REVIEW: Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)

Godzilla fans complained about the 2014 Godzilla film because it spent too much time following uninteresting characters and cutting away from the big monster fights way too often.

While Godzilla King of Monsters improved on the amount of monster fighting that appeared in the film, fans complained that most of it was obscured by nighttime rain and snow and quick-cutting and shaky camera shots. Oh, and it probably still had too much following around characters the script can’t quite conjure audience affection for.

Godzilla vs. Kong may have almost the right mix of elements.

I say that acknowledging full well that the film forces a few recognizable faces into the script to join forces wandering aimlessly from point of interest to point of interest, so it can make its not-so-shocking villainous reveal.

I’m of course talking about Milly Bobby Brown (of Stranger Things fame) and the funny, likeable kid from Taika Waititi’s underrated 2016 film Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Julian Dennison, teaming up with a conspiracy theorist podcaster played by Brian Tyree Henry.

The group has no chemistry and none of them have character arcs, and more importantly, their journey ultimately goes nowhere and accomplished nothing. All three of these people are simply there to be names in the credits.

But even with these characters lifting out of the film with no consequence, I think the film has just about the right ratio of human scenes to big, fun monster fights.

And finally, the filmmakers gave the people what they wanted. There’s very little cutting away once the action starts. There’s never rain or snow to obscure the shots. All the fights are shown in mostly wide shots, so the audience can really enjoy every single punch thrown.

What may surprise people is what a Kong-centric film this one turned out to be.

King Kong is without doubt the central character of the film. He probably has the closest thing to a character arc of the characters in the film (you could make a solid case for Godzilla as well I suppose). 

But the filmmakers clearly have a bit of self awareness.

Everyone knew several things going into this concept (before the script was even written):

  • Godzilla could easily kill Kong in the water by dragging him to the depths until he ran out of air.
  • Godzilla could easily melt Kong’s head off his shoulders with his atomic breath (as he has so many other monsters).
  • Kong is the clear underdog.
  • Since we know these are the two good guys of the monsterverse, they’ll eventually team up to take down another threat right? (a la Batman V. Superman)

And the filmmakers, knowing all those things as well, weren’t afraid to lean into those from pretty early on in the movie.

But that doesn’t mean Kong doesn’t stand a chance. He’s bigger than he was in Skull Island. And, as the trailer makes abundantly clear, he has long arms for punching, and he knows how to use melee weapons.

So it’s still incredibly fun every time the two titans face off. And that means, the film is at its best when it’s leaning into what the audience came for – big monsters fighting.

Everything else in this movie is dumb and makes no sense.

And I mean literally everything.

There’s some convoluted, unnecessary nonsense about a hollow earth where Kong might be able to live freely without being hunted down by Godzilla, who has some obsessive king complex. But the hollow earth may also be the home of a particular power source that might serve humanity in some way I won’t specify. But getting to the hollow earth is a challenge – though the film seems to forget that challenge altogether for the return trip. 

Everything in the movie in and around that hollow earth concept is messy and nonsensical (where is the light source coming from? And that’s just for starters).

Sure the hollow earth thing was set up in previous films, but these movies went from attempting to put Godzilla in a modern, grounded setting in the 2014 film to flying magic spaceships into a fantasy land at the center of the earth in this film.

The one thing I liked about Gareth Edwards’ approach to the 2014 Godzilla film was the grounded approach. Just about every shot was from ground level. The entire film was spent looking up at these terrifying monsters from about human eye level. It was at least a bit about the human cost of an attack by a creature of that size. And it wanted to ask what it would be like in real life if Godzilla came to attack another giant monster and real world cities were in the way.

There were recovery efforts and people looking for lost loved ones.

In Godzilla vs. Kong, all of that is out the window. Hong Kong island is gone by the end of this movie. And I counted one shot of people fleeing the destruction. And the film never stops to think about the amount of devastation.

And it’s the devastation that once served as the underlying point of the Godzilla films (and to a lesser extent the Kong films).

My charitable take on Godzilla vs. Kong is that it completely demolishes Hong Kong Island as a metaphor about the destructive situation that has unfolded there over the last few years. My less charitable take realizes it’s probably more to do with Hollywood hoping for big box office return in China.

Now don’t take my dismissal of the story and characters too harshly if you did enjoy this movie, because I’ll freely admit it’s a fun movie to watch.

And perhaps more importantly, it’s the kind of big spectacle film that warrants being seen on as big a screen as you can find. That’s why this fun, nonsensical, good time of a movie is the perfect film to come out as the world recovers from a global pandemic and starts heading back to theaters for the theatrical experience.

As dumb as I think this movie is, I’ve already seen it twice. And I’d happily watch it a third time if it meant seeing the spectacle on a big screen at the theater. That’s saying something.

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