GODZILLA VS KONG
(**1/2)-JIM RUTKOWSKI
"...a mishmash of fun titan fights and asinine human elements..."

Meh Monster Mash

(040221) Let them fight. That proclamation from 2014's Godzilla 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 news.

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 parts of 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.

 

Directed by:     Adam Wingard
Written by:     Screenplay by Eric Pearson & Max Borenstein.
 From a story by Terry Rossio, Michael Dougherty &
 Zach Shields
Starring:     Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca
 Hall
Released:     033121 on HBO/Max
Length:     113 minutes
Rating:     Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of creature
 violence/destruction and brief language

GODZILLA VS KING KONG © 2021 Warner Bros Films
Review © 2021 Alternate Reality, Inc.