Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)
One Will Fall
Warning: This review contains spoilers.
Godzilla vs. Kong is outrageously over-the-top; it’s a gigantic, noisy, chaotic blockbuster that delivers the big screen smackdown audiences have been waiting to see. Kicking off their MonsterVerse franchise in 2014 with Godzilla, then Kong: Skull Island some years later, which introduced us to Gojira’s longtime rival King Kong, studios Warner Bros. and Legendary had always intended to have these two giants duke it out at some point in time. However, it wasn’t until the post-credit scene of Skull Island that audiences were teased with the notion of an upcoming match. The next installment in the series, 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, expanded the ‘verse and set the pieces in place for a mighty face-off between King Kong and Godzilla, a ‘rumble in the jungle’ we hadn’t seen for 59 long years, since the pair last fought in 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla. It’s time fans finally get another opportunity to see these titans trade blows in a spectacular fashion.
Set five years after the events of King of the Monsters, which took place in 2019, and 51 years after Skull Island, which was set in 1973, Godzilla vs. Kong opens on Skull Island, where the isle’s climate has been destabilized. Kong is living in captivity, caged inside an enormous dome, where he is being watched by the organization, Monarch. Crucial to the operation is Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), whose adopted child, deaf Iwi native Jia (Kaylee Hottle), has formed a special bond with the oversized gorilla.
Meanwhile, back in Florida, a conspiracy podcaster, Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), sneaks back into a large corporation, Apex Industries, where he worked as a technician, to get proof of a sinister plot he believes the organization is involved in. Suddenly, Godzilla emerges and attacks the facility without warning, prompting ‘Zilla advocate Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) to call her father Mark (Kyle Chandler), who is a Monarch scientist, to try to find out why the enormous lizard is acting this way. Others are also concerned including the founder and CEO of Apex Industries, Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir), who is convinced they can find something in a place called Hollow Earth (a subterranean realm deep within the earth) that can stop Godzilla.
That’s when they turn to worn-out Monarch geologist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) to help them out as he’d written a book on the Hollow Earth after attempting to make the trip some years earlier from Antarctica where he lost his brother. According to Nathan’s writing, Kong should be able to locate Hollow Earth instinctively; thus, the corporation hires Nathan to take Kong off Skull Island and transport the large ape to Antarctica, where he should be able to lead a team to Hollow Earth through the caves under the planet’s surface. Nathan convinces Andrews that this is the right thing to do, persuading her that Kong has been alone on Skull Island for too long and that this may be the only way for Kong to find others like himself and be reunited with his kind.
Nathan, Andrews, and Jia (aka Team Kong) embark on a perilous journey to take Kong to Hollow Earth. At the same time, Madison and her Kiwi friend, Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison), team up with the slightly eccentric Bernie (aka Team Godzilla) to determine what’s making Godzilla go gaga. Both groups eventually find themselves smack center in the middle of Apex Industries’ outlandish plan to attempt to solve the world’s ‘Titan problem.’
Directed by Adam Wingard, The Guest (2014), Godzilla vs. Kong really feels like a Saturday morning cartoon come to life. The film is brimming with action and bursts to life in an array of color and sound with Wingard bringing his usual vibrant energy and robust color palette to the franchise. From the signature throwdown between the beasts on an Aircraft Carrier to the bizarreness of the Hollow World, home of the Titans (where we see monsters such as Warbats, Nozukis, and Hellhawks in action), those who know their Toho giants are in for a treat; Wingard knows why people are buying a ticket and totally brings it with all of the film’s $200 million budget up on the screen. Additionally, there are many references to former films in the series (one of my favorite scenes features a Skullcrawler) and a few winks and nods to those old-school Kong/Godzilla flicks from yesteryear.
As one would expect, the production is top-notch, from the pounding score by Junkie XL, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), to the uber-slick lensing of Ben Seresin, World War Z (2013), and the intricate production design by Tom S. Hammock, The Guest (2014), and Owen Paterson, The Matrix (1999), Godzilla vs. Kong is made to be seen on the largest screen possible — I’d recommend IMAX. Furthermore, the visuals are first-rate and rich in texture and detail, chiefly those gargantuan monsters and their jaw-dropping battle sequences, where creatures smash one another through buildings as if they were made of cardboard, the highlight being a clash in a neon-lit city, where Kong blocks the lizard’s trademark atomic fire breath with a battle-ax.
Sure, the film is silly — Kong, who goes into a cardiac arrest, is revived by a craft known as a HEAV (Hollow Earth Anti-Gravity Vehicle) which is used as a defibrillator — but Wingard knows how ridiculous this whole venture is and simply goes with it. Then, just when you think you’ve seen it all, the last act dials it up to eleven with the introduction of Mechagodzilla, fricken Mechagodzilla, who smashes it out with the titular behemoths in the middle of Tokyo.
The script, penned by Eric Pearson, Thor: Ragnarok (2017), and Max Borenstein, Kong: Skull Island (2017) — working from a story by Terry Rossio, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), Michael Dougherty, Krampus (2015), and Zach Shields, Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) — is a bit scattershot and hectic, and somewhat hard to follow, filmmakers frantically jumping from one action sequence to the next without a moment’s breath. The film’s human element is slightly lacking, with the exception of Millie Bobby Brown’s Madison and her posse, who inject some life and laughs into the feature. Granted, Wingard and his team do a solid job in humanizing Kong via some superb VFX and his relationship with the young Jia, who can communicate with Kong through sign language. Plus, we also get to know more about the history of the enormous primate throughout the course of the adventure.
Performances are pretty stock standard for a film of this ilk, with Brian Tyree Henry, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018), being the standout as conspiracy theorist Bernie. Millie Bobby Brown, Enola Holmes (2020), brings her usual charm to the proceedings and is more mature and independent this time around. Julian Dennison, Deadpool 2 (2018), gets a few moments to shine, while Japanese actor Shun Oguri, Lupin the 3rd (2014), does well in his small role as Ren Serizawa, son of the late Monarch scientist Ishirō Serizawa. Unfortunately, Eiza González, Baby Driver (2017), is totally wasted in a thankless role as Maya Simmons, Walter’s daughter, who joins the expedition at the request of her entrepreneur businessman father. Lastly, look out for Ronny Chieng, Crazy Rich Asians (2018), who pops up in a fun little cameo.
At the end of the day, Godzilla vs. Kong is a brisk 113-minute feast for the senses — the film never outwears its welcome and is the shortest entry in the MonsterVerse thus far — one that can be best compared to Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) or Pacific Rim Uprising (2018). While it’s certainly not for everyone, Godzilla vs. Kong is an action-packed extravaganza that’ll satisfy those who’ve been missing this type of outrageous theatre-going experience. I say, ‘bring on Round 2.’
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by Dan Cachia (Mr. Movie)