Alexander Skarsgård … Nathan Lind
Screenplay by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein
Story by Terry Rossio, Michael Dougherty & Zach Shields
Directed by Adam Wingard
Godzilla vs. Kong Review
Godzilla vs. Kong can best be described as a theme park attraction. Is it exciting? Yes. Is it visually appealing? Sure. But all the goodies are strung together by a hilariously thin plot that might as well have been ripped from one of those videos you watch while waiting in line for a ride at Universal Studios.
Here is a film where a giant monkey swings an enormous custom-made axe at a colossal lizard in the middle of Hong Kong and the persons witnessing the climactic moment react the way one reacts to a plate of macaroni and cheese. Now, thin plots and bland characters are par for the course in a film like this, but GvK spends its first hour introducing a whopping eight new characters played by some fairly well-known stars who end up with nothing to do but stare at a bunch of gorgeously rendered CGI.
That’s not to say GvK doesn’t entertain. From its astounding visuals and glorious action, director Adam Wingard serves up plenty for audiences to go bananas over, but it’s mostly monkey business.
The story, as it were, involves Godzilla losing his collective sh*t on an APEX facility run by multi-billionaire Walter Simmons (Demian Bichir). As such, Simmons seeks out renowned Hollow Earth expert Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) convinced that his half-cocked theories could lead to an energy source powerful enough to defeat Godzilla. Simmons funds a journey to the center of the Earth led, in part, by his daughter Maya (Eiza González), to retrieve said power.
Problem is, Nathan needs Kong to reach the power source but the big ape is currently housed in a Monarch facility under the care of Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), who worries that removing Kong from his habitat will draw the ire of Godzilla. As it so happens, Ilene’s adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle) is able to communicate with Kong via sign language… so, we all good!
If that weren’t enough, Brian Tyree Henry -in the film’s most memorable role- is on hand as a conspiracy theorist who thinks Simmons’ APEX company is monkeying around in all the wrong ways (mostly based on the aggressive name), an idea that jives with Madison Russell (Mille Bobby Brown) and her pal Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison), leading the three of them to team up to prove Godzilla’s innocence for reasons — guilty or not he’s still a fire-breathing loose cannon that probably deserves to die for the betterment of mankind.
Now, keep in mind, that entire setup occurs in the span of, like, 15 minutes. We’re bounced around to about 20 different locations all over the world and introduced to a group of characters who deliver rapid-fire exposition in a manner that would make Rise of Skywalker blush, all in the service of a plot essentially designed to give Kong his aforementioned huge-ass axe to wield against his reptilian foe.
No matter. People don’t attend movies with atomic fire-breathing lizards and skyscraper-sized monkeys to dive headfirst into family melodrama, as Michael Dougherty unfortunately discovered when he unleashed the underrated 2019 film Godzilla: King of the Monsters upon the world to meager box office receipts. Audiences want fun, Marvel-styled distractions with little (if any) consequence, where cities are scorched in a fury of Hellfire, but the death toll amounts to about eight people (as one news channel hilariously reports in GvK).
To that end, Godzilla vs. Kong delivers. In fact, the final 30 minutes or so, in which our titular titans go mano a mano in the middle of neon lit Hong Kong, is a spectacular visual feast with some truly jaw-dropping FX and more than a handful of goosebumps-inducing moments. Here, Wingard goes for broke and, like a kid playing with oversized monster dolls, delivers perhaps the best big monster vs. big monster smackdown ever conceived — hyperboles be damned — as Godzilla and Kong (and later, a special guest) chuck each other through buildings and engage in ferocious bare-knuckled combat that even pauses long enough to deliver a Lethal Weapon reference, all scored to Tom Holkenborg’s radical score.
Truly, this climactic sequence is worth the price of admission alone, but there are a couple of other bits that jolt the senses, including the much publicized battle royal atop an aircraft carrier, and a lengthy segment where Kong battles mutant pterodactyls in Hollow Earth, which looks like a cross between Mordor and Pandora. The visuals in these moments are dazzling to behold. Kong, in particular, looks incredible with his expressive eyes, hulking physique and soft-flowing hair that clearly took an army of animators to render. Godzilla likewise looks as menacing as ever — at one point he even delivers a wicked, scaly smile — and walks, or runs the fine line between hero and villain. The big guy must have purchased a treadmill in-between films because this giant lizard moves with all the nimbleness of a ninja, an upgrade that allows him to keep up with Kong’s more agile fighting style; and likely proves the King of the Monsters signed the same contract as Vin Diesel stipulating he was not to be outdone by his onscreen co-stars.
So, yeah, the movie delivers in terms of action and visuals. Unfortunately, none of it matters much because the characters and plot are strung together so haphazardly there isn’t much time to breathe between all the spectacle. No less than five writers are credited for the screenplay and story, which is nuts considering there is no story and the characters have practically nothing to do.
Then again, this looks like another case of behind-the-scenes tampering. When Lance Reddick appears for a brief scene and delivers exactly one line of dialogue you know somebody got screwy in the editing room. Does that mean it’s time to #ReleaseTheWingardCut?
Actually, the shorter runtime, more clearly rendered battle scenes and lack of character development feel like features that resulted from the largely (however unjust) negative reaction to Dougherty’s film — too long, too dark, too hard to see — which itself was a course correction to the negative reaction to Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla, which was deemed too slow and dull by many. Oddly enough, no matter the style, length or plot, every Godzilla film ends the same: with two or three monsters duking it out in a crowded city while the rebuild team watches from afar, ready to endure another painfully long cleanup process. (That said, it’s a wonder we don’t get more characters like Emma Russell, an embittered parent seeking revenge for a dead family member. There has to be hundreds if not thousands of grieving souls by now.)
As a side, each Godzilla film in WB’s trumped up MonsterVerse managed to deliver intermittently in drastically different ways. Want slow burn, Spielbergian adventure? Or big budget spectacle laced with hokey melodrama? Or easy-on-the eyes, cartoon-flavored action? Check. Check. And check. This Godzilla trilogy* may not be perfect, but it serves as passable, sometimes extraordinary, Saturday-matinee styled entertainment.
Then again, the fact that studios still haven’t found a way to successfully merge characters with big budget spectacle remains one of Hollywood’s more perplexing on-going problems.
*Kong: Skull Island stands as its own beast. Yeah, obviously it functions within the MonsterVerse but feels detached from the Godzilla trilogy. So, there.
Godzilla vs. Kong will hit select theaters and HBO Max on Wednesday, March 31.