We have hit the first big budget summer-type blockbuster of the year – Godzilla vs. Kong dropped on HBOMax the same day it debuted at theaters. The two first met 58 years ago in King Kong vs. Godzilla from 1963.
I watched this on HBOMax, but my second vaccine shot is scheduled in a week, so I hope to be able to see it in the theater too as it truly is a big-screen flick.
This is the fourth entry in the recent Monsterverse after Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island (2017), and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). After multiple teases in the previous movies, here we finally see Kong square off with Godzilla. The opening credit sequence summarizes all the previous movies in a literal tournament-style bracket until we are left with the two alpha titans, Kong and Godzilla.
Godzilla has been dominating his movies, emerging as an alpha titan that has defended most of humankind against worse titans, most notably, King Ghidorah and his three heads. Kong was last seen wandering around his own island in the 70s after squishing Sam Jackson. It was pointed out in that movie that he was still growing. This movie opens on Kong growing increasingly annoyed with the Monarch crew observing him on Skull Island Truman Show-style. The observation team is growing increasingly concerned about relocating Kong as a storm has rendered the island nearly inhospitable, wiping out the native humans save one. Meanwhile, Godzilla has been growing increasingly aggressive against various locations of the tech company Apex. Apex has grown increasingly worried about humanity surviving titan attacks.
The human folks in the movie include some from previous movies and some new ones. Like the previous movies, there are far too many human characters. Ilene Andrews has been leading up the Kong observation team with a little girl named Jia, the last of the humans from the island. Ren Serizawa is working at Apex for Walter Simmons on a project to defend against rogue titans and Simmons sends his daughter Maia to gather a new energy source with Dr. Nathan Lind from the 'hollow earth' hidden land in the center of the planet. They team up with Dr. Andrews hoping that Kong can not only lead them to hollow earth, but that he will be safe there instead of his crumbling island.
Conspiracy theory podcast host Bernie Hayes believes Apex is up to no good and has teamed up with Madison Russell and her friend Josh Valentine. Madison checks in briefly with her father Mark, who seems to still be working with Monarch after the whole situation with her mother creating the ‘orca’ in the last movie. All those various storylines culminate in a climax of epic proportions.
The movie is directed by Adam Wingard and comes in just under two hours, which is where it should be. The action is epic and intense, the Hollow Earth scenes are lovely – I particularly enjoyed the bit where Kong goes to the highest mountain point and jumps through the gravity inversion to the land above. Most importantly, the movie definitely delivers on the Godzilla – Kong fights. There are three major fight sequences, all of which are fantastic. There are far too many humans, and it is mystifying why so many of them are new that could have been characters from previous films recurring.
Rebecca Hall’s character of Ilene Andrews is one of the unnecessary additions. Why was that not Ziyi Zhang’s character from the previous movie? She apparently was supposed to be in this be was cut. I did enjoy Kaylee Hottle as Jia who is the little girl who humanizes Kong through her connection and communication.
Alexander Skarsgard’s Nathan Lind is equally puzzling as Bradley Whitford’s character from the previous movie was the one who brought up the Hollow Earth theory.
Millie Bobby Brown and Kyle Chandler as the Russells provide a link to the previous movie, but both have very little to do here. Pairing Brown with Julian Dennison and Brian Tyree Henry does provide some comedy relief, but they storyline for those three is also unnecessary. They learn that Apex is up to no good, but any one of the other multiple characters could have discovered that too. Dennison is the bright point of the movie and has a natural comedic sense.
In terms of the ‘villains’, Demian Bichir as Simmons is chewing all the scenery and chewing his moustache, which is on tone for this movie, but also could have been Charles Dance from the epilogue of the previous film, since the Ghidorah skull he was shown collecting is a key plot point for Simmons. His daughter Maia played by Eiza Gonzalez has nothing to do but go with the Hollow Earth expedition and be a jerk about everything.
Shun Oguri playing Ren Serizawa is the son of Ken Watanabe’s character from the two previous Godzilla movies but that was not mentioned at all. Honestly, you could have removed both Simmons’s and let Oguri’s Serizawa cover all of that ground.
Also – Lance Reddick and Chris Chalk are both in this, just enough to get you excited that they are there, but then disappear so quickly that you almost feel like you hallucinated both. And Jessica Henwick was apparently cast but then cut.
Despite the disconnect with the majority of the human characters, the true stars are Kong and Godzilla, although I will say this felt like a Kong movie with Godzilla featuring. Kong would have qualified for Best Actor nominations and Godzilla for Best Supporting, if that clarifies the roles. Appropriate, since Godzilla had two previous films in this franchise and Kong only one. Yes, of course they are both heroes, so they inevitably team up to tackle something worse. And while that is predictable, that is exactly what you want from this movie. Kong gets the most character development of any character – human or titan – in this movie. The animators do an incredible job of illustrating a full range of emotions across his face. His connection and communication with Jia enhances his ‘humanity’. Seeing him in chains is always painful and in this movie, particularly devastating since he could tell Jia how scared and upset he was.
Godzilla, on the other hand, continues to be doing his best to
save humanity from both themselves and everything else. In this movie, he seems to have a Danny
Glover quality – definitely too old for this shit but taking up the fight when
needed. He goes after Kong initially
because there can be only one Alpha, and he’s it. He keeps going after Apex bases because he knows
what they are creating is bad news. Once he realizes he is in over his head, he
reluctantly teams up with Kong save the day and quietly swims off into the
sunset after acknowledging that maybe there can be two alphas at the same time.
He is big and beautiful and will always be my favorite titan.
Overall, this movie is exactly what we needed at this point. Big, loud, splashy, and over the top. It delivers what it promises and despite having too many humans (my standard complaint for titan-based Monsterverse movies) it is a swift and enjoyable watch. If you are able to safely see it in a theater – do it.
8 out of 10