Godzilla vs. Kong and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures
Directed by Adam Wingard
It’s no secret that I was not a fan of King of the Monsters which was particularly surprising to me as I always get a kick out of seeing giant monster movies! There was just too much pretention and import without enough depth or butt kicking fight scenes to justify how lethargic much of it was, but if there was anything about the movie that caught my interest (aside from them using the Blue Oyster Cult song for the credits), it was the promise of seeing Godzilla and the King Kong from Kong: Skull Island lace up the gloves and duke it out in a battle to end all battles! Well the one thing that giant monsters were not able to overcome was the Pandemic as this got pushed back for several months, but the day has finally arrived and they even put it on HBO Max to boot! Is this the titanic clash between two legendary movie monsters we’ve all been waiting for, or is this a bigger letdown than Batman v Superman? Let’s find out!!
Following the events of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Monarch has decided that instead of leaving Kong alone on his mysterious island that is probably not even on Godzilla’s radar, they’ll capture him, chain him up, and put him in a fake jungle so that… I guess he and Godzilla don’t have a punch up. It seems that Kong himself wasn’t consulted on this as he’s constantly wrecking up his cage and has to be restrained whenever he’s out of it, but in any case, along with that there’s a new Super Science company in town named Apex run by some dude named Walter (Demián Bichir) who believes that there’s some sort of Unobtanium-like SUPER OIL that requires drilling even deeper into the Earth to get. How deep? Well so deep that apparently you empty out into a whole new world which is where the monsters they’ve been dealing with are actually from. A rag tag team of scientists are assembled to try and prove this Hollow Earth theory and since they’ve already got a giant monster under lock and key, they can use his… something something science babble to help them find the entrance to the Hollow Earth and make perhaps the greatest discovery in all of human history! Said team is made up of some geologist dude (Alexander Skarsgård), Kong’s caretaker (Rebecca Hall), her adopted daughter (Kaylee Hottle), and Walter’s very annoyed daughter (Eiza González) along with like five or six nameless army dudes. Now all this however assumes that Godzilla, the supposed protector of Earth, doesn’t come in and wreck Apex/Monarch’s plans, but hey I guess if they’ve got Kong on hand anyway, why not let him punch the giant lizard a few times along the way? Oh, and Millie Bobby Brown is back on a Goonies adventure to discover the secrets of Apex along with a nerd (Julian Dennison) and a conspiracy theorist (Brian Tyree Henry) who has no problem dragged teenagers along on a life threatening adventure. Then again, Rebecca Hall has someone even younger tagging along with her, so either way there seems to be way too many irresponsible grown-ups running around here. Will Apex and Monarch be able to find the hidden entrance to the Hollow Earth and perhaps find some answers about Kong as well? What does Apex want with this new energy source, and could Godzilla’s recent aggression towards them be somehow connected? Am I the only one picturing a better movie where the giant ape and the giant lizard just say SCREW this and work together to destroy everyone involved with this ridiculous venture!?
I SWEAR that I love giant monster movies! Heck, I’m one of like three people who thought Pacific Rim Uprising was awesome! It’s just that these Warner Bros Godzilla films just can’t seem to hit the right notes for me which is sadly the case with this film here. It’s by no means a BAD movie as there’s too much Monkey Vs Dinosaur action for me to dismiss completely, but it’s such a disappointment that Warner Bros is still missing the mark with these despite having decades of films to look back on as well as their own Kong: Skull Island that they can’t figure out what’s wrong with these! Plenty of people loved King of the Monsters and I’m sure a lot of people will love this one as well, but I just can’t get past how soulless these recent entries have been; and having recent great films like the aforementioned Skull Island and Toho’s own Shin Godzilla make it harder for me to be charitable about what they’re doing here.
We’re going to start with what’s good because I don’t want this to come off as another rant like my King of the Monsters review was, so what works this time around and where did Wingard improve upon his previous film? I couldn’t tell you a minute to minute breakdown, but the film definitely FEELS like it has much more action and isn’t so ponderous with its set pieces. Sure the lighter tone means we miss out on moments like the overwhelming and terrifying first appearance of King Ghidorah, but there’s also a great emphasis on being able to SEE what’s going on instead of obscuring it with weather and unflattering camera angles. The title promises this film to be a fight and that’s what we get as Kong and Godzilla completely WRECK each other every time they come in contact, and the fighting has a lot more emotional weight to it because of that. There’s PERSONALITY to the way that these two fight and Kong in particular gives Godzilla a lot of unique challenges that he has to find clever solutions to overcome. The third act twist as well that introduces another classic character from the Godzilla canon is a nice touch and the film gives them more than enough time to shine with few interruption from the human characters like in the other Warner Bros Godzilla films.
Sadly that is where the good aspects of this movie ends and where we have to start talking about its problems. I’m going to focus on two key areas with the first being the narrative and utter lack of grounding. Now I’m not about to sit here and tell you that ALL of the old school Godzilla and Kaiju movies were deep character studies or densely layered explorations of tragic events through the language of film destruction… but the best ones are about EXACTLY that. Skull Island is still my favorite of the recent Kaiju movies, but Shin Godzilla is the best at crafting a story that puts weight behind the destruction and making the monster feel like an unstoppable and terrifying force which is sorely lacking in this movie. You can kind of assume where things are going since there’s a new SUPER SCIENCE COMPANY on hand, but there’s no clear threat or stakes for anything that’s happening; especially since the world seems highly malleable with no real sense of danger or consequence for the destruction we see. This is a world that can develop hovercrafts for people to up close and personal with the giant monsters and all it does is demystify them; make them seem smaller and less EXTRAORDINARY than they should be. To make matters worse, outside of a few moments here and there (mostly in the early attack on an Apex facility), there’s no feeling that anything being destroyed is of any consequence; it’s just monsters fighting in a world of cardboard and popsicle stick buildings.
Sure, that could easily describe a lot of the sixties and seventies Godzilla films too and I could probably live with all of that if it wasn’t for what is probably the film’s biggest problem; the lack of interesting or sympathetic characters to get invested in. I just found it impossible to root for the humans as it’s clear that they’re mistreating Kong and putting his life in danger throughout this. He just seems willing to put up with all of their nonsense and I couldn’t figure out why other than him being friends with the little girl who is pretty much the only character in this that feels even slightly more than one dimensional. To me, this is what separates Skull Island from everything else in the Monsterverse as that movie had PLENTY of great characters who felt like essential parts of the movie without taking anything away from Kong and his story. James, Hank, Mason, Bill, Lieutenant Colonel Packard, all with varying and completely believable motivations throughout the movie that drive the plot and make it feel like a big story without relying just on the size of the monsters to do so. Even bit characters like Captain Cole played by Shea Whigham are memorable in that movie, and because they give every character this level of depth it MEANS something when bad things happen to them. The writers of this film seem to be perfectly competent with one of them as a co-writer on Thor: Ragnarok and the other being a co-writer on Skull Island, but whether the blame lies with them, any of the producers, or even Adam Wingard, the overall tone of this movie goes for cheap jokes and shallow archetypes; like we’re trying to recreate the worst aspects of Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla film. The one that stood out as UNFATHOMABLY annoying was Brian Tyree Henry’s conspiracy theory character who sails right past Roland Emmerich into the worst of Michael Bay, but if nothing else he’s at least MEMORABLE. I know what he’s about, as dreadful as it is, but he’s really the only one I remember. The big bad towards the end of the movie gets a bad speech before being dispatched (a far cry from the obsessive and self-destructive arc we got with Lieutenant Colonel Packard), a sidekick for Millie Bobby Brown’s character who comes across like a mean spirited swipe at nerd archetypes, and I couldn’t even tell you what Dr. McHandsome did in this movie nor why it was IMPERATIVE for him to be nearby during most of the action scenes. As I said, the closest this film comes to having a complete character is Kaylee Hottle as Jia the deaf Iwi native who is friend with Kong and the only person who can genuinely communicate with him, but even her character feels like one big contrivance with no real motivation on her own other than being useful to everyone else in the story; someone being ferried around from place to place just so that she can relay a message or look sadly at Kong whenever he’s getting beat up.
The movie is just lacking any real heart outside of Kong himself and arguably Godzilla at certain points; neither of who are enough to carry this even if they are the stars of the movie. A good Kaiju movie is about more than just monsters tearing things up, and while this is a better example of that flawed mindset than King of the Monsters (if for no other reason than its willingness to indulge in its most straightforward thrills), it still falls woefully short of so many other movies like it. Those movies certainly aren’t going to have the budget or scope of action that this film does which is definitely a point in its favor, but where I could point to half a dozen things that made Shin Godzilla and Skull Island great movies aside from the wanton destruction there’s just nothing else holding this movie up. It gets a VERY tepid recommendation from me as I know I’m particularly annoyed by these movies in a way that a lot of other people aren’t, and the monster fights are good enough to justify at least one viewing; especially that last one where they bring in the classic character and do them justice. I don’t know where they take the franchise from here that would put it more in line with what I want to see as things have only scaled up further and further away from relatable characters since Skull Island, but hopefully they give us SOMETHING worth rooting for other than seeing how hard Godzilla can take an ax swing to the face.