This is the second round of a fight that has been decades in the making; the King of the Monsters takes on the reigning monarch of Skull Island in a fun, but wildly uneven Godzilla vs. Kong. This film is the fourth entry in what has been dubbed as Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures’ “Monsterverse;” one of the only remaining interconnected cinematic universes that are, for lack of a better term, aping the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Godzilla vs. Kong stars Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza González, Julian Dennison, Kyle Chandler, and Demián Bichir.
What Worked with Godzilla vs. Kong
Do you like the idea of seeing Godzilla fight King Kong with some other monsters in the mix? if so, this film largely delivers on the potential of giant monster fights. The film features three major fight sequences in its runtime, the last of which lasts around 20 minutes. As far as who wins and who loses, there will most definitely be a debate. Yet all sequences are thrilling and serve the headliners well.
The fights are the main draw of the film and are by far are worth the price of admission. While some Godzilla projects emphasize the horror of the destruction, this film runs purely on spectacle, sanitizing the kaiju combat. The impetus for the conflict is a death total of 8 in an attack of Pensacola, Florida, by Godzilla. In his cinematic history, Godzilla has killed millions. Yet in giving us some monster to root for the scale of destruction is limited to leveling buildings and landscapes, where humans remain largely unscathed. There is no scene of a woman and her children awaiting their doom as the kaiju approaches, circa 1954. But this movie isn’t a parable, it’s just fun.
Regardless, every impact, swipe, and bite is immensely satisfying. The camera also follows closely behind the monsters, as though they are mounted like Go-Pros. So, as a titan goes down, so too does the camera; the perspective changes, emphasizing the power of these attacks. The scale also changes between perspectives. From the human view, these monsters are generally slow, their motions creating drag. From the kaiju view, the scale changes, and their motions are fast and furious. It’s incredibly visceral. The colors and cinematography are also fantastic, really creating a sense of awe and spectacle when firing on all cylinders.
Godzilla and Kong are the stars of the film, and while Godzilla is perhaps a little underutilized, every scowl and arrogant glance turns him into a full-fledged personality. This is Godzilla at his peak and he is aware of his power. The giant lizard nearly smiles at several points after particularly devastating attacks and his frustrations as the fights turn against him are clear. The bulk of the film, however, emphasizes the character of Kong. The ape is the heart of the film. His weariness at his involvement with the humans is fun to watch, and he serves as an underdog that you can’t help but cheer on, especially as you learn more about his connection to the Hollow Earth that has worked its way into the series since Kong: Skull Island.
While the human portions are largely perfunctory, two extremely compelling performances are found in Bryan Tyree Henry and Kaylee Hottle. Henry plays a Titan-conspiracy podcaster with the enthusiasm and energy you’d expect and that such a character deserves. Hottle, as Jia, an Iwi from Skull Island, has a charming connection to King Kong and might be the highlight of the Monsterverse’s human cast, along with Bryan Cranston, Samuel L. Jackson, and John C. Reilly.
As a whole, the interconnectedness of the Monsterverse has been fun to see develop. There are some issues with the approach, but the build-up to the confrontation between Godzilla and King Kong has been handled fairly well. Each film, since 2014’s Godzilla has created an inevitable expectation for these characters to meet, and the fact that this movie succeeds and delivers on such an expectation is a triumph.
What Didn’t Work with Godzilla vs. Kong
Most kaiju films, with a few notable exceptions, largely fail to deliver a compelling human angle. Sadly, this trend continues with Godzilla vs. Kong, saddling a damn fine monster story with three to four plots that divert attention with little reward. Returning characters, a necessity for an interconnected universe, are not utilized well, and their own stories, ones we should be invested in, don’t amount to much. Of the multiple human stories, the strongest involves an expedition into the Hollow Earth, but few of the characters prove compelling in this narrative. Skarsgård, particularly, feels overly bland and replaces a legacy character who should have been the one to visit Hollow Earth. This is a sign of a larger problem with Godzilla vs. Kong, and the larger Monsterverse, however.
The Monsterverse has been successful in spite of not having a central steward or vision beyond “big monsters are cool.” While the films build up their monsters by the sheer, outsized force of their presence, the other elements are jettisoned at the whims of the different storytellers. Monarch, for example, feels like a much smaller organization here than it did in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, to the point where a particularly large plot hole develops involving the operation to transport Kong to Hollow Earth. Furthermore, the human drama doesn’t land because compelling characters to structure the films around are killed off in the movies or even outright abandoned between films. A particularly egregious removal of who could have been a legacy character in this film stands out as an example of the lack of foresight the series as a whole is saddled with.
The human stories can be compelling in a Godzilla film, particularly when they are given a history with the character, or are heightened figures themselves. Godzilla vs. Kong largely fails in this regard with the notable exceptions of Brian Tyree Henry and Kaylee Hottle’s characters.
Final Verdict on Godzilla vs. Kong
The film is incredibly fun, and if safety permits, should be taken in on a big screen. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, it feels like it has been a distinct lack of an event film. Godzilla vs. Kong is the perfect film to enjoy in a theater if you can do so safely. It won’t take home any screenwriting awards and has a number of plotholes, but for sheer fun and audacity, it is worth the time. If you have to watch it from home, order a pizza, crack open a couple of beers, and take it in as an event.
Haunted MTL gives Godzilla vs. Kong three and a half Cthulhus.(3.5 / 5)
Godzilla vs. Kong is currently in theaters and streaming on HBO Max until April 30th.