Let. Them. Fight!...
…We’ve all been chanting these words for months in anticipation of director Adam Wingard’s (You’re Next, The Guest) giant monster movie Godzilla vs. Kong, the fourth in Legendary and WB’s Monsterverse saga which brings the two iconic titans together for a rumble across the globe.
If anything, the film is a gigantic love letter to these two titans bursting with heart. But it has some Kaiju-sized problems, as well.
Following the events of Kong: Skull Island (2017) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein’s script opens with Kong captured and contained by the company known as Apex Cybernetics. Apex is run by egomaniac Walter Simmons (Demian Bichir), who enlists the help of Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and young Skull Island native Jia (Kaylee Hottle) to transport Kong to a secret base where they hope to have him lead them to Hollow Earth. Supposedly, Hollow Earth contains a mythical energy that can save the world from a now rogue Godzilla, who is mighty pissed off at the presence of Kong and is destroying everything in his way while he searches for the rival ape. Meanwhile, King of the Monsters survivor Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) teams with a ragtag group of conspiracy theorists who believe Apex is up to something sinister, and seeks to uncover their secrets.
Confused yet? Don’t worry, plot is not what’s important to Godzilla vs. Kong, and it probably won’t make much sense while you’re watching, either. But if you’re hoping for a film that is anything but one long action-sequence with titanic monsters duking it out, this movie might not be for you.
Within seconds, Godzilla vs. Kong pulls at your heart strings, opening on a lazy Kong as he wakes up to the sun of Skull Island, yawning like the giant, adorable boy he is before sharing a moment of wonder and adoration with Jia, the way kids all over the world have done with the iconic beast for decades. This is one of many moments that will have you ooo-ing and awe-ing over the big ape with eyes full of warmth.
Godzilla, on the other hand, is given the opposite treatment.
The thing that’s always been fascinating about the Godzilla character is the gray line he typically stomps along, neither villain nor hero, presented as each throughout his long career of fighting monsters and crushing cities. Our introduction to everyone’s favorite lizard is one of immense terror and chaos, as Godzilla rampages through Florida, bringing a storm of death and destruction. Eyes burning blue and sporting “Resting Asshole Face”, this is the most fearsome we’ve seen Godzilla, and it’s clear from the beginning that he is not the hero of this story. That honor belongs to Kong, just as it was in the original King Kong vs. Godzilla (1963).
Godzilla vs. Kong actually homages its predecessor quite a few times, with Wingard’s love for the original shining through all of the bombastic action. Kong is once again taken from Skull Island, though this time on an airship carrier instead of balloons (count me as someone who misses the balloons). We even get a callback to one of the favorite moments from the original, in which Kong tries to shove a tree down Godzilla’s throat and make him eat his vegetables. All of this to say that the filmmakers adore their Kaiju, and that Godzilla vs. Kong is never not a good time because of it. I constantly found myself with a big dumb grin on my face. There is an endearing quality to this film that makes it hard not to smile as Kong and Godzilla are staring each other down from across cities with eyes that say “come at me, bro”, or screaming inches apart from each other’s faces. The sense of sibling rivalry between the two is strong, which might make the fights feel a little less life or death and more “tough-love”, but should up the enjoyment for fans of the creatures.
As for the fights themselves, Wingard goes all out in making Godzilla vs. Kong a battle to be remembered. From an epic underwater tussle to a jaw-dropping duel within a city drenched in neon, Wingard keeps the fights fresh, all of it set to Junki XL’s triumphant score. For those that like their Kaiju movies pretty, Wingard and cinematographer Ben Seresin provide a whole lot of eye-popping imagery. This film is a visual treat. Smashed buildings resulting in clouds of neon-coated dust floating around the two titans are particularly gorgeous. Wingard also injects his horror sensibilities into the film, letting the monster blood rain, with one shocking creature-kill that is sure to have audiences cheering. Fans of Pacific Rim will be delighted that Godzilla vs Kong shares a similarly colorful, cyber-punk aesthetic, not just in appearance, but in set designs as well. While the character stories meander and struggle to maintain interest, futuristic underground labs and an array of neat bio-technology at least give us something to look at when the excitement is on standby.
As for those characters, I’ve hardly mentioned them at all because frankly, they’re just not that interesting. Everyone, between Bobby Brown’s overly determined Madison, Brian Tyree Henry’s nervous conspiracy theorist Bernie and Demian Bichir’s obviously evil Walter, is at best one-dimensional and in most cases completely forgettable. But it isn’t for lack of trying. Henry is a blast to watch, with an energy like a kinder Nedry from Jurassic Park, and Bobby Brown is great at bringing the intensity, even when the film itself isn’t selling it, but there is virtually no development for anyone here, no human stories that I could latch onto and care about, to a point where I found myself disinterested and anxiously waiting for the next fight. It’s a problem that has plagued most of the new Monsterverse movies, and it might be at its worst here.
Kaiju films are always about the monster fights, but with CGI monsters battling within synthetic cities, it’s more important than ever for these films to have sympathetic characters that feel important, otherwise the film starts to lose its humanity due to an overwhelming amount of digital effects. Here’s me, pleading for us to bring back miniatures and rubber-suit monsters, knowing we never will.
But a lot of you aren’t coming to these movies for the humans, you’re coming for the monsters, and Godzilla vs. Kong is an epic showcase of both creatures that will whet your appetite for giant monster fights. This film is big, it’s loud, and it’s awesome. And yes, there are a few surprise creatures, and no, I won’t spoil them for you here, but will just say Wingard and his team sure did a hell of a job bringing them to life.
Godzilla vs. Kong doesn’t quite capture the charm of the Kaiju films we all grew up with, but it is nonetheless a fun creature romp that let’s these two titans of terror fight while we just get to sit back, turn our brains off, and enjoy the carnage.
Godzilla vs. Kong is now playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.
By Matt Konopka
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