ever get to this point?” sort of way. Elsewhere, Millie Bobbie Brown reprises her role as teen Madison Russell from King of Monsters, and fulfils the “Meanwhile back on Earth” obligations this sort of film often requires, though she never feels particularly connected to the main story (her dad, played by Kyle Chandler, is reduced to mere cameo status).
What quickly becomes apparent about Godzilla vs. Kong is its genre-shift into the realms of true sci-fi fantasy. Whereas Godzilla and its sequel, King of the Monsters, attempted to ground the action in some “real-world basis,” technology has advanced so far in this film it's like we've stumbled into a completely different franchise. Spaceships capable of travelling through inter-dimensional wormholes; cyber tech right out of Pacific Rim. Clearly, the “MonsterVerse” has broken free of any restraints. “Do whatever you want,” seems to be the studio note, and in an unhinged way, this mentality imbues the film – and the franchise – with a giddy sense that anything's now possible.
But none of the human interactions match up to this balls to the wall approach; we're literally whizzing through portals into lost worlds, and yet the humans stay flat and lifeless, the script packed with generic, first draft-level dialogue cues, the kind that force you to zone out until the next punch is thrown. I hate to suggest that Godzilla vs. Kong would have benefitted from some level of Marvel-isation, with a lightness of touch and added one-liners, because who needs more movies in that vein, right? But some extra humour and even more self-awareness would have gone a long way, and might have made the dull filler scenes between the big monster moments easier to bear.
Perhaps the refusal to descend into outright trashiness is out of respect for a franchise reboot that began with a degree of earnestness. Then again, that doesn't explain why Kong now has a magical axe at his disposal. Thankfully, everything involving both Godzilla and Kong is a blast to sit through, from a battle at sea in which the pair use ships as stepping stones, to their inevitable city-based brawl, and a final battle where they team up to take on a hilarious new foe. This time round, the fights are entirely comprehensible and genuinely creative, as city landscapes and giant bodies are utilised in inventive ways (Kong using a jet fighter as a dart… well, that's cinema).
Ideally, you'd see this in a theatre. These monsters were made to tower over you, not the other way around. Right now, that's not really an option, yet even viewed at home Godzilla vs. Kong makes good on its titular smackdown, if only because it harkens back to a world of overblown blockbusters that we took for granted. Did I mention that Kong has a magical axe?
Godzilla vs. Kong is now streaming on various digital platforms.Where to watch