The title of the movie says it all. In one corner we have Godzilla, the giant blue-fire breathing lizard who scours the ocean and has a nose for other monsters roaming the Earth. In the other corner, King Kong, the giant gorilla who rules the mysterious Skull Island. Though having already met in 1963′ King Kong vs. Godzilla, the two cinematic behemoths have never met on a scale of this level before, making this one of the biggest battles we’ve ever seen on the big screen, or small screen if you watched it on HBO Max.
While I wished the entire movie was just Kong and Godzilla beating the living hell out of each other, the fight sequences we do get are pretty extraordinary. But the undeveloped universe these movies live in and some uninteresting human characters with overly complex plots bog down the overall fun and madness of the movie.
Following the events of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the world sees Godzilla has a protector of humans and let him roam the world free. But out of nowhere, Godzilla attacks a military base in Florida, causing hundreds of casualties and complete destruction. Not knowing what caused this attack, everyone is scared of what Godzilla could do next.
Meanwhile, King Kong is being held captive in a government-built outpost built on Skull Island where he is being studied by Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and is friends with a little deaf girl from the tribe on the island, Jia (Kaylee Hottle). When Nathan Land (Alexander Skarsgård), a scientist who believes that creatures like Godzilla and King Kong come from our Earth’s core, which he calls Hallow Earth, thinks he has cracked how to access Hallow Earth, they must get Kong from the Skull Island to Antarctica where the Hallow Earth access point is. But while on their travels with Kong, they run into a raging Godzilla and the two do battle while the humans are caught in the middle.
Director Adam Wingard has made a spectacle of all spectacles. Though Wingard is mostly known for making smaller films like You’re Next, The Guest, and Blair Witch, he showed that he really understood the size and scale of this movie. What WIngard does brilliantly is makes sure that we as the audience never forget how big these two creatures are. When not battling each other, Wingard uses plenty of low angles and close-ups on our two creatures to emphasize their size. The low angles allow Kong and Godzilla to take over the screen and make it feel like we are looking up at their towering stature and their closeups take up the entire screen. But when the two of them are brawling, Wingard doesn’t keep the camera close, but rather pulls it back and gives us the full scope of the demolition and mayhem these two are causing. It also allows us to see the gargantuan creatures tower over and bulldoze a number of skyscrapers. You never forget that these two are the biggest creatures on screen.
The visual effects and action sequences are tremendous. In 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the movie was very dark and murky and the camera work was chaotic and constantly cutting, making the fight sequences forgettable and ugly. In Godzilla vs Kong, Wingard lights the film so that we see everything, especially the battles. The highlight is the finale fight in Hong Kong, which is beautifully lit with neon lights on the skyscrapers. You see every move and feel every hit. The action sequences move with a fury to make for some of the best action scenes I have seen in recent years.
But this is far more than a visual movie and that is where the movie falters. The main problem with this movie is that it is part of the MonsterVerse cinematic universe, which only consists of 2014’s Godzilla, 2017’s Kong: Skull Island, the aforementioned Godzilla: King of the Monsters and this film. Before this film, there were only three movies that established a world where monsters lived among the humans and that Godzilla was a wrecking machine who helped the humans rather than hurt them and not much beyond that. For everything in this movie to work it needed a few others movies before it to really establish the world that we are in. This is especially the case for Kong. The last and only time we saw Kong in this universe was in Kong: Skull Island which took place in 1972. Godzilla vs Kong takes place in today’s world or sometime in the near future, so there is almost a fifty year gap between Skull Island and this film. What happened in that time? How did the government build the outpost on Skull Island and get Kong in there? You might not think this matters for a giant gorilla, but when the center emotional arc revolves around Kong finding a home, it would have been nice to see Kong’s arc over a few movies to see him lose his home on Skull Island and his longing for a real home. A few more movies would have also established Hallow Earth better and made the discovery of it more exciting and interesting.
The movie also faces the issue of terrible human characters, which has been an issue throughout this cinematic universe. Though we don’t necessarily care about the human characters and only want to see Godzilla and Kong duke it out, when the film wants to spend over half the runtime focusing on the characters, they need to be somewhat interesting. I did like the idea of Andrews studying Kong and the relationship Jia had with Kong and if the movie strictly focused on that, this might have been a pretty great movie. But the journey to Hallow Earth and everyone who joins on the mission isn’t very interesting and might have been if that whole story didn’t feel forced. There is also a subplot featuring Brian Tyree Henry, Millie Bobby Brown, and Julian Dennison that is utterly pointless that brings the film to a screeching halt every time they cut to it even though all three are very talented actors in their own right.
Still, even with bad characters and lack of world building, Godzilla vs Kong is an absolute spectacle for fans of chaos and mayhem. And if you feel comfortable enough, I highly recommend seeing it in a theater on the biggest screen you can as these two giants of cinema deserve a giant screen.
Of course if you don’t feel comfortable and would prefer to watch it on HBO Max, that’s totally fine too.
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