Review: “Godzilla vs. Kong”

In 2015 Legendary Pictures in partnership with Warner Bros. announced the start of a new cinematic universe, the MonsterVerse. After the success of the 2014 “Godzilla” film, the two studios revealed plans to bring the legendary American titan King Kong to the fray and eventually see the two literal giants battle it out on the big screen. Six years later and that epic showdown has FINALLY arrived with “Godzilla vs. Kong”. Despite being delayed a year due to the pandemic, “Godzilla vs. Kong” has arguably been the most anticipated big screen blockbuster of 2021 and even maybe 2020. The film sees a group of humans working for an organization called Apex who are trying to create a new weapon to aid in the fight against Godzilla should he ever go rogue. To do so they need to travel into the Hollow Earth, the ancestral home of all titans, but need a titan to guide them and thus they turn to King Kong who, once he leaves his sanctuary on Skull Island, becomes the target for Godzilla who seeks to become Earth’s primary titan leading to several showdowns between the monsters. The final result is a cinematic epic that forsakes story and character development in favor of action and entertainment. In this particular case, that’s not a bad thing.

Screenshot Courtesy of Warner Bros.

“Godzilla vs. Kong” is one of those movies that isn’t meant to be cinematic art, well not in the traditional sense anyway. This is a movie made to entertain, and that it does in spades. Director Adam Wingard, more well known for his smaller scale horror and thriller films like “The Guest”, “Blair Witch”, “Death Note” and his breakout modern classic “You’re Next”, completely shifts his entire filming style focusing less on subtlety and scares and more on massive set pieces and a CGI riddled slug fest between two of the most iconic monsters in cinema history. “Godzilla vs. Kong” is exactly what you think it is and, honestly, that’s pretty much all it needs to be. It contains no less than three showdowns between the titans, ending in a winner, leading to a fourth showdown in the final act with a surprise combatant that, if you’ve been following the spoiler-filled trailers, shouldn’t actually be much of a surprise but is an excellent piece of pandering to the fans who demanded the most epic “versus” movie these monsters and their legion of fellow titans and kaiju could provide. While we’ve seen these monsters duke it out before, we’ve never seen them go at it quite like this. This isn’t two people in costumes pounding on each other with limited mobility. This is two computer-generated creatures in several different scenarios battling it out and because it’s all CGI the limits seem endless and even feel endless as the monsters take each other on.

Screenshot Courtesy of Warner Bros.

However, in order to bring the titans together there has to be a reason and a story and while it is pretty convoluted and requires a MASSIVE extension of disbelief, there is to some great imagery and worldbuilding as well as some interesting development for both Kong and Godzilla. It should be noted that in the grand scheme of things this is Kong’s movie. He has the most screen time and plays the biggest role in the plot itself even having a special connection to the humans who see him as the more gentle of the two giants complimenting his portrayal from “Kong: Skull Island”. We learn from the opening credit montage that Kong is the lone remaining titan other than Godzilla who, following “King of the Monsters”, has spent years taking on the remaining titans to establish his supremacy. So, Kong is kept isolated by Monarch until the human characters choose to remove him from the island to guide them through the Hollow Earth, the titans’ original home world, towards a potentially infinite energy source. It’s as convoluted as it sounds using a lot of sci-fi mumbo jumbo to explain a lot of scientific elements that the viewers aren’t supposed to really care to understand. It’s just a fun excuse to get Kong off the island which antagonizes Godzilla and leads to several run-ins between the two Kings. Godzilla really doesn’t have much to do for most of the second act and his motivations are fleshed out throughout the movie as he basically waits to take on Kong in the final third of the film. Kong gets most of the actual development in this movie through his interactions with the humans and his adventures in the Hollow Earth which itself is a beautifully realized landscape with even more monsters to enjoy. I kinda liked this approach which presented a major contrast between the more human-like and gentle Kong and the more brutal and ruthless predator that is Godzilla. The fact that the King of the Monsters seems so docile for most of the movie also hints to us, and the humans, that his aggression isn’t random, there’s a reason and it’s focused. We eventually find out exactly what that reason is and it’s more than just Kong.

Screenshot Courtesy of Warner Bros.

With that said, we don’t get the most in-depth examinations of the human characters, both new and returning, who thankfully take a back seat to the monsters for most of the movie. Usually you look at films like “Transformers” and it feels like they spend too much time on the people and not enough on the battles and while it might seem hypocritical to bash Michael Bay but praise “Godzilla vs. Kong” I think this monster movie does everything right in terms of reminding us time and time again that this is an action epic, and it should be treated as such. The human’s aren’t useless. They play an important role in the story itself, this this movie always keeps your expectations at just the right level with the human story serving simply as a means to bring the monsters together and establish their world reminding us that this is, in fact, THEIR world and THEIR movie, the humans are just in it. The funny part is even with less character development and focus on the humans, these might be some of the most likable people these films have ever brought us. On the flip side the main human antagonists, representatives of the Apex Corporation, are as basic as they come which again feels strangely fine because they simply serve as a means to an end and one more piece in showing how the monsters are in charge, not the people, as well as providing the source of Godzilla’s poor attitude that sets off the chain of events leading to his showdown with Kong.

Screenshot Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Basically, what I’m getting at is “Godzilla vs. Kong” isn’t supposed to be this deep dive into powerful themes, although it does contain some small shades of thematic resonance like exploring how human intervention actually worsens the problem rather than solves it. This is a movie made to entertain and in my opinion, it brings out the very best in pulse-pounding monster movie escapism. The action itself is worth the price of admission as there are countless fist pumping moments and regardless of which monster you route for you’ll have your chance to celebrate. I found it to be probably the most entertaining and engaging movie in the MonsterVerse to date because it knows what it needs to be and accomplishes that with confidence and an unapologetic focus on mind-numbing thrills and excitement over all else. It’s the blueprint that I think many of these kinds of movies should look to for the future. If you’re going to make a movie to entertain then own it. As a fan I felt like I got everything I wanted and needed out of the film, although I did feel like maybe at least one more standalone movie of some kind would have sufficed to help with the buildup. However, this isn’t a breakdown of the MonsterVerse as a whole which would be a worthy feature to explore in the future seeing as it’s possible that this is the final film in the franchise for now…who am I kidding if this is a success there’ll be a lot more of these for sure.

Screenshot Courtesy of Warner Bros.

If you go into “Godzilla vs. Kong” with the proper expectations you’re going to have a great time and, just to throw this out there, if you feel comfortable enough this is a movie that DEMANDS the big screen experience. “Godzilla vs. Kong” is exactly what it says it is, the two greatest titans in cinema going at it once again and in epic fashion. I do kind of feel like Kong should have gotten top billing instead seeing as much of the story focuses on him, but that’s being really nitpicky. Everything that surrounds the main conflict is merely a means to an end but even some of that feels pretty epic especially as we see Kong explore his ancestral home world in Hollow Earth. Eyepopping visuals, intense and entertaining fights, and an unrelenting focus on action and style over substance and pacing somehow add up to one of the most shamelessly entertaining movies of the past few years. Whether this is your first time exploring the world of these titular monsters or you’ve been waiting for this showdown for half a decade, “Godzilla vs. Kong” offers more than enough to satisfy and lives up to its name and the hype bringing us a cinematic showdown for the ages.

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