Godzilla vs. Kong is pretty much exactly what you would expect from a movie titled Godzilla vs. Kong. A sequel to Kong: Skull Island (2017) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), which collectively seek to create a new "Monsterverse" franchise, it pits the colossal titans against each other several times on both land and at sea, thus ensuring maximum demolition, which is the film's raison d'tre: Come for the giant monkey and lizard, stay for the mass-scale destruction. It is enjoyable for what it is, although I have always found big-screen destruction at this scale becomes quickly tedious because you can only destroy so many buildings and watch so many pummeling clouds of dust and debris before your mind starts wandering and you start thinking about all the insurance claims and rebuilding projects that will soon follow.
The title Godzilla vs. Kong, which is explanatory in terms of the film's marquee matchup, is actually a bit misleading because the screenplay by Marvel veteran Eric Pearson (Thor: Ragnarok, Agent Carter) and Max Borenstein (Kong: Skull Island) from a story by Terry Rossio, Michael Dougherty, and Zach Shields, has a whole lot more up its proverbial sleeve, starting with a major subplot involving "Hollow Earth," a theory propounded by scientist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgrd) that the center of the earth is actually hollow and contains its own unique ecosystem and that Godzilla and Kong and all the other titans hail from there. The Hollow Earth concept also fuels a subplot involving Walter Simmons (Demin Bichir), the maniacal CEO of Apex Cybernetics, whose Pensacola, Florida, facility is attacked by Godzilla for reasons that aren't immediately clear. What is clear is that sinister things are afoot there, which a podcasting conspiracy theorist named Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) is determined to unearth, so much so that he has burrowed his way into the company as an employee for five years. Bernie's sleuthing is aided by Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), the teenage daughter of scientist Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler)-the only holdover characters from Godzilla: King of the Monsters-and her friend Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison). Meanwhile, Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), a scientist who has been studying Kong for the past decade and has been dubbed "The Kong Whisperer," is working with Nathan and Maia Simmons (Eiza Gonzlez), the Apex CEO's daughter, to transport Kong to Hollow Earth. Oh, and did I mention that Ilene's young daughter, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who is deaf, has learned how to communicate with Kong via sign language?
For all the human characters and intertwining subplots in Godzilla vs. Kong, it generates little emotional involvement. Almost all of the characters, despite being played by strong actors with good track records, have little impact beyond their plot duties. The previous King Kong movies, including Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack's 1933 original and Peter Jackson's 2005 remake, were deeply emotional affairs, as that great misfit Kong (as Pauline Kael dubbed him) has always been a fundamentally tragic figure. As with Kong: Skull Island, that dimension is largely lost in the chaos here, although genuine stabs at pathos are made via the relationship Kong develops with Jia. Nevertheless, there is little at stake emotionally; rather, the film's heart is in its grandiose battle scenes and orgies of digital destruction, which, for the record, are very well done. Director Adam Wingard, who is making his big-budget blockbuster debut after helming horror films such as You're Next (2011) and Blair Witch (2016), clearly knows what the audience is wanting, and he delivers it in spades (he also takes clear pleasure in throwing in some horror-style splatter of the green-goo monster variety). Everything is big, bigger, and biggest, and while it gets redundant by the end, it is hard not to take pleasure in the sheer outlandishness of the mega-monster smackdowns.
Godzilla vs. Kong draws ideas from several of the original Japanese kaiju, or "giant monster films," including the original King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), which was the third of Toho's Godzilla films and resuscitated the franchise after a seven-year hiatus, and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974). Of course, much of the pleasure in those films is their low-fi, rubbery guile and their ability to be both supremely cheesy and thematically adroit. There is nothing remotely convincing about them, but they had their own memorable style (now the relic of a previous era), and they were always about something. Godzilla vs. Kong, like the other CGI-heavy films in its franchise, seeks to reboot the kaiju phenomenon, but with the heft of modern special effects and an air of gravitas that doesn't quite fit. It all looks great and is very loud, but there is no real humanity beneath the rubble. It is all digital debris and overloaded soundtrack-lots of sound and fury punctuated with the occasional standout moment (I couldn't help but feel a thrill when the titans finally team up against a common enemy), but not a whole lot else.
Copyright © 2021 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © Warner Bros.
Overall Rating: (2.5)
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