There’s nothing like starting one of the most highly anticipated films of the year, with King Kong waking up to a yawn and a butt scratch. That’s exactly how the long awaited “Godzilla vs. Kong” begins as we see Kong slumming it up in skull island after the events of 2017’s superb “Kong Skull Island”. There is something disappointing in seeing the hulking ape, going from lethal killing machine to a Homer Simpson type doofus, who can rip you to shreds if you piss him off. But for anyone who was disappointed in director Gareth Edwards’ 2014 “Godzilla” (starring Bryan Cranston) which I myself did not like, will be pleased to know that Adam Wingard’s “Godzilla vs. Kong” does nearly all of it differently. Not necessarily better but different.
Where as Edwards held back the appearance of Godzilla until the last thirty minutes or so, Wingard on the other hand never stops showing them throughout the short one hour and forty five minute run time. Edwards’ creatures were aloof and mostly inhuman, while Wingard’s Kong scratches his butt (no really he does!) and comes off as some slacker doofus, unless he is in battle of course. In Edwards’ film he tried to pull off a consistent scientific plausibility and some what of an accuracy toward science.
With Wingard he involves a lot of highly trained actors (his cast is impressive) to babble a bunch of expository and scientific nonsense. Although Wingard knows that the science in his movie is stupid and frankly he doesn’t really care. Although he does give us a visual glimpse into the films science fiction elements when the film takes a completely different turn into a place called “Hollowed Earth”. Honestly it just feels like it’s there to fill out the films short run time. But it’s a sequence that recalls “Journey to the Center of the Earth”, “Fantastic Voyage”, with the warp speed of “Star Wars”. While our human actors are dressed in outfits and flying in vehicles from “Tron”.
Then in Edwards’ “Godzilla” he let the viewers feel the horror that the city was feeling, while they were getting stomped all over. While in Wingard’s movie there are massive body counts that no one cares about and that everyone just shrugs off (seriously how is there any survivors at all?).
Picking up three years after the events of 2019’s “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”, the world was at peace until Godzilla, who seemingly unprovoked had attacked a facility belonging to Apex Cybernetics. A futuristic and powerful company that’s never been mentioned in these movies until now, but with a name like that you know their up to no good. Seeing Godzilla as a threat, Apex recruits Hollow Earth scientist Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård of “The Legend Of Tarzan”) to team up with Kong researcher Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall, “The Town”) and a little deaf girl named Jia (Kaylee Hottle).
The little girl can communicate with Kong, to have the big ape lead them into the Hollow Earth where they can find an energy source and weapon, that looks like a scrapped design of the storm breaker weapon from “The Avengers”, that is powerful enough to defend against Godzilla. Meanwhile, Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown, “Stranger Things”) who frequently listens to a conspiracy podcast hosted by Apex employee Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry, “Child’s Play”), who believes that his company is up to no good and seeks to expose it. Madison brings in her friend Josh (Julian Dennison, “Deadpool 2”) for the ride and they team up with Bernie to find out what Apex is planning.
Now I just probably explained more about the characters than the actual movie itself. So your welcome, but if you forget the characters I just mentioned halfway during the film, then don’t worry you’ll be forgiven. It really isn’t your fault, just blame it on screenwriters Eric Pearson and Mark Borenstein. “Godzilla vs. Kong” is a movie that is easily forgettable both as you’re watching it and after the credits roll. Because it’s writers are so uninterested with what usually makes us invested in a movie, such as things like characters, plotting or anything just beyond a splashy effects monster brawl.
Yes, I know what your thinking. Or at least those of you who did enjoy the movie are thinking…that I’m being too harsh and judgmental about a monster movie. Well obviously people who watch a movie called “Godzilla vs. Kong” are coming to watch it, solely for that attraction. But if your not going to even care about your characters, then why even have human actors in it at all? You can’t just simply give the movie a pass and recommend it solely based on the fact that it’s a “Godzilla” movie. Or say it gets a pass because, it’s supposed to be just popcorn fun, who comes for character development and forget everything else. I do praise it’s entertainment value, the fight scenes and it’s visual effects. But those things are not what all a movie should only be about. The fights and battles themselves only makes up for less than a quarter of the film’s runtime, while everything else is just a big chess board to move the characters and monsters around to where they need to be. Here’s one for example, in the previously mentioned “Hollow Earth” sequence, it should be a big moment for Skarsgård’s Dr. Lind since that is the culmination of his life’s work and the screenwriters don’t even acknowledge that. Instead it’s more important for Kong to smash some flying creatures because that’s what the audience wants to see and so the puny little humans don’t matter.
Brian Tyree Henry gets the job of the “thinks he’s funny, but he isn’t comic relief” with groan worthy one liners. The usually great Demián Bechir is completely wasted here and probably attended the same “How to Play a Corporate Slimeball” acting classes that Pedro Pascal took for “Wonder Woman 1984”. Watching the last “Godzilla” film, “Godzilla King Of The Monsters” isn’t necessary unless your curious about where characters Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) and his daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) came from.
Millie Bobby Brown, best known as Eleven from “Stranger Things” channels a young Winona Ryder. But she too is a waste of her young talent. Millie, Brian Tyree and Dennison are just there to shut down a really large computer in the films big climax. But how can they get into this highly classified computer? Well by guessing the password of course. A password that could literally be a gazillion to one before the huge bold letters on the screen read “Password attempts exceeded”. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil the idiotic way they solve this dilemma. Instead I’ll just let you watch it for yourself as you roll your eyes and look at your watch to see how much more you have to endure.
With the exception of 2017’s superb “Kong: Skull Island” and I can’t emphasize the phrase superb, enough when describing Kong’s film. It’s hard for me to imagine that “Kong Skull Island” was supposed to be directed by “Godzilla vs. Kong” director Adam Wingard who thankfully fell out of the project, especially after seeing the results here. But “Skull Island” was an excellent action film that was helped by the humans’ interactions with the legendary ape. Since then the franchise has struggled to find anything remotely interesting for it’s actors to do. Because honestly you could leave out all of the actors from “Godzilla vs. Kong” completely and just edit together a super cut of the films Kaiju battles and you’d have the same exact movie.
Which brings us to the Godzilla and Kong fights which are fantastic and so is the films visual effects which are absolutely astonishing and impressive. Sure, the geography of Hong Kong isn’t entirely clear when they stage their big battle, as every building is caked or outlined in Neon. Wingard explained to The Hollywood Reporter his reasoning for the Neon: “I immediately started talking about how I would love to see Godzilla chasing Kong around with his atomic breath in a neon-soaked and futuristic, synthwave city”. Ya, ok cool dude so it’s basically just lets see what looks cool on screen.
In my research for my review, I found that one of Wingard’s initial ideas for “Godzilla vs. Kong” was to embrace Kong’s underdog status, a trait that Wingard wanted to associate with ‘80s and ‘90s action heroes like “Die Hard’s” John McClane and “Lethal Weapon’s” Martin Riggs. Wingard said “I always saw Kong in this film as an ‘80s action hero or an early ‘90s action hero. I’m a big fan of that style of action where the action hero is this guy who’s down on his luck”.
Wingard continues: “Godzilla is way more powerful than Kong. And then on top of that, we’ve put Kong on the ocean. This is Godzilla’s element. So the stakes and the danger level are already high for this character, but then you want to amplify that. And the inspiration for that really comes from Die Hard more than anything. That’s why the movie has a Die Hard reference here and there from a visual standpoint”. Ya, ok cool again dude. But whether it’s supposed to resemble elements of “Die Hard” or not. This ain’t no “Die Hard” and it ain’t even close to being as good either. So does that mean when Godzilla and Kong are face to face screaming at each other that’s your way of channeling DeNiro and Pacino during the diner scene in “Heat”? Stop comparing your film to ones that earned it’s classic status.
It only makes me more worried that this is the guy who is going to helm the remake of the John Woo action classic “Face/Off”. I just say, stay away dude. Stay away. But the sheer reckless destruction of “Godzilla vs. Kong” makes up for some of the films many downfalls, just because it’s so impressive. Like the rest of Warner Bros MonsterVerse, the action is simply breath taking and they know how to make this battle truly feel larger than life and it’s probably best to see this on the biggest screen possible.
Although I must warn you before you go in, that Godzilla and Kong don’t get equal screen time. “Godzilla vs. Kong” is really more of a “Kong Skull Island” sequel than a sequel to the “Godzilla” movies. The story is really Kong’s journey and you’re meant to sympathize with him while Godzilla mostly rampages in anger and destruction. I guess the logic is that Godzilla already received two movies in the monster verse while Kong only had one. Neither depiction is particularly consistent with what these films have given us before, but i guess most are likely to not care about that. “Godzilla vs. Kong” does provide a few third-act surprises, but overall, the top billing of Godzilla masks his treatment as just a secondary protagonist.
Wingard does deserve credit for making the action scenes crisp and easy to follow, especially with so much devastation filling the screen and it’s especially impressive in the final battle which gets even busier (you know with all that cool looking neon). We’ve seen them battle before, in 1962’s “King Kong vs. Godzilla” and to be fair, the film gives you what it promises you and if you’re in it solely for the monster brawls, then this one is for you. But while this one comes with all that added anticipation, not only because we know this is going to be an insane effects spectacle, but because we’ve been so starved for big blockbuster movies like this one, that demands to be seen in the biggest format possible. Here are two of the biggest and most enduring screen monsters in history. How can you not want to see them in the most epic way?
Unfortunately “Godzilla vs. Kong” is another example of how thin a film can be when it offers nothing but CGI spectacle and cares about little else. At least Michael Bay’s “Transformers” films had more substance and character development than this. Wingard’s film is transparent, lazy and an empty spectacle of mindless destruction. The audience, the cast and these legendary creations deserve better.
From “Godzilla” in 2014 to “Kong Skull Island” in 2017 to “Godzilla King Of Monsters” in 2019 to finally “Godzilla vs. Kong”. I say skip them all and just scroll over a few clicks and just enjoy the best of the Warner Bros monster verse in “Kong Skull Island”, which is also streaming on HBO Max. Whether you’ve seen “Skull Island” or haven’t seen it, that film alone will give you your money’s worth towards that monthly subscription.
GRADE: ★☆☆☆☆ (1 out of 5)