GODZILLA VS KONG
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 SimmonsDirected 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.
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
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.
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?!"
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