Since the so-called “MonsterVerse” kicked off with 2014’s Godzilla, audiences were teased with the promise of the titular King of the Monsters facing off with King Kong. With their last big-screen bout having taken place in the Japanese-produced King Kong vs Godzilla way back in 1962, fans were eager to see what difference 60 years of blockbuster filmmaking advancements could produce. Best of all, one doesn’t need to have seen the previous three MonsterVerse films to grasp what’s going on (but it certainly wouldn’t hurt).
When Godzilla reappears after years of peace to wreak havoc on an American cybernetics facility, hollow Earth theorist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård, The Legend of Tarzan) is tasked with finding a source of energy powerful enough to defend humanity from the raging titan. Joining him in his quest are Monarch scientist Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall, Vicky Cristina Barcelona), and Apex Cybernetics’ heiress Maia Simmons (Eliza Gonzalez, Baby Driver, I Care A Lot). The only trouble is, the energy source they seek lies at the center of the Earth, and the only creature that can guide them is Kong of Skull Island.
When director Gareth Edwards (Star Wars: Rogue One) remade Godzilla in 2014 (after legendarily failing in 1998), fans blasted the film for the bizarre decisions of killing off Bryan Cranston’s (TV’s Breaking Bad) character in the first 20 minutes and devoting more screen time to a married couple (the MCU’s Maximoff twins, Aaron Taylor Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, respectively) than the city-stomping monster. Subsequent MonsterVerse entries reflected significant course corrections, with both Kong: Skull Island (2017) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) giving the monsters their time to shine via some brilliantly over-the-top battles. However, while Skull Island readily embraced its B-movie ridiculousness, the Godzilla sequel remained guilty of assuming that the audience had come to see the humans.
Refocused for Awesomeness
Under director Adam Wingard (Blair Witch, Death Note), the new film’s refocused priorities are apparent from the distinct lack of A-listers (there isn’t a Ken Watanabe or Samuel L. Jackson anywhere in sight) to waste footage on. The film still has puny humans, but unlike King of the Monsters, it doesn’t grind to a halt whenever they’re on screen. Instead, their inclusion serves the action, rather than distracting us from it. Where that film forced one to endure endless scenes of exposition and pseudo-philosophical gibberish to get to the monster fights, this one ditches the clutter and goes all-in on the kaiju spectacle.
In the proud kaiju tradition
Released theatrically on March 24 before it started streaming on March 31, a surprisingly large number of critics have lamented Godzilla vs. Kong’s lack of character development and human drama, in what can only be interpreted as a clear misunderstanding of the title. Put simply, this is absolutely not a film for anyone who watched Pacific Rim (2013) and wondered why giant robot weapons needed to be called out by name mid-fight, much less why the badass sword could only be used at the end of said fight. For audiences raised on city-stomping monsters and giant robots, however, there is much to love here.
Are there leaps of logic? Sure. Dialogue so idiotic, you’re slightly stupider for having listened to it? Most definitely. But when it comes to the most important question of all, which is whether or not the film delivers on the astoundingly entertaining premise promised by its title, the answer is an unequivocal YES.
The monsters are the stars
As Kong and Godzilla battle it out, it becomes clear that this was never going to be a mere animalistic brawl; drawing from the original kaiju films from which this series takes its inspiration, Wingard doesn’t present his stars as mindless beasts – they’re actual characters, and the filmmakers wisely let them carry the proceedings. Here, each monster has a distinct personality, conveyed via CGI-powered facial expressions and body language to maximum effect. With neither saying a word, intentions are always clear, as each monster tries to outmaneuver, outfight, and, yes, outwit the other in wildly creative, visceral sequences that were clearly designed with the big screen in mind.
Big screen fun!
This is no overly-pretentious desaturated destruction-fest — there is a palpable joy to how the encounters between Godzilla and Kong unfold, as if the director and his team broke out their action figures and played around for an afternoon to decide how each sequence would unfold. Working with cinematographer Ben Seresin (World War Z), Wingard makes full use of the widescreen frame, blocking each sequence so the audience is always aware of where things are in relation to each other, while getting the most out of the various locales, from the jungles at the center of the Earth to the neon-lit streets of Hong Kong. Suffice it to say, neither kaiju has ever looked this good onscreen.
The human who makes the biggest impression here is newcomer Kaylee Hottle, who plays a hearing-impaired Skull Island native whose ability to communicate with Kong through sign language proves an invaluable asset. While people like Henry and Dennison overact in poor attempts at comic relief, and Gonzalez makes the most of her limited screen time, Hottle anchors the fantastical events with a sense of calm that belies her years. Deaf in real life, Hottle brings humanity and authenticity to the role that one rarely sees in films of this type, and, unlike the majority of non-CGI characters here, she owns every second she’s in.
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking for story, you’ve only yourself to blame. Monsters rise, cities fall, and everything that comes between the giant gorilla and radiation lizard is collateral damage. This is the kaiju throwdown we’ve been waiting for since the MonsterVerse was announced, and, other than the fact that we can only watch it at home, Godzilla vs Kong does not disappoint.
Have you watched Godzilla vs Kong? Tell us what you thought about it in the comments!