A film review by Craig J. Koban April 13, 2021


2021, PG-13, 113 mins.

Alexander Skarsgård as Dr. Nathan Lind  /  Millie Bobby Brown as Madison Russell  /  Kaylee Hottle as Jia  /  Rebecca Hall as Dr. Ilene Andrews  /  Brian Tyree Henry as Bernie Hayes  /  Shun Oguri as Ren Serizawa  /  Eiza González as Maia Simmons  /  Julian Dennison as Josh Valentine  /  Lance Reddick as Monarch Director  /  Kyle Chandler as Mark Russell  /  Demián Bichir as Walter Simmons

Directed by Adam Wingard  /  Written by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein

I've screened and reviewed a lot of films during my sixteen years doing this, but GODZILLA VS KONG is arguably the only one that I've seen during that time that features a sequence involving a 350 foot tall gorilla being defibrillated back to life. 

True story. 

It's moments like this - and many, many more - scattered throughout this fourth film in the so-called Monsterverse that help to establish a baseline of the preposterous silliness that permeates it.  GODZILLA VS KONG is the long awaited and gestating culmination of this franchise that began rather well with Gareth Edwards' very fine remake/reboot of GODZILLA in 2014, which in turn was followed up by another remake/reboot in KONG: SKULL ISLAND (it also served as a prequel to GODZILLA, making it a prebootquel...still with me?), and that segued into the more direct sequel to GODZILLA in GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS, which showcased the titular behemoth going toe-to-toe with other massive titan beasts.  Now, we finally have GODZILLA VS KONG, the donnybrook to end all donnybrooks that pits the two most iconic and recognized movie monsters ever against one another.  My main take away from this film is that the six-year-old child in me loved every single solitary minute of monster on monster carnage contained within.  The more analytical minded 46-year-old adult critic in me fully acknowledged that - beyond the surface spectacle and visual effects pleasures to be had here - GODZILLA VS KONG is pretty flat footed, empty minded, tedious, and easily forgettable.  

I will say, though, that this latest franchise entry doesn't waste much time in terms of expositional particulars, mostly because it really has to very quickly thrust viewers into its nonsensically inane plot in fear of completely losing them.  Kong is no longer the misunderstood monster as portrayed in the Vietnam era SKULL ISLAND, but instead is living in captivity (how did that happen, exactly?) under a gigantic containment dome that uses state of the art technology to make the big ape still think he's living a life of freedom in the wild.  His human scientist handlers in Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) hope to keep their test subject tightly under wraps and well away from Godzilla's incessant urge to prove his apex titan dominance on the planet.  Kong seems relatively at peace and seems content (one of the film's few amusing moments occurs early and follows a typical morning for the goliath, complete with him yawning, stretching his way out of bed and scratching is rear end), but deep down he knows something is not right.  He does have a nurturing bond with the eight-year-old deaf/mute adopted child of Ilene in Jia (Kaylee Hottle), which more than telegraphs one of the would-be shocking reveals that Kong has developed sign language capabilities.  It's a shame that the makers here never fully nurtured this potentially intriguing relationship to its fullest. 



As for Godzilla himself?  He hasn't been seen for years since duking it out with the last large scale threat to humanity, and has since remained hidden.  Unfortunately for everyone, he makes a grand return, but has seemingly gone rogue and begins attacking cities without warning.  This greatly concerns Monarch employees (remember, they're that top secret clandestine government organization that have tracked titan movement for decades), as well as former Monarch employee in Nathan.  He's approached by Apex Cybernetics CEO Simmons (Demian Bichir) to help him locate the mythologized Hollow Earth, the area in, yes, the middle of the Earth that has been long theorized to be the birthplace of Kong, Godzilla, and other titans.  Conveniently, Nathan is a semi-disgraced expert in the field of Hollow Earthing, so he takes the gig, but realizes that he'll need one of its original denizens to help lead the way to a portal into it.  This means convincing Ilene to take Kong out of his containment zone, which she shockingly agrees to.  While this journey is occurring, a wild eyed podcaster conspiracy theorist in Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) is joined by Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) and her new pal Josh (Julian Dennison) to snoop around Apex facilities and get some answers. 


One of the mistakes that I thought that the modestly enjoyable, but problematic GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS made was that it contained enough world building material to flesh out multiple franchise installments on top of having too many undeveloped and disinteresting characters trying to vie for our rooting interest and attention.  Inexplicably, director Adam Wingard (BLAIR WITCH) commits the same repeated sin here with GODZILLA VS KONG in terms of cramming in so damn much material here, leaving the production feeling paradoxically overstuffed and under developed at the same time.  Worse yet, he and his screenwriting team of Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein actually double down on more characters, more subplots, and more narrative detours that frankly bog the whole production down and make it a real slog to sit through.  There is a plethora of solid actors here that try as they can to inject some semblance of life into their dead-on-arrival characters, not to mention that they have to utter some of the cringiest dialogue heard in this franchise to date.  Poor Kyle Chandler's scientist makes a mercifully brief reappearance here to plead with his daughter Madison at one point that, "Godzilla is out there, and he's hurting people and we don't now why!"  She quickly retorts "Dad, I'm telling you, there's something provoking him.  Why else would Godzilla flash and intimidation display?!"  Ouch. 

Speaking of Madison, she occupies one of the dumbest and most needless subplots of the entire story as she teams up with the aforementioned cracking wise podcaster; this entire arc goes virtually no where and feels like it was taken from a whole other film altogether and inserted here (Brown, Henry, and HUNT OF THE WILDERPEOPLE's Dennison are all beyond capable performers, to be sure, but their Scooby Do-esque interplay is tired and annoying, not to mention that having a whacko conspiracy theorist as a hero in a contemporary film seems a bit tone dead now).  It's clear that these characters are essentially marionette puppets at the mercy of the film's action and carnage as opposed to being fully realized human beings (this has always been an issue with the Monsterverse, but here it's especially pronounced).  Compounding this is just how ludicrous in tone GODZILLA VS KONG is compared, say, 2014's GODZILLA.  Whereas Edwards' employed a thanklessly ambitious (but, to be fair, audience polarizing) ground zero approach and perspective to titans stomping their way through cities, GODZILLA VS KONG is more of a campy and smugly self-aware parody of the universe with elements of outlandish sci-fi fantasy than an authentically engineered disaster picture that came before.  Is it too much to ask for cinematic universes to maintain some level of tonal cohesion?     

I started asking several other questions while watching this film's increasingly incredulous madness unfold before me.  Maybe I shouldn't in a film like this...maybe that's a fool's errand...but I did.  In terms of the Hollow Earth, which looks like a mystical Garden of Eden cross morphed with Middle Earth, how does food/vegetation grow?  Where's the water supply?  How is it so bright like a summer day without any sunlight whatsoever?  How does gravity or atmosphere work here and how can Kong still stay heavily secure to the ground while other elements float in space?  How are the humans still alive in their tiny vessels that they use to follow Kong?  Outside of the Hollow Earth there's a moment featuring a comatose Kong being airlifted via multiple helicopters...but how did he get into the harness?  Yeah, maybe one's brain does indeed need to be checked at the door with films like this, and when GODZILLA VS KONG gets to the meat and potatoes of seeing these skyscraper sized creatures literally punch, kick, and bite their way through one another the film is an unqualified triumph of VFX artistry.  There's an absolutely dazzling sequence involving Kong leap frogging from one battleship to another in the middle of the ocean to stay afloat and above water to lay haymakers against Godzilla's cranium that's undeniably breathtaking.  I saw this film via my not-so-inconsiderable 4K Dolby Vision/Atmos enabled home theater and was impressed with its auditory/visual dynamism, but can only imagine the impact it would have had on a massive cinema screen (full disclosure, I've made a personal choice to not return to any cinema until fully vaccinated). 



I'll give Wingard full credit for showcasing these fight scenes in broad, sun drenched daylight.  I loathed how many of the similar sequences in GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (or those in PACIFIC RIM) were shown in the cover of dark and dreary night with massive downpours of heavy rain (I applaud the clarity presented here).  I also appreciated the personality that's injected into these monsters as well (there's an amusing, but awesome moment when Godzilla and Kong have an awkward stare down for a few seconds that then erupts into a screaming match...good stuff).  Here's the thing, though: I understand why people go to these movies.  They go for monster battles, not searing human drama that's psychologically introspective.  GODZILLA VS KONG is an unquestionable masterpiece highlight reel of the former, and seeing the remarkable scale of the slugfests here is eye popping, to say the least.  But these scenes only occupy 20-30 minutes of a near two hour film, with the remaining three quarters of what's on display here barely rising above the level of an endurance testing Michael Bay joint.  Why can't monster films have a healthy dichotomy between spectacle and human drama?  Moreover, why can't they ever seem to deal with the actual consequences of the city destructing pornography on display?  How many tens of thousands of faceless people died in all of those buildings that these titans arbitrarily bash through?  In GODZILLA VS KONG's case, probing such thoughtful and logical queries appears to be an impossible task, and the resulting effort is akin to a momentarily thrilling amusement park ride that quickly leaves you once exited versus a full bodied and well realized cinematic blockbuster that'll stand the test of time. 

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