Monsters punching each other. That’s all you really want from a kaiju film. Some buildings falling here and there, a few thousand people running for their lives, and maybe, just maybe one or two human characters to make the movie have some dialog — that’s all any of us want out of a big, giant monster film. That is all Godzilla vs. Kong delivers pretty much and nothing more.
Literally nothing more, to the point that it may deliver less. It’s not clear because nothing is clear in Godzilla vs. Kong, a movie that is so dumb it is almost comical. A movie that should be fun even if it is so dumb but can’t quite land that perfect balance between fun and stupid. It’s a film where a giant monkey and a giant lizard fight each other for at least half of the run time. I just wish the other half wasn’t there.
Godzilla vs. Kong
Director: Andrew Wingard
Release Date: March 31, 2021 (Theatrical and HBO Max)
The entire screenplay for Godzilla vs. Kong, for better or worse, is designed around more and more implausible occurrences to get every character to the same place in order for the climactic battle between Godzilla and Kong (and a surprise contender) to occur. On the Godzilla side of the franchise, we’re reintroduced to Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), who has become obsessed with Godzilla after the events of Godzilla King of Monsters. The giant hasn’t been seen for three years but attacks the laboratory of a company called Apex. Madison is convinced that he hasn’t turned bad and was prompted and tracks down a conspiracy podcast host named Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Hill) to figure out just what’s going on.
Meanwhile, on Skull Island, Monarch has built a giant dome to keep Kong locked up in for his own safety so that he and Godzilla don’t fight to be the apex predatory of the planet. This program is led by Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), who is aided by Jia (Kaylee Hottle), the last survivor of the indigenous people of Skull Island. However, when Apex boss Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir) taps debunked scientist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) to find the place where the kaiju come from in order to stop Godzilla, Kong is released to guide everyone there. There are even more storylines and as the film progresses they all become even dumber.
The first thing that becomes very clear is that this is a King Kong movie with Godzilla guest-starring in it. I suppose that’s kind of fair, given Godzilla has had two movies in this universe and Kong only one but the giant lizard truly feels like an also-ran in terms of plot for the film. The movie ping pongs back and forth between the Kong characters and the Godzilla ones, but since Madison’s storyline has absolutely nothing to do with Godzilla himself it feels like the big guy is left behind. Meanwhile, Kong gets to rediscover his home, learns to speak through sign language, and shares intimate moments with many of the characters. It really feels like Godzilla gets the shaft.
It also doesn’t help that Kong’s humans get the more interesting action of travelling to the center of the earth to an undiscovered world where giant apes once ruled and protected an unimaginable power source with a giant axe. That kind of dumb storyline I can entirely get behind and the film does an admirable job of playing up its Journey to the Center of the Earth influences. While every character is a trope they are at least given a cool new world to explore.
On the flip side is the cooker-cutter, stereotypical storyline of Madison and her cohorts attempting to uncover the truth of what Apex is doing. Not only is the story completely uninteresting but it’s the kind of dumb that isn’t fun and veers into annoying. Bernie and Madison are mostly just exposition machines with littler character and the third guy in the party are just the fat-kid sidekick turned up to eleven. It’s like they fed a computer information on blockbusters and this is the AI-generated plot it kicked out to please everyone. Maybe if Godzilla vs. Kong was smart enough to recognize just how dumb it is it could work but it’s all played too earnestly to be enjoyable on any level. The story just makes too little sense and feels too contrived to ever be fun to watch.
It’s really too bad that you have to sit through it to get to the action because Wingard knocks it out of the park. Wingard has always been a clever director, especially with his smaller films like You’re Next and The Guest but it’s impressive to see him catapult that into a big action movie. He keeps massive monster battles coherent and awesome to look at. They’re fun to watch and you never get lost. The final battle takes place in Hong Kong and the use of that city’s neon light-covered buildings is fantastic as the two monsters duke it out among them. It’s too bad we have to sit through the rest of it. I won’t blame him for a crappy screenplay written by committee but he could have at least played with the camp a bit more to make the human sections work.
There’s something to be said for a big movie about monsters punching each other being nothing more than that but that doesn’t mean it needs to be dumb. You can play these things smartly and still have fun with them. You can do original things and still have monsters just clobbering each other. Godzilla vs. Kong almost makes it not worth it to sit through its idiotic storyline to see two monsters go at it in multiple spectacular brawls. You’re sure to have fun when they are but it’s quite the feat to make the rest of the movie so bad that you’re not sure if you really want to.