Godzilla vs. Kong

Godzilla vs. Kong ★★★½

Silly, bombastic, gorgeously shot, beautifully rendered, delivering and then some on the titular epic slugfest plus a HUGE surprise, yet weighed down by mostly terrible human characters, Godzilla vs. Kong is by no means a bad film, and is in fact breathlessly entertaining, though it’s hopelessly devoid of thematic depth. 

I’m happy to say that I finally got to share Godzilla/Kong with my daughter and that was by far the highlight of my viewing experience. Though I have HBO Max, I craved the big screen experience, and since theaters are now open in Los Angeles, we braved the COVID-infested atmosphere and settled in a for a little kaiju smackdown at our local theater. 

In short, the film delivers on its near-perfectly staged giant monster fisticuffs. The effects are the best I’ve seen for a flick like this and director Adam Wingard does a capable job of conveying the gigantic scale and weight of these massive titans. Further, he shoots the movie with an amazing eye for color and light, which is displayed most resplendently in the third act showdown in Hong Kong. In just about every technical aspect, the film is rather flawless, though doesn’t quite approach the cinematic beauty of Kong: Skull Island. 

Despite how gorgeous this flick is, and let me be clear, just about the entire show is a feast for the eyes, I couldn’t help but be bored throughout much of the human action, which comprises much of the film’s first 45 minutes. Millie Bobby Brown is a fine young actress but the script does her no favors here and she came across to me as quite unlikable and virtually nonessential to the plot. I won’t fault her for this because I know she has acting chops, but the film really drags whenever she’s onscreen. She’s paired up with a Kiwi actor named Julian Dennison who serves the story by being useless and the butt of many jokes, and they both team up with a conspiracy theorist fella who happens to be pretty accurate in his theories about conspiracies. Go figure. I mean, this movie goes deep on conspiracies, hidden history, occult numerology, the Illuminati, underground tunnels, the global elite, you name it. 

This trio is mostly there for comic relief but the problem is the lack of collective charisma among the three. For a movie with this kind of budget it seemed sorely lacking in recognizable faces, or shall I say actors with a ounce of charm or magnetism, with the exception of Rebecca Hall as Kong’s “Jane Goodall” and a little Skull Islander named Jia (an excellent Kaylee Hottle) who is the last of her people. Looking back at the acting talent onboard Skull Island in comparison to this joint will make your heart ache  with nostalgia. This time around we get Alexander Skarsgård playing the white male lead as blandly as possible, and is a total tool for most of the runtime. He’s recruited from his dead end university professor job to work for the obviously evil CEO of “Apex” Cybernetics (remember, apex is a key term in this universe, mind you) to help shuttle Kong to a “hollow earth” entry point to access an energy source to fuel a weapon that can defeat Godzilla, who is supposedly conducting “unprovoked” attacks against humanity at the beginning of the film. 

Kyle Chandler, looking pasty, damp, and sweaty, checks in to cash a paycheck and probably worked a day or two tops, on his way to give Millie Bobby Brown an anticlimactic hug at the end of the movie.  And that’s about it in terms of heavy acting talent. 

Speaking of “heavy” acting talent, Kong rules in this film. He’s fearless, fearsome, and filled with heart. He’s a real character who’s lovable and worthy of our respect and awe.  We were loudly cheering him on all throughout his fights and my daughter absolutely adored him. 

But Kong’s amazing presence was matched only by Rebecca Hall’s and Kaylee Hottle’s characters. I know, it seems silly to complain about the human characters in a kaiju film, but when we spend so much time with them, their shortcomings are hard to ignore. Do they ruin the movie? No, not at all. But would some acting talent and a better script improve the story? Hell yes. Again, I keep going back to Skull Island, which is my clear favorite of the Legendary Monsterverse. Its ingredients were: amazing cinematography, great acting (though through admittedly shallow characters), a perfectly rendered Kong, the right mix of comedy, action, and real horror, and some discernible themes at play. Here you have great visuals, an AMAZING Kong, killer kaiju action, and little else, save a brief exploration of the hollow earth. 

A word about the hollow earth stuff. As cool as it was, it still felt shallow, like we only get a glimpse of it but little more. It’s as if the world-building on that element were half-baked, or Wingard just ran out of patience and didn’t want to dive too deeply there. It just felt so empty and, well, hollow.  I expected some kind of explanation about where the light came from - was hoping that the Earth’s molten core was “another sun,” but no. Nothing. More Kong’s down there?  Nah. 

Again, I had a lot of fun in this movie so the negatives don’t necessarily kill the sheer entertainment value. We came to watch a giant monkey fight a giant lizard and the film delivers the goods in heaping doses. In fact, in many ways this film is like a mega budget Shōwa era film, in that it is goofy as all hell and shouldn’t be taken seriously to be enjoyed, but that said it does lack the quaint charm of those earlier films. In fact my daughter commented afterwards that it should have been even weirder and more over the top, and could have greatly benefitted by more fun music like we get in the opening Kong sequence and during the final shot. Even dispensing with the score during some of the fights in favor of a cool song would have upped the fun factor a little bit. 

I will say that I watched only one or two trailers and was absolutely shocked and thrilled to death by a big reveal in the second half of the film that was executed quite well. I had some explaining to do with my daughter and any fan of Godzilla lore will likely be pleased with a bit of a twist near the end that flips the story around. 

Bottom line, despite some weak human characters, this is a super fun visual treat that should really be enjoyed in a theater. I almost forgot how thunderingly loud movie theater speakers are, and the large format really fit the subject matter. It’s the second best of the Monsterverse but can’t top Skull Island, Kong 33, or Kong 76. It should delight anyone in the mood for an escapist sci-fi monster flick and it’s silliness is part of the fun. Recommend!

P.S. My daughter now wants Kong and Godzilla plushies. Success!

KONG RANKED
GODZILLA RANKED

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