Sometimes a movie’s title says it all. That’s definitely the case with “Godzilla vs. Kong”, the fourth film in Legendary Entertainment’s MonsterVerse following two “Godzilla” movies and 2017’s “Kong: Skull Island”. It should go without saying, but you don’t enter into something called “Godzilla vs. Kong” with expectations of an emotionally layered and deeply nuanced story. Instead this is exactly what the title advertises. It’s 100% geek food and I was more than happy to fill my plate.
I’ve really enjoyed the MonsterVerse movies so far, much more than I expected. The three previous films each fed the shared-world space while still feeling individually unique. Some of the creative choices (especially in the “Godzilla” flicks) didn’t resonate with everyone, but I love how they gelled the classic approach to Godzilla with a more modern perspective. Meanwhile “Kong: Skull Island” was a straightforward, high-energy blockbuster full of fun yet surprisingly interesting characters and stunning eye-candy from start to finish.
“Godzilla vs. Kong” goes for all of that plus some. When it goes big (which it does often) it makes good on its promises of big monster action and an epic showdown between two pop culture titans. The problems seep in with some of the human characters. But come on, this is all about King Kong, Godzilla, and a story that brings them together in a way that at least makes sense. By that measure director Adam Wingard and a writer’s room full of talent manage to pull it off, delivering a rousing crowdpleaser that’s sure to have kaiju fans high-fiving in the theater or on their couches.
The movie starts with some necessary table setting. The title creatures are believed to be the last two Alpha Titans on the planet. Kong is being held in a massive virtual reality containment dome on Skull Island by the Titan-studying organization Monarch. The facility is overseen by Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) who has discovered a communication link with Kong via her adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle), a young deaf girl orphaned on Skull Island. The sweet bond between child and primate highlights the human bond Kong has always possessed dating back to his original 1933 RKO Radio Pictures movie. In that regard it makes sense that he gets more screen time.
Though it took two movies of convincing, Godzilla is now viewed as a protector of mankind (although a moody one). But something has him stirred up and nobody knows what. For the first time in three years the scaly King of the Monsters emerges from the ocean waters and attacks a Pensacola, Florida research facility of Apex Cybernetics, an international tech corporation ran by the dapper Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir). Godzilla’s seemingly random rampage on the Gulf Coast complex has people of earth a little concerned including a returning Kyle Chandler who’s really only here to deliver deliciously hokey lines like “Godzilla is out there, and he’s hurting people, and we don’t know why!”
Following the attack, Simmons recruits tarnished ex-Monarch scientist Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) to head an expedition to Hollow Earth, a deep subterranean world and secret home of the Titans. Lind’s mission is to study a new-found energy source believed to possess enough power to enable mankind to defend itself against Godzilla. But to get to Hollow Earth Lind will need a guide. So he contacts Ilene on Skull Island and convinces her to let Kong lead them to the earth’s core. One problem – once Kong is out of containment Godzilla will likely sense the new threat and come for him. And of course he does. As a convoy of aircraft carriers and destroyers transport a lightly sedated Kong across the ocean, Godzilla attacks which leads to an exhilarating heavyweight rumble, the first of several eye-popping CGI clashes we’re treated to.
I won’t labor on the plot (and there is more plot than you might expect), but it’s all quite ridiculous and that’s part of the fun. The biggest misfire is a silly side-story with Brian Tyree Henry as a podcaster and self-proclaimed whistleblower teaming up with a returning Millie Bobby Brown and her unfunny tag-along pal played by Julian Dennison. The trio suspects Apex of hiding something regarding Godzilla’s attack and through a series of meant-to-be-amusing sequences effortlessly break into and infiltrate the corporation’s highest security areas. The whole scenario is absurd and too hard to believe, and that’s saying a lot in a movie about two 350-foot(ish) tall behemoths duking it out. There are some smaller touches that are a lot funnier, mostly involving the creatures (take Kong waking up on Skull Island and taking a morning stretch to Bobby Vinton’s “Over the Mountain, Across the Sea”).
And that leads back the movie’s biggest draw – Godzilla and King Kong. Few of the human characters will stick with you save for young Kaylee Hottle who brings a ton of heart and warmth to the movie. But it’s the Rock’em Sock’em creature combat that audiences are going to show up for and the filmmakers know it. People want to see Godzilla’s radioactive fire breath and Kong’s primal chest pound. We come to a movie called “Godzilla vs. Kong” for big action and giddy spectacle. Wingard does exactly what he needs to – give us just enough story to move from set piece to set piece and then deliver the goods on a massive and glorious scale. I caught myself cheering, pumping my fist, and letting out more than one audible “WOW“, and that from a screener at home. I can’t wait to see it again this weekend, this time on a big screen. “Godzilla vs. Kong” opens Wednesday, March 31st in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.
VERDICT – 4 STARS