‘Godzilla vs. Kong’: Pure Spectacle in a Battle for the Ages

Rating: 3/4

With regards to the latest installment in the contemporary kaiju franchise reboot, Godzilla vs Kong, I could complain about why the terribly drawn human characters needlessly suck the oxygen from the main fighting attraction. I could explicate the ways the nonsensical plot undermines a taut two-hour runtime. Or how some fine actors waste great performances on the subpar material. When really my critical assessment of this enjoyably destructive thrill ride for lizard king enthusiasts and ape intelligentsia everywhere, amounts to: Monster go boom, boom. Robert very happy. Adam Wingard’s globetrotting royal rumble, Godzilla vs Kong is a marked improvement over King of the Monsters with regards to graphics, choreography, and scale. 

The film, narratively, could give a toss about the humans. Still, screenwriters Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein lay two distinct tracks. The first, finds Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), now in high school, but still interested in Godzilla despite her father’s objections, listening to a conspiracy theory podcast run by Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry). Bernie is trying to infiltrate Apex Cybernetics, a shadowy tech company run by billionaire Walter Simmons (a dastardly Demián Bichir), in a bid to expose the possible world-threatening tactics the conglomerate plans to deploy against Godzilla. It’s a weak, convoluted storyline, only held together by Henry’s clear charm, that develops into a Saturday morning cartoon special when Madison and her friend Josh (Julian Dennison) track down Bernie so the three might gather intelligence on Apex.  

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Monarch linguist Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) watches over Kong, restlessly trapped in a Jurassic Park-like containment area. Dr. Andrews is also the adoptive mother of Jia (Kaylee Hottle), an orphaned deaf Iwi girl who seems to share a bond with Kong. On the human scale, Kong and Jia’s dedication to each other, natives without families now leveraged by supposed white saviors, engenders the most pathos. In fact, it’s fair to say Wingard’s blockbuster is a far better Kong film than Godzilla, as the realistic VFX renders the titan with greater emotive qualities and other language capabilities that speak toward his interiority.  

These qualities rarely extend to the woefully underdeveloped humans. Take the non-existent function of Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) as an example. Still mourning the death of his brother, he’s a disgraced cartographer who pioneered the hollow earth theory—which hypothesizes that at the planet’s center exists an unknown habitable pocket containing an immense energy source. Simmons approaches Dr. Lind with the opportunity to journey to the earth’s heart in specially designed Sci-Fi hover rovers so he might harvest the power for himself. The idea is about as daffy as Jon Amiel’s disaster epic The Core. And Dr. Lind’s arc smells totally undercooked. Grief drives Dr. Lind, and in Godzilla vs Kong, every character similarly remembers a lost loved one. Pearson and Borenstein, however, spin grief only to later abandon the theme. Such a shortcoming would normally make my eyes roll, but a mawkish appeal to grief in a big dumb monster movie would have sooner taken me out. I’m glad they didn’t risk it.

No – the filmmakers know what audiences came to see. We want to witness these titans go boom, boom. To this end, Godzilla vs Kong delivers through a combination of great staging, sharp fight choreography and crisp, pristine graphics. See, after Dr. Lind and Andrews team together (the former convinces the latter that Kong originated from the earth’s core and can therefore lead them to a defense against the rampaging Godzilla) they are discovered on the high seas by the lizard king whilst they transport Kong to the arctic circle. The resulting showdown recalls Die Hard, in the way the robust Kong rock em sock em robots the imposing Godzilla. As opposed to King of the Monsters, which relied on murky environments and lighting, and incoherent compositions, the clarity of these graphics, the fluid filming of the fights, makes for a much more pleasurable viewing experience.   

Without spoiling too much, other kaijus make appearances in Wingard’s monster flick, too. One in particular, causes the age-old rivals to band together in a fit for survival. These later rumbles, which take place among Hong Kong’s neon skyline, paints a wide canvas for enthralling shows of spectacle whose vibrant whirling colors, crumbling buildings, and lighting bolts of pure projected energy emanating from Kong and his axe and Godzilla and his mouth, it’s as phallic as it sounds, explodes on even the smallest of screens. 

And it doesn’t really matter what storytelling errors litter the stomped landscape. Nor what half-hearted attempts are made to drive emotional stakes into these cardboard human characters. Or even when the weary conspiracy theories involving bleach, which certainly hit with an uneasy thud, obscures the punch the air fun. These shortcoming do much to make a viewer pause, fully cognizant of the wrong message the bleach element sends. It speaks to the undeniable charge the kaijus have that it’s possible, if the viewer wants, to ignore these anxious shortcuts. Wingard’s Godzilla vs Kong supplies enough escapist entertainment, enough roars, enough large-scale leveling of cityscapes to make audiences go “boom, boom is good, good.”    

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