Film Review: Godzilla vs. Kong
Godzilla vs. Kong
Director: Adam Wingard
In Theaters and Streaming on HBO MAX 3.31
Sometimes it’s pretty easy to know whether or not you are in the target audience for a movie. If the words “King Kong just threw a jet at Godzilla!” don’t do anything for you, Godzilla vs. Kong is clearly not for you. Legendary Pictures’ “Monsterverse” franchise has not been perfect, particularly in terms of storytelling or development of strong human characters, but every one of them has delivered when it comes to spectacular kaiju action. It has all been leading to this moment, the ultimate showdown of the titans in a celebration of B-movie silliness, done with an A-movie budget and top-quality visual effects.
The setup of Godzilla vs. Kong has the titular giant lizard, who has been established as a benign protector of humanity in the previous films, suddenly turning on us and attacking a facility in Florida belonging to the Apex corporation, a robotics and cybernetics company. This aggression from the mighty monster raises alarms all over the world, and Monarch, the top-secret organization that monitors cryptids, has been holding King Kong in containment for years in a giant dome, studying him. Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir, The Midnight Sky, Land) recruits Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård, True Blood, The Legend of Tarzan, Passing), a Hollow Earth theorist who once worked for Monarch, to lead a perilous expedition involving Kong, and a potential way to save the world from the global threat of Godzilla running amok.
Lind and and Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall, The Town) leads the expedition, along with Jia (Kaylee Hottle), a young orphaned girl adopted by Andrews, who has formed a unique and powerful bond with the great ape. But they find themselves in the path of an enraged Godzilla, cutting a swath of destruction across the globe. The epic clash between the two titans—instigated by unseen forces—is only the beginning of the mystery that lies deep within the core of the Earth.
Godzilla vs. Kong is very much the kind of movie that is best enjoyed if you hire a brainsitter. Its plot is convoluted and incredibly silly, but it knows what it is, and director Adam Wingard (The Guest, the upcoming Face/Off reboot) has a field day with making this a movie for movie lovers. I had a gleeful, escapist experience with it as a guilty pleasure that elicited no guilt. Wingard makes some surprising and hilarious nods to iconic action films, including Die Hard and Lethal Weapon 2, which may be missed by those who aren’t looking for them—well, at least the Die Hard one; the latter is pretty blatant—and every moment is a celebration of popcorn moviegoing.
From the moment of Kong’s first reveal, which is in the opening scene, Wingard establishes that the ape is his protagonist, and he makes effective use of songs to underscore sequences that help establish Kong’s point of view. Godzilla also gets plenty of screen time, and the movie is really about these two, not just as giant monsters, but as characters. That’s not to say that this goes to the same lengths that Peter Jackson did in terms of emotional depth—they are still pretty one-dimensional as characters, but they are characters nonetheless.
The humans are even more one-dimensional, not well-defined at all as characters, and vague and disposable, even by Jurassic World standards, but the likability factor of the cast is strong enough, especially Hall and Mille Bobby Brown (Enola Holmes, Stranger Things), who returns as Maddison Russell, her character from Godzilla: King of the Monsters. But Kyle Chandler, as her father, Dr. Mark Russell, is relegated to what amounts to an extended cameo this time. Skarsgård makes a fair leading-man type, and Brian Tyree Henry (If Beale Street Could Talk, Widows) is enjoyable as a crusading conspiracy theorist who happens to be right.
I recognize that not every cinephile’s taste runs the gamut from Citizen Kane and Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal to Godzilla vs. Kong, which is exactly why I always have a hard time answering the question “So, what kind of movies do you like?” Yes, absolutely, Godzilla vs. Kong is big, dumb, loud and crazy, but not in a Michael Bay kind of way. It’s made with skill and an unabashed love of the B-movie legacy, and that love is infectious. The “science” doesn’t make a lick of sense, but it isn’t supposed to, and that is meant to add to the enjoyment factor.
Godzilla vs. Kong is everything I need it to be, and those who find it lacking are probably watching the wrong movie for them. Despite some concerns with how the material can work in this day and age, Wingard’s treatment of this property has made me do a complete 180 as to how I feel about a new Face/Off movie, especially if he’s able to get John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, as he hopes to do—though I’m not sure that they can be made to look as realistic as these titans do. If you love kaiju films in all of their big, stupid glory, I challenge you not to enjoy Godzilla vs. Kong. While it’s unlikely to be one of the best of the year, by any means, in terms of sheer bang for your buck—at least, for some of us—it’s bound to be among the most satisfying. –Patrick Gibbs