‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ Delivers on Promise of its Title, Little Else

by Warren Cantrell on March 30, 2021

in Print Reviews,Reviews

In theaters where open and streaming exclusively on HBO Max on March 31.

[Rating: Minor Rock Fist Up]

A kaiju movie with a human problem, Godzilla vs. Kong is everything a person could want out of a movie sold on the promise of a giant lizard fighting a building-sized gorilla, yet in all other areas it falls a bit flat. At its best when its eponymous characters are knocking the shit out of each other, and tedious when they aren’t, this fourth installment of the “Monsterverse” is a bit wobbly on its feet, yet manages to find its posture and stability when it counts.

Some hurried exposition at the top of the film explains that it has been over three years since the last “titan” sighting, which means that the work Godzilla put in during the last installment (Godzilla: King of the Monsters) has been effective at keeping the peace. In that film, scientist Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) and his wonderkid Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), figured out that the atomic-fire-breathing lizard demon was actually humanity’s friend, and acted as a stabilizing force against other, meaner Titans like Rodan and Ghidorah. It’s with some surprise, then, that the world watches as Godzilla reemerges at the start of this movie, attacking the facilities of a tech company called Apex.

This kicks off two competing human plots, the first led by Madison, her friend Josh (Julian Dennison), and Titan conspiracy podcaster Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry). The trio are trying to piece together the clues surrounding Godzilla’s reemergence, and their journey into the heart of Apex’s operations leads them and the audience to the answers (even if their function within the story is literally meaningless…like, they could have not been in the movie and nothing would have changed).

Completely removed from this is the story about Dr. Andrews (Rebecca Hall) on Skull Island, where she supervises a sanctuary for Kong in the hopes that he’ll remain hidden and safe from Godzilla and the other titans. The world’s premier Hollow Earth theorist, Dr. Lind (Alexander Skarsgård), approaches her with a plan to take Kong to a spot in Antarctica where there’s a passageway leading to the center of the planet. Lind hopes that this will help Kong find his way “home” and simultaneously lead them to an energy source that could power an anti-Godzilla weapon.

If that all sounds a little clunky, over-wrought, and needlessly complicated, that’s because it is, and every attempt the film makes to smooth it out gets lost in a jumble of bad line readings and rushed cuts. The title of this goddamned movie is Godzilla vs. Kong: the script never needed to work this hard. Since the previous installments established that both of these creatures are more or less “good guys,” there is some narrative lifting that needs to be done to get the duo to blows, but all of the double-crossing and secret lab stuff does little except to distract from the promised action, which is indeed glorious.

Kong’s agility and speed are a delightful counter to Godzilla’s brute strength and superior size, and the fight choreography during their encounters makes fantastic use of their differences in this regard. Without going into spoiler territory, it should suffice to say that there’s multiple fights between the two, and each is presented with clear shots and good spatial awareness that makes good use of not just the creatures, but their surroundings. Both Kong and Godzilla can scrap, and each has a long history of whooping ass on-screen, something that director Adam Wingard respects with his presentation of each in various moments of distress and triumph. Previous installments in this Monsterverse received criticism for keeping things dark and/or muddled in their presentation of the Titan fights, and Wingard wisely avoids this in his dust-ups, using each Titan’s strengths and weaknesses effectively (and clearly).  

All the nonsense surrounding Madison, Josh, and Bernie’s digging around in Apex’s backyard does little except to clue the audience in on what’s REALLY going on behind the scenes, setting up a third act reveal that is indeed awesome, yet needed only a fraction of the time dedicated to it to set it up. The interplay and energy between the trio crackles at times, with Brian Tyree Henry providing some of the best character moments in a film sorely lacking them. This is in stark contrast to Skarsgård and Hall’s portion, which carries more of the narrative weight of the film with just a fraction of the chemistry. Much of what the pair do in Kong vs. Godzilla boils down to exposition, and the dead-behind-the-eyes line readings they give speaks to the lack of a spark the movie contains when 40-story-tall monsters aren’t beating the crap out of each other.

On par with Kong: Skull Island in terms of quality, and an order of magnitude better than either of the rebooted Godzilla movies, Godzilla vs. Kong isn’t so much good, but rather good enough. In an age when studios can fumble something as easy as a classic franchise meet-up, there’s a fair amount of apprehension surrounding something that should be a slam dunk. Narratively cumbersome yet visually stunning, this newest entry in the Monsterverse should keep the franchise afloat for now and will act as chum in the water for the ravenous kaiju fans hoping for a proper face-off between two bona-fide legends. For a film titled Godzilla vs. Kong, this one delivers, even if the humans in the wings often don’t.

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and The Playlist. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing.

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