Bold, cheesy, kind of shitty action/sci-fi franchises have a special place in my heart. That’s why I was instantly drawn to the Monsterverse — the cinematic universe that was rebooted in 2014 with Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island (2017) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). If you want to see a big monster destroying everything in its path with a passable plot, the Monsterverse is exactly the thing for you.
The newest addition to the universe, Godzilla vs. Kong, fits right in, though it is less robust than the past films. At its best, it’s about the titular Titans; at its worst, it’s about the people, who mostly range from cartoonish to colorless.
The film, set five years after the last installment in the universe, focuses on a group of Monarch (a quasi-governmental agency that studies and hunts monsters like Godzilla and Kong) scientists, who must work with Apex (a tech company) to enter the Earth’s hollow core and harvest the life force that sustains the Titans. They need Kong’s help; he’ll act as their escort and protector, which is essential because, in the words of Kyle Chandler’s character: “Godzilla’s out there, and he’s hurting people, and we don’t know why!”
What really, really works throughout Godzilla vs. Kong is the monsters and the world they inhabit. Godzilla appears thoroughly enraged in all his scaly glory, showing a new willingness to use his laser-mouth ability and an incredible agility. Kong has aged and grown quite a bit since his last meaningful appearance in his own feature-length movie, now sporting some gray hairs and a sense of maturity.
[‘Marriage or Mortgage’ awakened my senior year existential dread]
As you might expect, Godzilla and Kong fight. It’s incredible and endlessly surprising how many different ways they actually physically fight for dominance and use tools from their surroundings. The scale of the fights is impressive, with entire cityscapes getting obliterated in mere minutes.
That grandiosity is matched throughout the rest of the Titans’ scenes. For example, Kong’s first scene — in which he wakes up, takes a shower and throws a big stick through his containment center on Skull Island — is soundtracked by “Over the Mountain, Across the Sea.” I have to say, it’s pretty idyllic. He actually gets the best treatment and backdrops out of anyone in the film; there’s a real sense of grandeur and natural power that comes across when he’s on Skull Island and beyond.
But there’s just not enough of those — dare I say it? — beautiful scenes to make it feel like the movie’s actually about its gigantic stars. The real action scenes are way too short and feel unevenly matched at times, especially in the final fight.
What takes up a much bigger portion of the screen time, then, is wooden “extra stuff” that never quite comes together. The plot is completely nonsensical, the characters feel flimsy and the script is insubstantial. I can abide the first point — I’m familiar with the genre, and I don’t expect things in a movie about giant, radioactive, sentient monsters to fit neatly together beyond the broad strokes of “humans want to save humanity and learn things about science”.
[Let’s replace the tired classic movies with these films]
The characters are mostly clichés, ones even the most talented of the cast can’t save. The writers largely ditch the characters they carry over from the past films, but they don’t do a great job introducing the new ones, either. The film also moves away from the theme of grief present throughout the other movies in the series (no, there is no scene in which a character has a meaningful moment of healing by looking right into a monster’s eyes, a la Kyle Chandler’s character in King of the Monsters).
Godzilla vs. Kong relies instead on light-hearted humor — and a lot of it. I asked actor Brian Tyree Henry in a recent press roundtable about how he shifted his portrayal of the conspiracy theorist character, Bernie, from heartfelt to comedic throughout the film.
“We got to … honestly, play with each other,” he said of his relationship with his costars Millie Bobby Brown and Julian Dennison. “I called us the Goonies, cause we’re going on this adventure together.”
It’s true — you can tell they had a great time making the film.
All in all, Godzilla vs. Kong delivers the spectacle of its titular characters and brings some much-needed levity to the series. It’ll do in a pinch if you’re looking for some decent kaiju fights, an expansion of the lore behind the monsters or some laughs, but beyond that, it falls flat.