Film Review – Godzilla vs. Kong
Godzilla vs. Kong
Godzilla vs. Kong (2021), the latest in WB’s “MonsterVerse” franchise, is the best of the bunch so far. It capitalizes on the potential set by its predecessors – Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island (2017), and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) – while giving audiences all the oversized action they’ve been clamoring for. It mixes classic kaiju stylings with shades of the horror, sci-fi, and fantasy genres. There are scenes and images that recall everything from Flash Gordon (1980) to Die Hard (1988). And yet, even with all of these different ingredients splashed together, it somehow makes sense. In terms of sheer entertainment, this delivers in spades.
If there is one thing director Adam Wingard (along with writers Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein) seems to understand, is that the protagonists of this series are not the humans, but the skyscraper tall kaiju (or “Titans” as they’re described). When we dig deeper, we realize that Godzilla and Kong are victims of human meddling. In the original Japanese Gojira (1954), the monster came to be because of the effects Japan suffered from the atomic bombings of WWII. In King Kong (1933), it can be argued that the giant ape terrorized New York City because he was kidnapped from his home island, a direct result of western colonialism. Wingard and his team grasp this idea. Audiences are not only drawn to these characters because of the destruction they leave behind, but the empathy they generate.
This is especially true for Kong. He is treated as the central character and is relegated to the underdog role (he can’t shoot blasts of energy out of his mouth the way Godzilla does). When we reunite with him, Kong is stuck in a secure underwater location by the Monarch Project (the secret organization that links all the MonsterVerse films). We learn that Kong wants to escape the prison and reunite with others like him. His only connection is a young mute girl from Skull Island, Jia (Kaylee Hottle). Unfortunately, Godzilla has re-emerged to lay waste to Earth. The Monarch Project – along with tech company Apex Cybernetics – decide to release Kong in hopes he can stop Godzilla before it’s too late.
The plot itself has so many moving parts that it’s damn near labyrinthine. On one end of the spectrum is Jia, accompanied by scientists Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) and Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), who follow Kong on his quest. On the other end is Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) who – after surviving the events of Godzilla: King of the Monsters – has become obsessed with Titan attacks. Joining her is her friend Josh (Julian Dennison) and conspiracy theorist Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry). All of them circle one another, coming closer and closer to unraveling the truth of the Titans. Throw in crooked corporate CEOs, deep Hollow Earth theories, high tech weaponry, and a dash of silliness, and you have yourself a melting pot of goofy fun.
But even with all these different plates spinning at the same time, the main attraction is clearly the action. One of the biggest issues of the previous installments was that much of the action was hidden behind dark, gloomy visuals. This time, Wingard (with cinematographer Ben Seresin) bathe the action underneath bright lights. There’s a kind of pro-wrestling, WWE vibe in the way Godzilla and Kong do battle, with the humans cheering on from the sidelines. Wingard and his team execute the action with creative flair. One battle set in the middle of the ocean is ingenious in approach, with both creatures jumping in and out of the water, hoping across boats and battleships like frogs on water lilies.
There is an abundant use of neon light in almost every section of the narrative. From vehicles to laboratories and city streets, everything is covered in bright glowing lights. When Kong and Godzilla duke it out in the middle of Hong Kong, every building appears to be adorned with greens, blues, and hot pinks. As the two crash and explode through towers, the lighting makes them look like two drunks dancing in the middle of a 1980s nightclub. And in another section, when our human characters take a hazardous, otherworldly journey, they are subjected to a vast light show, like a rollercoaster speeding through space and time. The imagery will call to mind Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Is that the first time a Godzilla/Kong movie has been compared to 2001?
But none of the visual fireworks would matter if we didn’t care about the characters. Yes, despite being enormous “monsters,” there is a human element to Godzilla – and to a higher degree Kong – that makes their journeys all the more fascinating. Watch how Kong communicates with Jia through sign language, or how he looks around a new environment with confusion and bewilderment, or how he exudes exhaustion, power, and fear through his gesturing. Terry Notary’s physical performance as Kong is on par with the work of Andy Serkis and Doug Jones, winning us over without uttering a single word.
I could talk about how the story moves at a breakneck pace, or how the human characters are mostly one dimensional, or how Kyle Chandler is criminally underused. But of all that is as useless as the rockets and missiles bouncing off the kaiju like toothpicks. Godzilla vs. Kong promises a heck of a good time and keeps that promise. I don’t know where the MonsterVerse franchise goes from here, but if we get more films like this, I’ll welcome them with open arms.