I did not watch Godzilla vs. Kong for the plot. Who would? I watched it for three key reasons: one personal, one professional, and one animalistic. Personally, I am a huge Godzilla fan, from the intellectual predecessor Gojira to the fun sequels featuring Ghidorah and MechaGodzilla to the middling American remakes. Professionally, Adam Wingard is an impeccable director who made two of the best films of the last decade, and even made his flops entertaining. His first major blockbuster was not to be missed. And animalistically, I wanted to watch the big lizard and big monkey punch each other. I would be lying if I said Godzilla vs. Kong surpassed expectations in any of these fields – it is not the best Godzilla movie, the best Wingard movie, or the best crossover fight I’ve ever seen. But it does its job well, thanks to great filmmaking and the proper sense of spectacle, and thanks to its filmmaking prowess and my good friends at White Claw, I had an absolute blast with the year’s first major blockbuster.
After his victory over King Ghidorah, Godzilla is now the King of the Monsters. However, after five years of dormancy, he emerges from the depths to decimate Pensacola, Florida, for reasons seemingly unrelated to Florida completely deserving it. No one knows why Godzilla would suddenly attack humans – certainly not the completely innocent Apex Cybernetics company, who would obviously neverdo anything suspicious or evil. Just ask conspiracy theorist Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), who rants about them on his podcast every week. However, with Godzilla now considered a threat to the entire world, Apex must team up with monster-tracking research firm Monarch to find the source of these creatures, located at the heart of the Hollow Earth. And there’s only one creature capable of leading them to the core: Kong, the giant ape ruler of Skull Island. There’s just one problem: Godzilla is still out there. And his race of giant lizards hates Kong’s race of giant monkeys. And soon, a billion-year-long war will settle itself once and for all, as Godzilla and Kong face off to decide who, truly, is the King of the Monsters.
Listen, there’s only one reason you’re watching a movie called Godzilla vs. Kong, so let’s get the obvious out of the way: yes, this movie is a helluva lot of fun to watch. Almost all the notes in my notebook are in capital letters because I couldn’t get over the sheer spectacle of it all. Wingard understands two key aspects of filmmaking here, and he uses both as a key weapon in accomplishing entertaining joy: how to stage an exciting action sequence, and how stupid you can get in a film like this before it becomes needlessly ridiculous. From the jump, Wingard eschews the series’ slow-build mold in favor of an “immediate” technique. We already know who these creatures are; dragging out their introductions seems unnecessary, as we learned from the tedious prologue of Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Wingard gives us a brief reminder of what’s going on, and then bam: full-on shots of the creatures. Even if the action is forestalled until the 30-minute mark, we still at least have giant monkeys and lizards to tide us over until that point.
And what action it is. Every sequence in this film is hilariously over-the-top in just the right ways, making us question the logic of it all, but not to the point of “well that’s just preposterous.” While we may ask questions like “Why does the monkey have an axe?” or “Why are these two constantly changing in size and scope?” or “How are these two standing on a tiny battleship in the middle of the ocean without sinking it when we already know they can destroy cities?” we ultimately don’t care about these answers. We’re too busy giddily whispering to ourselves “Holy shit, that monkey is surfing down the side of a building,” or “Did that ape just pop his arm back in its socket like a professional wrestler to take part in this massive battle?”
No moment is too excessive for Wingard – and to an extent, the audience – as he gets goofier and goofier, like defibrillating Kong to get him back in the action, Giant Monster Thrones, atomic laser breaths, boa constrictor pterodactyls, monsters drinking the blood from the severed heads of fallen foes, underwater wrestling, monkeys jumping slow-mo off boats, and Elvis’ “Loving Arms” playing as the camera reveals a giant sedated creature being transported – rather ridiculously – by boat. This film is so goofy, the opening credits are basically a March Madness recap of the previous films, to show what creatures these monsters have defeated to reach the finals. Sure, the effects work isn’t 100% perfect – few films with CG are. But they hold up well enough to keep from getting taken out of it all, and occasionally, the effects work makes the movie all the more entertaining. There’s a terrific sequence of all close-ups on Godzilla and Kong’s angry faces, and it made me squeal with joy. Wingard understands the lore he is working with, and knows how to balance the silliness with the spectacle to great effect, and it carries the movie through just about anything.
Warner Brothers’ MonsterVerse, as this strange hodgepodge has come to be known by, has consistently had a hard time making its human aspect interesting. After all, who cares about mere mortals when there are giant monkeys fighting dinosaurs, or giant lizards fighting even bigger giant lizards. And I’d be lying if Godzilla vs. Kong completely fixed this problem. But it’s still miles better at making us care than either Godzilla film, and especially Kong: Skull Island, which tricked us into thinking the humans were interesting because they were played by Brie Larson and John C. Reilly. Godzilla vs. Kong remembers that in order for us to connect to the story, we need to remember the role humans play in all of this. Of course this means interesting humans, like a young deaf girl (Kaylee Hottle) who has a touching relationship with Kong, Brian Tyree Henry’s charismatic conspiracy theorist, and beyond. All of these are interesting characters, often portrayed in excitingly well-executed sequences – the sound design for Hottle’s Jia is on par with A Quiet Place and Sound of Metal. But more importantly, the human aspect means remembering exactly why these films work in the first place: as a reminder of the darkness of human nature, and that mankind’s hubris in challenging the natural order creates chaos.
The original Gojira warns humanity that tampering with nuclear energy will bring about cosmic retribution. As silly as it is, Godzilla vs. Kong tackles similar things, as humanity’s efforts to assert dominion over an uncontrollable nature threatens our own existence, here in the form of beloved Japanese antagonist MechaGodzilla (originally christened in a dumb joke as “RoboGodzilla”). MechaGozilla is a perfect metaphor for Big Business’ efforts to commodify the natural world, and the subtle reveal of the giant robot gaining sentience is one of my favorite blockbuster moment in a few years. I’d be lying if I said Wingard fixed all of the human moments in this series. There are way too many locations and characters introduced in the first act. There honestly could have been another thirty minutes (probably the only time I’d ever say this) to flesh out all of these story points. And the third act almost works as a satire of America’s reaction to mass shootings the way these three monsters completely decimate a major global city populated with humans and no one seems to bat an eye. But because of these key improvements in the civilian realm, Wingard manages to find an entry point that these films have lacked to date.
In terms of the acting, every performer does their job effectively. I’m not sure I ever fully bought Alexander Skarsgård as a nerdy scientist, but he plays the role adequately – and I liked the fact that he’s scared of monkeys. Rebecca Hallis always a good addition to a film, and she sells a few small, key scenes, even if she otherwise has nothing to do. Brian Tyree Henry is an actor on the rise, and he’s excellent here as a comical conspiracy theorist – and it’s truly inspirational writing to pair him with two children, here played by Millie Bobby Brown and Julian Dennison. In that regard, I find the decision to make Brown’s teenager a full-on conspiracy theorist after the events of Godzilla: King of the Monsters hilarious, even if I still don’t buy her character and find her American accent atrocious. Dennison, meanwhile, doesn’t even bother with the accent and just focuses on being hilarious. And you know what? He’s great at it. No notes. Give me goofy Dennison in everything, forever. Demián Bichir and Eiza Gonzálezare obvious villains, but at least they’re having fun with it. And Hottle is a terrific child actress playing well against the CGI Kong and stealing every scene she’s in. There are no heavy hitters here, but that’s perfectly ok. It’s not that kind of film.
Look, Godzilla vs. Kong isn’t great. I’m stretching the truth to call it “good.” But I had a great time. I’ve missed watching giant monsters punch each other. I’ve missed seeing archetypal characters played by likable actors try to make things like “Hollow Earth” and “MechaGodzilla” sound not silly (they almost succeed). And I like when my Baby Boy Godzilla, with his tiny lizard arms, somehow successfully punches the monkey. There’s no phrase I hate more than “This film wasn’t made to win awards.” That’s a bullsh*t excuse for a lazy movie that didn’t try to do anything interesting. But there is a difference between brain food and junk food, and why every once in a while, we just really want to eat a Big Mac. We all want to be entertained. Some films do that by making us use our brains. When the giant animals punch each other, we use our ids. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Godzilla vs. Kong is now playing in a theater near you, and is streaming on HBO Max through the end of April