“Godzilla vs. Kong” – The world has battled COVID-19 for over a year now, but in March 2021, Legendary Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures, and Toho offer another fight, a monumental one to distract us from our torturous pandemic-troubles. On celluloid-paper, “Godzilla vs. Kong” is the most significant cinematic clash since “Alien vs. Predator” (2004), Rocky Balboa vs. Ivan Drago in “Rocky IV” (1985), “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979), and hey, “King Kong vs. Godzilla” (1963).
Well, director Adam Wingard – who helmed the effectively creepy murder-spree horror film “You’re Next” (2011) – along with a giant lizard and ape deliver pulse-pounding pugilism, which is just what millions of creature-feature fans – and perhaps, the rest of us – need right now.
Wingard and the aforementioned company offer plenty of monster mayhem, and this film gets a lot right, especially when comparing “Godzilla vs. Kong” to the last Godzilla flick, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (2019). Wingard and screenwriters Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein take an astute page from “Kong: Skull Island” (2017) and attempt to maximize on-screen time for their two titular titans, even though, yes, we still have to cope with their human counterparts, who usually add little value to the basic story.
Here, the primary movie-value point is to create a scenario for Godzilla and Kong to slug it out, and the filmmakers imagine up a resourceful, thoughtful one, but the actual plot mechanics to get the reptile and gorilla to come to blows are as brain dead as a first-generation Texas Instruments calculator that’s missing its 9-volt battery. Try to ignore the shortcuts, but admittedly, that proves quite impossible.
Well, it’s present-day on Skull Island, and Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) is the chief biologist (or something) studying Kong. Our hero lives in Monarch (Corporation) Outpost #236 – Kong Containment, which resembles the Houston Astrodome on the outside and Kong’s natural environment on the inside. In reality, he’s living in a tropical Truman Show, and our primate protagonist isn’t thrilled, to say the least.
However, Andrews befriends an 8-year-old deaf girl named Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who frequently walks right up to the 30-story mountain of muscle and signs, “Hello,” with a smile. She usually mellows our fuzzy friend, so Jia is Kong’s muse or Andrews’ fail-safe when he loses patience. Ilene isn’t Jia’s biological mom, but maybe, she’s her guardian because a storm killed the girl’s parents a few years ago. It’s hard to say, but Ilene could use some parenting classes or at least a homing beacon to keep tabs on this kid’s immediate whereabouts because Jia usually has free reign over her own decisions.
For instance, when she approaches Kong on a U.S. Navy battleship in the middle of a rainstorm, Maya Simmons (Elza Gonzalez) – the daughter of Apex Cybernetics CEO Walter Simmons (Damian Bichir) – says, “Is she supposed to be out there?”
Anyways, Denham University Professor Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) converses with Ilene for three minutes tops and convinces her to move Kong from this remote island just southeast of Hawaii to Antarctica. The plan is for Kong to lead Nathan – who doubles as a pilot – Ilene, 8-year-old Jia, and Apex Cybernetics employees to a place called Hollow Earth, where they can find a power source to defeat Godzilla.
You see, Godzilla has turned heel, so Walter Simmons wants to stop him from wreaking havoc on the human race.
Meanwhile, Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) – a conspiracy theorist who helms his “Titan Truth Podcast” – regularly spouts online that he’s infiltrated Apex for five years and that this company is up to something terrible. No one, however, knows Bernie’s online identity. Apparently, nobody working at Apex – a massive tech company that prides itself on “robotics, the human mind, and artificial intelligence” – has a voice recognition app on their iPhones. So, yea, he’s a mystery, but two teenagers – Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) and Josh (Julian Dennison) – track down Bernie after 90 seconds through a frank conversation with a convenience store owner.
How convenient, right?
The film has – seemingly – about two dozen other such moments – that have nothing to do with Godzilla and Kong – where time, distance, and basic human logic are thrown out the window, and as a viewer, I wanted to bang my head against one. Like many – but not all – of these mammoth-monster flicks, the human beings drag down the narrative, and we’d all be better off if studios simply parade Godzilla, Kong, Rodan, Mothra, and more for two hours straight.
(For the record, Rodan and Mothra don’t appear in the film.)
No such luck, but we do spend lots of time with Kong because Ilene, Nathan, and Jia travel with him to the ends of the planet, rather than plotting about nonsense by themselves. Kong is also a fully developed character, and he’s the most intelligent and sensitive one in the film. Well, the second most sensitive, because Jia can somehow feel Kong’s heartbeat, openly communicate with him, and place her hand on a steel wall and sense that Godzilla is approaching from a hundred miles away, but the most advanced military technology cannot.
This kid is good. Maybe, Ilene should put her on the Monarch payroll, don’t you think?
Wingard, Pearson, and Borenstein are on the “Godzilla vs. Kong” payroll, and they do offer plenty of visual wonders, including some expansive world-building at the Hollow Earth locale, and of course, some titanic combat between our feature foes. Godzilla and Kong offer some nifty footwork and brawling tactics, including a headbutt or two, atomic breath, and our simian friend carries a new weapon of choice.
The screenplay doesn’t burn too many calories worrying about human casualties during Godzilla and Kong’s two massive skirmishes, in the same way that “Man of Steel” (2013) didn’t. Sure, nobody wants to see our fellow men, women, and children lose their lives while titans box, but we don’t need to waste precious on-screen minutes featuring their evacuations. We get about 30 seconds devoted to masses of peeps running for safety, which is the right call when we’re paying to watch Godzilla vs. Kong, not hundreds of thousands of random folks ducking for cover. Hey, let’s see them fight…and we do.
No wonder Wingard included The Hollies “The Air that I Breathe” during a key point in his film.
“There’s nothing left to be desired. Peace came upon me, and it leaves me weak.”
⭐⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Image and Trailer credits: Warner Bros. Pictures