Synopsis – The epic next chapter in the cinematic Monsterverse pits two of the greatest icons in motion picture history against one another – the fearsome Godzilla and the mighty Kong – with humanity caught in the balance.
My Take – Ever since the two iconic monsters clashed in filmmaker Ishiro Honda’s 1962 film, ‘King Kong vs. Godzilla’, Kaiju fans (like myself) have been waiting for the King of the Monsters and Eighth Wonder of the World to dish it out again, a dream which took about 59 years to be realized in this Adam Wingard directorial.
Marking as the fourth entry into Legendary‘s Monsterverse, following Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island (2017) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), a genuine effort, reminiscent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has been made into tying these films together in order to prepare us for an ultimate showdown, despite being depicted as misunderstood yet sympathetic creatures, unlike their earlier counterparts, resorting to violence only when it’s time to be humanity’s savior.
Wisely course correcting some of the problems of its predecessors, this monster mayhem film is definitely better than it had any right to be. As the title promised, it delivers the climactic assault you wish from such a big-budget creature feature, a big and silly action-packed fun brought to life with the some excellent CGI work, a couple of exciting twists and decent world-building. Deliberately less serious, director Adam Wingard (You’re Next) offers a crowd-pleasing entry that definitely brings home the spectacle.
Yes, true to past installments, especially the Godzilla films, the human characters are once again paper-thin and exist merely to remind the audience what’s at stake. But, if you are going into this one to witness Godzilla and Kong exchange blows and see public property be destroyed in creative ways, it delivers on point, with its spectacular action, and a pulsating electronic score.
Seriously, watching the two close to 400ft tall titans, turn a whole city into a battleground, with little to no concern for collateral damage, is one of the primal pleasures of this year’s first tent-pole release. Granted, some longtime fans might feel the film is too gratuitous, but I for one appreciate getting my money’s worth and being allowed to actually see these monstrous beasts in all their glory. If you’ve been itching to head into the cinema for a blockbuster epic, your search is over.
The story follows multiple narratives, divided like the audience into Team Godzilla and Team Kong. After Godzilla launches an unprovoked attack on an Apex Cybernetics facility, killing a few and injuring many, an international debate begins into questioning whether the King of Monsters is our savior or not. However, CEO Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir) and his daughter Maia (Eiza González), are convinced about Titan’s reign once and for all, and believe their answer lies in the planet’s core in a place termed the Hollow Earth. With Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård), the expert theorist and leader of the expedition proposing that Kong, who all this time has been contained at Skull Island, now a Monarch-run containment facility, guide them through to this ancient homeland of all titans.
While Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), a Monarch anthropological linguist, is convinced that by removing Kong from the facility, Godzilla will inevitably attack him, after all two Alpha predators cannot co-exist together, she joins the expedition with her adoptive daughter, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), the last survivor of the Skull Island’s indigenous population, who shares a bond with a now visibly older, battle-scarred and world-weary Kong.
Meanwhile, Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), daughter of Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), Monarch’s deputy director, is convinced that Godzilla is acting out of character, and is being provoked, heads into the center of a conspiracy at Apex with her friend Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison) and conspiracy theorist Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry). A conspiracy which eventually leads to the two titans squaring off as the faith of humanity lies in balance.
I think we can all agree that there’s something so mindlessly satisfying in seeing giant monsters beating the hell out of each other while leaving heavy destruction in their wake. I guess it’s all just part of the entertainment value we can take away knowing it’s all in good fun and that we can be thankful such colossal creatures don’t exist in real life. However, if you are expecting to be treated to anything else beyond this, you will be greatly disappointed. Regardless, if fighting monsters and gratuitous demolition of skyscrapers is what you crave, then this film certainly delivers.
Here, director Wingard expands the Monsterverse by moving from Godzilla’s usual stomping grounds consisting of overcast, constant-night cities overlooking oceans to a more mystical terrain of the Hidden World. And with CGI-galore, this journey to the center of the Earth adds distinguishable features and mythology much to the delight of the viewer.
What the Monsterverse has done incredibly is by establishing both Godzilla and Kong’s personalities as mostly two misunderstood creatures, acting out of self-preservation. No doubt Kong has always been the more sympathetic figure, as he’s a guy trying to embrace solitude, after all he is the only one left of his kind, but monsters of all shapes, sizes and sinister intentions keep trespassing his peaceful abode.
But somehow, you feel sorry for Godzilla.
Mainly as this is more of a Kong film. So far in the Monsterverse, Godzilla has been treated as something of a savior. Even though the army fired a nuclear warhead at him in Godzilla (2014) and unleashed the Oxygen Destroyer, and nearly killed him in Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), he continues to be the alpha maintaining Earth’s ecological balance, keeping a check on the hubris of man and monster alike. Here, he is almost immediately positioned as the bad guy here, comparatively adult Kong, with a grizzly beard, has developed a personality and given his closeness to the human species, Kong’s perspective resonates, while Godzilla seems under-served.
Thankfully, the final battle pulverizes your senses so much you forget where you are as director Wingard finds new perspectives to showcase the enormity of the two behemoths. The film invites viewers to cheer for both. It’s always an event when Godzilla pulls out his signature move: the atomic breath. We know what Kong lacks in bite, he packs in a punch.
The cinematography lets you witness the event by means of a point-of-view technique as if you are about to go to an amusement park ride. It is effectively entertaining, it buckles you on your seat to let you experience the ride and immerse yourself in the experience. Both Godzilla (2014) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) earned a lot of flak for their dark and barely-lit fights, but this film corrects that. Don’t get me wrong, there are still a ton of nighttime shenanigans, but they’re way easier to look at this time around. A bare-knuckle brawl featuring an axe-wielding Kong fighting off Godzilla in colorful neon-lit Tokyo is a particularly gorgeous, utterly inspired set piece.
Unfortunately, there’s not much to say about the film’s human characters, as they are only there to help move the small remnants of the plot along. Most of them were either generic military personnel marked for death or scientific minds trying to make sense of all this madness. Even with the sidelining of Kyle Chandler‘s worried dad and the dropping of Zhang Ziyi‘s possibly quite useful mythologist altogether, the additional characters barely do more than react to the quarrel taking place over their heads.
Also, given the fact that the Godzilla (2014) found a balance between its characters and its action, and Kong: Skull Island (2017) adopted a more bombastic temperament whilst maintaining a script that, though outlandish, managed to feel a little more grounded than usual, the fact that this film decides to go balls-to-the-wall on derangement only further highlights the film’s inability to find a good writer. At the same time though, it didn’t really matter because at the end of the day we don’t pay to see a giant monster film for the human characters.
Performance wise, Alexander Skarsgård, Rebecca Hall, Millie Bobby Brown, Brian Tyree Henry, Demián Bichir, Eiza González, Shun Oguri, Julian Dennison, Kyle Chandler, Lance Reddick, and Kaylee Hottle are adequate. On the whole, ‘Godzilla vs Kong’ delivers on the promised massive, loud, action-packed monster mayhem starring two of the most iconic monsters to ever grace the silver screen.
Directed – Adam Wingard
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 113 minutes