After a handful of delays, the epic showdown between Godzilla and Kong has finally arrived and the wait has been (mostly) worth it.
Directed By: Adam Wingard
Written By: Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Kaylee Hottle
Release Date: March 31, 2021 in Theaters and HBO Max
It’s no secret Godzilla vs. Kong has been one of my most anticipated films (both last year AND this year), so despite my best efforts, I went into the movie with quite a bit of hype/expectations. It’s not normally wise to do so, but somehow the film managed to meet those lofty expectations and deliver some seriously impressive Monster Movie action. While it’s more on the side of dumb “popcorn” fun than anything else, there’s plenty of reason to come back to this film for more.
Spoiler Warning: Normally, I do my best to avoid any spoilers in my reviews, but there’s one (though if you’ve seen toys on the shelf you probably already know about it) that’s almost impossible to avoid. It’s pretty much the impetus for the whole film so really hard to not mention. So if you want to avoid EVERYTHING then you might want to read this review after.
Setting the Stage
Something is wrong with Godzilla. He’s been considered the planet’s savior who has helped keep all the other Titans at bay in the five years since the events of the previous film (King of the Monsters). And yet, a seemingly unprovoked attacked on US soil has many wondering if the monster is still a protector, or needs to be dealt with himself.
Madison Russell (Millie Bobbie Brown) doesn’t believe Godzilla has turned villain and is deadset on figuring out what is making Godzilla go nuts. With the help of her friend Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison), they work with a conspiracy podcaster to learn the truth. After busting into the remnants of the Apex Cybernetics facility Godzilla destroyed they discover something far more sinister. The company is working to develop technology to end the Titans once and for all, but they need something to make it fully functional…
Then there’s Kong. Things have changed drastically since the last time we saw Skull Island. Like many of the other monsters, the Monarch organization has contained Kong on the island itself, utilizing a massive dome/containment center to keep him isolated. Apparently the storm surrounding the island continued to worsen, ending up killing off all but ONE of the native Iwi’s who called it home.
Jia (Kaylee Hottle), a little girl, is all that’s left but she’s formed an unusual bond with the mighty Kong. Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) has adopted and cares for the child, while also working directly with Kong as part of research and development. In short, Kong isn’t just a rampaging and unknown monster as we saw in his previous solo film.
The problem, however, is he’s also grown way too big for his containment to continue holding him. He knows this, and it won’t be much longer before Monarch will have to find another solution. Part of the concern here, is that Kong’s containment also helps keep him hidden from Godzilla.
Since taking down Ghidorah, Godzilla has been roaming the planet and putting down any other Titans who could pose a threat (something actually explained in the upcoming prequel comic. With Kong being another “alpha” Titan, it’s possible Godzilla would be compelled to track him down as he has the others.
It’s an interesting plot thread that helps explain Kong’s absence from the rest of the world’s events during all of Godzilla’s adventures. I loved the idea behind it, as Kong has become much more than a monster and shows a determined willingness to work with humanity. Hell, he even communicates with Jia! It’s a great take on the icon that I think has potential for even more stories down the road, though it doesn’t really take the focus in THIS film.
Wouldn’t you know it, there might be a solution to Kong needing a new location and finding the power source Apex is after: the Hollow Earth theory. We’ve seen this concept pop up a couple times in the MonsterVerse films, but in Godzilla vs. Kong it’s a central part of the story. Monarch has been studying the Hollow Earth idea, which supposes that at the Earth’s core is another world entirely and the source of the Titans in general. There’s an untapped energy source there, one which gives Godzilla his power and it’s exactly what Apex needs to get their Mecha-Godzilla up and running.
Getting there has proved problematic. The head of Apex has enlisted Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) to help lead an expedition, using their specialized craft into the Hollow Earth and discover the source of this power. They’ll need Kong to help guide them along the way…
Thus, the two monsters are set on a collision course with one another. Godzilla isn’t about to let Kong go unchallenged and Kong sure as hell isn’t about to roll over and take a beating. After a quick journey to the center of the Earth, the Titans find themselves locked in battle with one another while having to contend with Apex’s mechanical monster.
Big Action, Less Exposition
One of the complaints I’ve seen people lobby at the current MonsterVerse films is how they haven’t balanced the “human” element of the story with the monster action. While I feel King of the Monsters did a pretty solid job of both, I totally understand why it didn’t work for everyone.
Godzilla vs. Kong definitely skews more towards focusing on the monsters, with several scenes that convey the story entirely through them (their grunts and facial expressions) rather than dialog. For the most part, this works really well and manages to keep the action moving along at a blistering pace.
I also loved how the film managed to cut out some of the unnecessary fat. For example, one minute they’re talking about moving Kong to the Arctic (where there’s an entrance to the Hollow Earth) and literally the next scene we see Kong in the middle of the ocean chained to a battleship. There’s no explanation of how they did it, but honestly, there isn’t one needed. I mean, if they have the means to contain Kong within a giant artificial dome, it makes sense they could figure out how to transport him.
There’s the assumption that audiences HAVE to see every explanation of how something happens. It’s something too many films, even King of the Monsters, have done too much of in recent years. Here, GvK cuts all of that out and lets the audiences make the connection themselves.
By and large, this works out really well and keeps the story moving forward. The downside, however, is that there were some parts of the film where a little extra exposition/explanation would have been beneficial. For instance, the stuff about Skull Island, Hollow Earth, and the new tech humans are using is mostly explored in the prequel comics (which have been delayed to April 6th and I only read them thanks to a review copy). Hell, the film makes mention of Godzilla and Kong’s ancestors having some sort of ancient rivalry, but aside from a quick mention, it really doesn’t come into play.
It’s an element of the story that could have really brought something bigger to the story. Something beyond the two simply being “alphas” and not being able to stand one another because of that. Based on what we see within the Hollow Earth, there’s clearly a larger story to be told about the ancient civilizations and how they once ruled the planet. Yet, the film uses it as little more than cool backdrop.
As it stands, the humans are pushed almost TOO far into the background. Even returning actors like Millie Bobby Brown and Kyle Chandler feel largely…useless. Like, the events of the film would have played out exactly the same way even if they’d been out of the film completely.
This feels the case for a number of characters, who only serve to give the audience information rather than impact the overall plot. I mean, to be fair, we’re watching this movie FOR the action, so it’s tough to complain that the action is what takes center-stage. Even so, it feels like we’re still not quite getting the right balance and I was hankering for a little more story. This is especially true of the film’s ending that seems a bit too neatly wrapped up.
No Holding Back
Easily the thing I enjoy most about the story in Godzilla vs. Kong, is the fact that the filmmakers have all decided to just have fun. The pseudo-science approach (especially in the 2014 Godzilla) was largely pushed aside in King of the Monsters, but in GvK, it’s very clear they’re happy to do whatever they feel like. In many ways, it feels like something the MonsterVerse should have done from the start.
Trying to give these giant monsters some sort of plausible origin/explanation just felt limiting. Now, however, the gloves are off and we’re getting super-duper Sci-Fi goofiness and it’s working. Secret underground bunks with a hyper-rail leading to an even MORE secret base in Hong Kong? Sure, why not. Technology that seems way out of line with what the people were capable of in the previous films? Absolutely. Ancient order of Kong-like beings who ruled the underground, complete with a throne? Don’t see why not!
While I wish the story had a little more depth to it, I can’t deny that this “fuck it” approach to the story has me eager for more films than ever before. I sincerely hope they decide to keep the MonsterVerse going, as Godzilla vs. Kong shows the fun to be had when they throw caution to the wind. There’s no telling where they could go next, from bringing in one of many alien species of the Toho films, to Space Godzilla, or just shifting the focus entirely to Kong.
Godzilla vs. Kong brings a ridiculous amount of great action. While the trailers have focused on that aspect, they offer up only a small taste of what the film has in store. This is easily the best looking fights we’ve gotten in the MonsterVerse and each battle feels more impressive than the last.
While I enjoyed the fights in King of the Monsters, something about Kong and Godzilla facing off feels more visceral and dynamic. The choreography between them feels realistic while still capturing the massive scope these kaiju movies deserve. The scale feels impressive and manages to make the previous encounters on the big screen seem smaller by comparison.
I was impressed with how Mecha-Godzilla was introduced and the way he worked in the fights. While the toys didn’t exactly make him look great, seeing the mechanical monster in action blew me away. I only wish we could have seen more of him, perhaps even leading with him to begin with.
There are a number of “holy shit” moments throughout the film that not only leave you breathless, but also excited to watch it again. Seriously, even now as I type this up, I feel the itch to throw the movie back on the screen so I can enjoy the spectacle once more. While it may not be as deep in terms of the story, it features more bombastic action that will probably rope you in to multiple viewings more than the previous films.
A few small things worth pointing out:
A Victor – Yes, as everyone guessed, Godzilla and Kong ultimately “team up” to take down a bigger threat. That said, there is still a clear winner between the two in their fight.
Mothra – As with the previous films, there are a number of Easter eggs and references for long-time kaiju fans to enjoy. Keep your eyes open for some fun ones, including a reference to a new Mothra egg! Sadly, she doesn’t appear on the screen this time around but I was glad to see she wasn’t completely forgotten.
Ghidorah – There’s a cool plot element that involves Ghidorah (and the end credits scene from King of the Monsters). I won’t go into it much here to avoid other spoilers, but it was both incredibly awesome and a little frustrating. Lot more could have been done with the story for that, but it felt glossed over too quickly.
Rodan – The film does a good job of being solely focused on Godzilla and Kong, which makes sense, but the complete lack of other big kaiju is still kind of a bummer. There are a couple minor appearances, but none of the big names show up, despite having awoken so dramatically in the last film. I figured Rodan’s flip-flopping ass would show up in some form…
VFX – Oh man, does this film look amazing. The multiple delays the film faced can be seen in the incredibly amount of polish the visual effects have. Kong and Godzilla have never looked better, and the hidden world of the Hollow Earth was a wonder to behold.