Let them fight. That proclamation from 2014's
has finally been fully brought
to bear. Godzilla vs. Kong brings together the stars of the MonsterVerse for one
giant epic. Whereas Godzilla was trying to be at least a little grounded and
Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)
went for titan volume, with
Kong: Skull Island (2017)
stuck right in the middle, this film is trying to go for quality over quantity.
To that end, it’s almost entirely about watching Godzilla and Kong duke it out.
The how is much more important than the why. If you’re just here for titan
destruction, there’s some to enjoy here. If you want anything even remotely
satisfying in regard to the human characters and plot, well, I’ve got some bad
Godzilla vs. Kong is basically what you’d expect out of this property. The movie
is big, dumb, and all about creatures, not people. Plus, it basically acts as if
Godzilla: King of the Monsters didn’t happen (not necessarily a bad
thing). However, it also moves so far past what’s come before, it’s as if
there’s a sequel or two that we’ve missed. That sort of nonsense isn’t
unexpected, but at times, it’s jarring, considering how many wild things are
added here, or just stepped around. It’s a notable aspect of the film, likely a
victim of a contentious editing process. The titans survived that process.
Everything else? Not so much.
According to the contrived mythology of Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures’
MonsterVerse, “titans” like Godzilla and Kong are mortal enemies because only
one can reign supreme. Apparently ancient beasts have never been good at
sharing. Every previous film in the franchise has been building toward their
inevitable clash, and now it comes to big dumb life thanks to Adam Wingard’s
massive and massively tedious tent-pole.
Godzilla vs. Kong opens with both iconic characters equally enraged by their
current situations on Earth. Having survived the onslaught of attacks by
Ghidorah (aka Monster Zero), Rodan, Mothra, and other titans in
Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Godzilla now seems hell-bent on attacking research
facilities run by the Apex Corporation for no apparent reason (however, we
learn, there is a reason). Kong on the other hand is being held in a containment
facility on Skull Island where each morning he wakes up, scratches his hairy
ass, takes a bath in a waterfall, and proceeds to shell the rooftop dome with
tree trunk projectiles.
For reasons the screenwriters of this film seem to be working out in real time,
a thin narrative emerges involving a subterranean world called “Hollow Earth”
containing an energy source that could be the match of Godzilla’s atomic blue
belches. Embodying mankind’s inferiority complex, a wealthy corporate scumbag (Demián
Bichir) enlists two well-meaning scientists (played with minimal effort by
Rebecca Hall and Alexander Skarsgård) to find it using Kong as a tour guide. But
literally no one in the audience will care about any of these details, and the
filmmakers don’t seem to either.
What the people really want to see is Godzilla’s dorsal fin tear through the
hulls of battleships, or Kong use an aircraft carrier as a surfboard. Both of
these admittedly kinetic moments occur during the film’s finest action sequence,
which beautifully turns the weapons and vehicles of mankind into toy props for
an aquatic death match between King and Kaiju. There’s even a fun Jaws reference
to hammer this point home.
But if Godzilla vs. Kong thrives in these momentary bursts of spectacular scale
and movement, it ends up dwarfing the human drama unfolding in between the
battles for supremacy. None of the dilemmas playing out have any hint of genuine
feeling, and the actors have zero chemistry with each other. Only Bryan Tyree
Henry’s spunky conspiracy theorist podcaster manages to banter his way to
relevancy despite being surrounded by the dullest of expository dialogue.
Maybe the most surprising thing about Godzilla vs. Kong is Wingard’s uninspired
directorial choices. While the fight sequences are coherent and well-paced,
everything in between lacks the darkly comedic edge that made his previous films
You’re Next and The Guest so effective. It would be tough to expect a unique
genre filmmaker like Wingard to fully smuggle his nasty sensibility into such IP
blockbuster cinema, but there’s absolutely nothing in the way of subversion
going on. This feels like a true sell-out moment, one that goes against the
film’s flimsy anti-capitalist messaging.
Even if cinephiles will be disappointed with Wingard’s descent into innocuous
for-hire showmanship, most will find Godzilla vs. Kong serviceable enough as
lifeless spectacle. After a year with next to nothing else that compares to this
level of popcorn entertainment, the collectively low bar to judge will be
understandable. That is unless you’re an aficionado of Hong Kong’s urban
architecture; it doesn’t fare well in the thunderous final throw down between
atomic lizard and ape where seemingly endless amounts of people die, but there’s
nary a body to be seen.
Godzilla vs. Kong is a mishmash of fun titan fights and asinine human elements.
How that combination sits with you will determine whether it’s a satisfying
blockbuster or not. For plenty, it’ll be more than enough. For yours truly, I
just needed a little bit more, or frankly, any manner of a human being to give a
damn about. Without that, even with the fun battle at hand, my thumb stays
slightly angled down.