The current rundown that makes up Warner Bros.’s “Monsterverse” franchise has always felt a bit like it’s flying by the seat of its pants in terms of connecting the storylines and characters. Its latest chapter, Godzilla vs. Kong, does a fairly solid job pulling the loose threads together into a story about creatures like Godzilla and Kong (and seemingly dozens of other kaiju monsters) and their origins on this planet. But let’s be honest, most people don’t come to these movies looking for a cohesive storyline; most of us are here to watch giant monsters destroy everything in their path, including each other, if necessary.
Following Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island, and Godzilla: King of the Monsters—all of which planted the seeds for this ultimate throwdown between icons—Godzilla vs. Kong is actually a couple different movies in one. The primary story involves Godzilla, who is now seen as a protective force on the planet, becoming enraged at something and tearing through a city, seemingly at random. Worried that the nuclear fire-breathing creature now poses a threat to the planet, the powers that be decide they need a means of protecting humanity. Meanwhile, a group of scientists looking into the possibility that there is or was life at the center of the earth finally realizes that Kong may be able to help them prove their theory. They plan to take him from Skull Island to a recently discovered tunnel/entry point that could lead to the so-called hollow earth, where kaiju once lived and Kong’s ancestors once ruled. Some believe getting there may be the key to stopping Godzilla’s rampage as well.
In case you hadn’t figured this out already, there’s a lot of story in Godzilla vs. Kong—probably too much. Using a combination of heavy tranquilizers and a young deaf girl who lived on Skull Island and seems to be the only person Kong trusts, the scientists and military join forces to transport Kong via aircraft carrier to this tunnel opening. That’s when the first of many confrontations with Godzilla happens. I probably don’t have to tell you how utterly satisfying it is to watch these two titans actually come to blows. The monsters have utterly unique fighting styles that reveal each other’s strengths and weaknesses in combat. Kong is about brute strength; Godzilla’s power is more elemental. And in this first battle, it’s clear Godzilla has the advantage in the water.
Once again, the franchise producers have tapped a filmmaker with little or no experience in big-budget filmmaking. But what director Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest) excels at in this movie is building an almost oppressive level of tension and character development. Again, people don’t swarm to these movies for getting into the hearts and minds of their characters, but, much like Kong: Skull Island, there is a noticeable strength in this particular film because the filmmaker actually seems to give a damn about both his human and non-human leads.
And because giant monsters never seem to be enough for these movies, there’s a villain in the form of corporate giant Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir), who is effectively pulling the strings on all that transpires. It turns out he has been emitting a signal that drives Godzilla crazy and caused him to attack in the first place. So while the main story is happening elsewhere, there’s this almost disposable subplot involving Millie Bobby Brown’s character, Madison (from the last film), as well as her newfound friend Josh (Julian Dennison) and a conspiracy-theory podcaster (Brian Tyree Henry) who believes he understands the reason why Godzilla attacked. The three of them find a way to infiltrate Simmons’ organization and end up getting to the hollow core of the earth around the same time as everybody else.
The larger mission involving Kong is spearheaded by Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård), a scientist who wrote a book about his hollow earth theory that went largely unnoticed, and Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), who supervises both Kong’s life on Skull Island and young Jia (Kaylee Hottle, a deaf actor in her first film role), who is the only human Kong seems to trust. Supervising this core group on the mission is Simmons’ daughter Maya (Eiza González), who just oozes bad news from the minute she arrives. Although the Simmons group says it wants to save the earth and put the monsters on the right path to finding their place in it, we never really trust them in their search for the unknown power that exists at the center of the earth, so I’m not sure why the filmmakers even bother trying to convince us otherwise.
From a script credited to Eric Pearson (Black Widow, Thor: Ragnarok) and Max Borenstein (who is the only screenwriter to have worked on all four Monsterverse films), Godzilla vs. Kong has a tremendous amount going for it, beginning and ending with its epic, splashy and beautifully staged action sequences, each set in unique environments that add texture, color, and hazards to each colossal clash. The final battle, set in Hong Kong, is next-level when it comes to destruction, staging, and one moment topping the next. And even though many of you might know what surprise adversary awaits our title heroes, I won’t spoil it here—but it is a fantastic addition to this universe.
With more than a few welcome nods to the original 1963 King Kong vs. Godzilla, this latest entry does a remarkable job of making its digitally created fight sequences feel tactile and organically brutal in a way many of the more recent titles have not. They don’t quite meet the epic level of two guys in suits duking it out, but it’s a decent approximation. And while obviously, you should not re-enter a movie theater until you are good and ready, I was fortunate enough to see this at a press screening in Dolby Atmos, and it made me downright emotional getting my eyes and ears blown out of my skull. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it at home on HBO Max, but more than any film I’ve seen in the last year (including Tenet), I couldn’t imagine seeing this one any other way than on the biggest screen possible, with the best sound available.
The film opens Wednesday, March 31, theatrically and on HBO Max. Please follow CDC, health department and venue guidelines if attending indoor screenings.
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