Review by Misha Begley
The Film: Legends collide in Godzilla vs. Kong as these mythic adversaries meet in a spectacular battle for the ages, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Kong and his protectors undertake a perilous journey to find his true home, and with them is Jia, a young orphaned girl with whom he has formed a unique and powerful bond. But they unexpectedly find themselves in the path of an enraged Godzilla, cutting a swath of destruction across the globe. The epic clash between the two titans — instigated by unseen forces — is only the beginning of the mystery that lies deep within the core of the Earth…
The Review: Godzilla vs Kong is the fourth instalment in Legendary Pictures’ “MonsterVerse”, the film pitching its titular characters in a fist-to-tail slugfest which spans the entire planet, including the Earth’s core.
The plot sees a team of scientists travel with Kong to the centre of the hollow earth, to retrieve a mysterious energy crystal to power the only weapon that can stop Godzilla’s rampages. Godzilla is intent on stopping them and so a series of lizard vs ape matchups quickly becomes inevitable. Meanwhile, the teenage Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) joins forces with conspiracist podcaster Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) on a mission to expose the secrets of the film’s human antagonists – the evil monster research firm APEX.
While ostensibly continuing the stories of the titans from Kong: Skull Island, Godzilla and Godzilla: King of Monsters respectively, no foreknowledge is required to grasp the needless intricacies of its MonsterVerse.
While Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla began the English-speaking reboot of the franchise with a distinctly murkier and more claustrophobic visual style, focussing the majority of his camera’s gaze to the behemoth’s impact rather than its form, Godzilla vs Kong has no such pretensions. The creatures themselves are allotted a huge percentage of the film’s runtime when compared to almost any other work in the canon of kaiju cinema. And so, like many modern blockbusters, once the first 20 minutes of requisite macguffins, like rare energy crystals and hidden ancient civilisations, have been established, its quality is going to have to be graded on a curve relative to your love of CGI. Which here is good, but not great, with the characters sometimes seeming to be moving at a lower frame rate than the film itself contributing to an annoying weightlessness to their gargantuan bodies.
However, the visuals are incredibly detailed and ambitious. From the opening vista of Skull Island to the climactic three-way fight in the skyline of Hong Kong, we are clearly witnessing the results of millions of dollars and billions of mouse clicks within, which no attempt is made to make either of these creatures feel “real”. But the film is all the better for it!
For once, it is refreshing to see a western monster movie which is in no-way a disaster movie. We are not empathising with the fear of human characters at the ground level. Instead, we are watching extended wrestling matches between our soulful ape hero and his merciless dinosaur heel. Godzilla vs Kong dispenses with the last two decades’ staple of having all the action at night, in the rain, preferably with smoke, by instead placing its kaiju quarrels amid glorious sunrises, glowing lava, and gleaming neon. Giving us clear, full body framings of both colossi clawing, punching, and nuclear beaming their way across the screen. The skyscraper-sized stars are not rampaging goliaths for us to cower from, they are contestants fighting in a ring while we cheer them on, and director Adam Wingard makes sure we are getting all the angles. And if we’re ever confused as to who’s ahead, the closest the film has to a main character that’s under 100ft, Dr Lind (played by Alexander Skarsgard), is helpful enough to annotate each of the battles with a scorecard. ‘Round 2 to Kong” etc.
The highlight of this extended series of clashes is a second act trip to Kong’s ancestral homeland beneath the surface of the Earth. It features some of the film’s most inventive action and presents backdrops of gravity-bending psychedelia that feel like they come straight from a Roger Dean painting. It adds some things that arguably no one has ever really needed from the giant gorilla’s character, a backstory, centuries worth of lore, and the answer to what Kong is actually King of.
Peppered amongst these set pieces are three interlocking, and frankly uninteresting plotlines of various humans vying for control of the monsters for their own ends. Frankly, even one human is a distraction from the main event and none of these characters have the minutes or the charisma to provide anything more than breathing space between fights. The notable exception being the performance of eight-year-old Kaylee Hottle as the deafmute Jia, a member of Skull Island’s indigenous tribe who is brought along as Kongterpreter due to her unique ability to use sign language to communicate with the noble beast. She manages to imbue genuine emotion and pathos into completely non-verbal scenes between herself and Kong.
Godzilla vs Kong has a gleeful absurdity to it and the lack of menace, gore, and death make this a suitable film to see with children. It would probably have done well as a family blockbuster, if only there were still cinemas.
2020 saw the expiration of Legendary Pictures’ deal with Japan’s TOHO Co for the rights to make US Godzilla films, and so Godzilla vs Kong may mark the finale of this attempted MonsterVerse. Director Adam Wingard has said that the franchise was “at a crossroads” and it was up to the fans to “step forward”. I would encourage any fans that enjoyed this film’s refreshingly un-gritty and yo-yoing tone and would like to see more giant monster action in that vein to instead step back into the magnificent archive of TOHO’ Cos own Japanese Godzilla work, which has sustained an inventive stream of ‘Zilla fare. Including greats such as 1975’s Terror of Mechagodzilla or Hideki Anno’s Shin Godzilla from 2016.
• Monsterverse Titanthology Volume One
Out on 13th May 2021
(Please note, this is informational copy and not part of the main review)
For new readers wanting to discover the backstories of Godzilla and Kong for the first time or fans revisiting their favourite adventures, the Monsterverse Titanthology Volume 1 brings the previously released graphic novels, Skull Island: The Birth of Kong (2017) and Godzilla: Aftershock (2019), together in one legendary volume for the first time ever.
With a new cover by Arthur Adams and never-seen sketches and art, this collection is a must-have for all Godzilla and Kong fans. Before their epic clash in Godzilla vs. Kong, learn the secrets and mysteries of Kong and Godzilla in this titanic collection.
In Godzilla: Aftershock, the King of the Monsters becomes an endangered species as an ancient terror rises from the depths of the Earth that will test Godzilla like never before. A shadowy figure stalks Dr. Emma Russell as she travels the globe with a team of Monarch operatives to unearth clues of an ancient terror returning to threaten humanity, while Godzilla clashes in a rivalry as old as the Earth itself.
In Skull Island: Birth of Kong, discover the secrets of Kong\x27s mythic origins as the cryptozoological adventurers of Monarch return to the birthplace of one of our world\x27s greatest wonders. As a journey of discovery becomes a desperate escape mission, a team of operatives fights to survive the hidden dangers of the island – and each other.