Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) Review

LET THEM FIGHT!


 

In the mid-2010s, Hollywood took another chance in the iconic Japanese giant kaiju monster creation with the movie Godzilla; presenting viewers with a potential first installment in a planned shared cinematic universe dubbed “MonsterVerse”. Beginning with 2014’s Godzilla, this shared cinematic universe followed the story of several humans who witness the rise of several monstrous creatures identified as Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms (MUTO for short), with only one who could possibly save humanity from annihilation. Though the film faced mixed reviews, Godzilla was deemed a box office success and planned sequels to expand this MonsterVerse franchise were greenlit. In 2017, Kong: Skull Island was released, acting as the second entry in this shared cinematic universe of giant monsters as well as a prequel spin-off feature that introduce viewers to the MonsterVerse’s version of the famed giant ape; structing the narrative as a prequel to the events of the first film. Like before, Kong: Skull Island faced mixed reviews, but still brought a sizable return at the box office. In 2019, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the third entry in the franchise was released; acting as sequel to the 2014 movie and followed the struggle of mankind as Godzilla comes across other giant kaiju beings such as Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah in a battle for supremacy. Like its predecessors, the film had mixed reviews, yet still proved to be successful at the box office. Now, Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, and director Adam Wingard present the fourth chapter in this MonsterVerse franchise with Godzilla vs. Kong. Does this latest entry prove to be a “battle for the ages” in the giant kaiju realm or does the film get weighed down by superfluous human drama?

THE STORY


Five after the battle Godzilla defeated Ghidorah, and the monster has remained hidden. Yet, skepticism still remains at large about the proclaimed “king of the monsters” as Godzilla suddenly attacks Apex Cybernetics facility with an unintentional motive behind the destruction. Apex CEO Walter Simmons (Demian Bichir) and scientist engineer Ren Serizawa (Shun Orguri) approach former Monarch employee Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) to make a trip to the Hollow Earth, the infamous hidden birthplace world of the Titans deep below the Earth, in search for a special energy source and need help getting pas the area’s powerful anti-gravity field. Dr. Lind’s search brings him to Skull Island; finding Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), a Monarch anthropological linguistics, who’s now in charge of Kong’s care in a containment dome, with the giant ape connecting with a special bond with Andrews’s adopted deaf daughter, Jia (Kaylee Hottle). Needing Kong to lead the mission to gain access into the Hollow Earth, Dr. Lind witnesses the creature’s mighty power and his need to find his place in the world. During their expedition to local the entrance to this hidden world, Kong’s journey is interrupted by Godzilla, who’s enraged and refuses to allow another alpha Titan to remain alive. Also caught up in their own mission is conspiracy theorist podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), who is joined by Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown, the daughter of Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), and Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison), as they snoop around an Apex facility, trying to get to bottom behind Godzilla’s newfound aggression.  All of these threads collide when the time comes for Kong to face off against Godzilla; deciding which alpha Titan reigns supreme above the other.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


The Godzilla movies have always been a point of fascination to all, which have been iconic in their own right and have proven to be cult-favorites of the classic Japanese Godzilla movie franchise. Naturally, I’ve seeing a few of the older Japanese ones (with English dubbed) and of course I found them to be cheesy “old school” giant monster features (i.e. more plot driven in the first half, while the second half is more of the action). The 2014 version of Godzilla seems a little bit better than 1998’s Godzilla, but I still wasn’t super impressed with the movie, especially since the movie was more focused on “human drama” more so than the epic giant monster rampage fights that many moviegoers wanted to see. Much was the same with what I thought about 2017’s Kong: Skull Island. It definitely had more of a visual flair than 2014’s Godzilla and had plenty of recognizable acting talents that I liked (i.e., Hiddleston, Larson, Goodman, Jackson, etc.), but the movie felt totally bland and just mediocre. Yes, it was a cool introduction for Kong in this MonsterVerse, but it just felt adequate movie that really didn’t leave a strong impression on me. 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, however, was something a bit different that I liked as it felt like more of a classic Godzilla movie, especially with more heavily emphasis on the giant monster battles and the grand spectacle of it all. Plus, as I mentioned above, I loved seeing more of the classic monsters from the franchise such as Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. Yes, some of the character bits were really weak (i.e., the character of Madison Russell was just screaming and crying throughout the movie and Emma Russell’s motives were confusing and vague), but I thought that Godzilla: King of the Monsters was perhaps the best of the MonsterVerse franchise thus far.

Of course, this circles back around to Godzilla vs. Kong, the fourth and latest film in WB / Legendary’s MonsterVerse franchise. Naturally, an announcement was imminent after the favorable box office success / reception Godzilla: King of the Monsters received and with the next entry promising a titanic battle between both Godzilla and Kong fueling the anticipation and hype for the upcoming installment. Like many out there, I, for one, was excited to see these two giant monsters fight and was looking forward to seeing it in the coming years. Beyond little snippets here and there, the newsfeed surrounding Godzilla vs. Kong was a bit quiet and went under the radar. To be honest, I kind of forgot about this movie from to time. Of course, I was looking forward to seeing it, but the feature wasn’t talked about as much on the various movie / film websites that I frequently. Still, the movie did keep on popping up every now and again and I was wondering when will this movie get released. Even the movie trailer for the film took a bit to get released; releasing at the end of January 2021. Even the film itself was being delayed. So, one can tell I was a bit leery about Godzilla vs. Kong. Still, I do like a giant monster fight, especially with the film going to be centered around these two famous kaiju monsters. Luckily, a date was eventually confirmed and the movie was set to premiered on both in theaters and on HBO Max. So, since I do have HBO Max, I decided to watch Godzilla vs. Kong from the comforts of my home. And what did I think of it? Was it the ultimate battle of giant monster flicks out there? In a word…no, yet still entertaining nonetheless. In truth, Godzilla vs. Kong is a fun and visually blockbuster giant monster flick is enjoyable to watch, yet gets weighed down by extremely weak characters and predictable plot pacing. It’s not the best in the MonsterVerse franchise, but still proves to be a fun ride to watch.

Godzilla vs. Kong is directed Adam Wingard, whose previous directorial The Guest, You’re Next, and The Blair Witch. Given his background of his directorial works, Wingard makes this particular film his most ambitious and blockbuster-ish endeavor to date; approaching this hyped-up project with a sense of familiarity and fun within its spectacle. Of the former, this so-called familiarity breeds a little bit of something I would say contempt (as the saying goes), but, given the overall nature and appeal of watching a Godzilla / giant monster feature, it can be forgiven (for the sake of it all). Of the latter, Wingard does certainly deliver on that front; approaching the feature with a sense of pure spectacle and accomplish such that. As to be expected, most viewers out there come to view Godzilla vs. Kong with a intent of the battle between the famous Titan monsters in the titanic battle that hasn’t being seeing since the last time the two were pitted against each other (roughly some fifty years ago). Thankfully, the filmmaking and the technology that has come of it has been updated and refined over the past several decades. This makes for a ripe opportunity to make such a reunion between Godzilla and Kong to so-called “duke it out” on the big screen once again. With this mind, Wingard structures the movie around this main concept idea; depicting such a “rock’em sock’em” battle royale between the two Titan monsters that is fun entertainment for a blockbuster appeal. The battle themselves are executed quite well, with Wingard staging the stage for such a grandiose brawl that will (or rather is) the main highlight of the feature.

Plus, Wingard seems to know what type of movie he makes and, while there are some poignant and dramatic moments to be had in a few, he knows of some of the cheesy / silly moments that comes with doing a project like this. Thus, the nuances that come with doing a movie about giant monsters fighting each other is ever present and Wingard seems to acknowledge such tropes and tones throughout. Also, there are a couple of interesting notions that expand upon the MonsterVerse lore such as the Hollow Earth concept, which is fully realized in the movie as well as tying events of previous features together…as if they some of the previous installments have led up to this match up between a monstrous lizard and a gigantic ape. In addition, Wingard keeps a lot of the film’s attention on the main story at work (for better or worse) and doesn’t go off on side tangents; focusing the narrative on the main players and the two titanic monsters that are brought together to fight. Because of this, the movie does have a steady pace for most of the feature and Wingard makes Godzilla vs. Kong have a breezy runtime; clocking in at around 113 minutes long (one hour and fifty-three minutes). All in all, if one comes into the film looking for a large-scale fight between Godzilla and Kong for the joyful spectacle of it all…. you’ll enjoy this movie.

In terms of presentation, Godzilla vs. Kong is a visual stunning film that definitely caters to the whole giant monster variety and delivers in the spectacle. Whatever a person’s opinion about this movie, most will probably praise the movie’s visual appeal and how the CGI effect shots are well-placed in bringing this world (and all of its large-scale action set-pieces) to left. Naturally, the detail effects used in bringing both Godzilla and Kong to life stay true to what has come before in the MonsterVerse franchise, but have more that much more intricate detail in this presentation, making their appearances in the film the best that this cinematic universe has to offer. The film’s CGI visual effects are heavily aided in the feature’s fighting sequences, which (as I mentioned) are terrific and provide some great blockbuster popcorn appeal in some of the fighting sequence…. most notably towards the movie’s climatic third act portion. There is also the depiction of the Hollow Earth, the mythical hidden land where the Titans originated from, which is heavily laden in CGI shots, but captures a visually stunning new location where the MonsterVerse can go and explore. Loved it. Thus, I do have to commend all the film’s CGI wizards for their efforts made in making Godzilla vs. Kong such a bright and detailed visual feast for the eyes.

In addition, the cinematography work by Ben Seresin is really good in the movie; creating some very dynamic and creative camera shots and angles throughout the film. This, of course, makes Godzilla vs. Kong have some fun and unique scenes that (combined with the impressive CGI shots) are entertaining in a blockbuster popcorn endeavor. The other members in the “behind the scenes” team, including the entire art direction team, Tom Hammock and Owen Paterson (production designs), Rebecca Cohen and Ronald R. Reiss (set decorations), and Ann Foley (costume designs) certainly do their efforts justice in the film that make the feature’s background / setting for the movie appealing. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Tom Holkenberog (aka Junkie XL), provides a solid musical composition; projecting the right amount of energetic bombastic throughout the feature within its colliding escapades of giant monster action sequences. As a side-note, there are a few musical song selections in the movie that I found amusing, especially the one at the end of the feature.

Unfortunately, there are some elements that hold the film back; making Godzilla vs. Kong not quite as stellar and / or memorable from what it aims to be. Perhaps the most prevalent one that many can agree on is in the overall “human element” that the feature presents. It was the same with the previous feature; finding Godzilla: King of the Monsters projecting rather weak characters (placements and overall development) in the film. Sadly, the same can be said with Godzilla vs. Kong by doing the same thing of sidelining a lot of the human character screen time in favor of giant monster fighting sequences. Because of this, many (if not all) all of the human characters in the film are woefully bland and terribly underdeveloped; perhaps even worse than in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Yes, I do understand that’s part of the genetic make-up of a feature like this and is probably the more favorable decision to make (see the criticism face in 2014’s Godzilla), but even characters need a bit more substance to make a lasting impression. Besides probably one, almost all the human characters in the film are thinly-sketched and don’t have a whole lot of attachment to them…beyond the actors playing them. Thus, it’s kind of a “give and take” type of scenarios. Nevertheless, the human component of Godzilla vs. Kong is quite bland and boring (more on that below) and perhaps the worst in the entire MonsterVerse franchise.

Another point of criticism that I have with the movie is in its overall narrative path that the feature takes, which is a combination of Wingard’s direction as well as the film’s script. Penned by Terry Rossio, Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields, Eric Pearson, and Max Borenstein, one would think that the story could’ve been a little bit “beefed up” and / or “amped up”, especially considering that Dougherty, Shields, and Borenstein have worked on some previous MonsterVerse features. What do I mean? Well, the story is quite paper thin and thinly sketched out…. even for a giant monster movie. Heck, of all the MonsterVerse movies thus far, Godzilla vs. Kong has perhaps the weakest narrative; stringing along some vague events, explanations, and expositions together for a cobbled version of a story. Again, I don’t think that people come to see a dramatic Oscar-worthy story while watching Godzilla vs. Kong, but the narrative presented is quite limited; drumming up a lot of convenience plot points and blundering nonsense, and some dumbfounded shows of suspense in disbelief. In addition, the movie’s story / script is quite silly at times and offers up a lot of predictable plot points, despite the movie trying to throw curve balls with some various twists and turns. Again, its all part of genetic make up for a giant monster flick, but I would’ve liked to seeing more of the story have better substance. All in all, the story of Godzilla vs. Kong is functional, but is limited and quite cheesy at times.

Lastly, as a minor gripe of criticism, the movie’s trailer kind of sort of showed who was going to be the winner of the two giant monsters. I’m not saying that the trailer was bad or anything, but, if one watches it, it’s easy to see who will most likely be the “top monster” in the movie and I thought that was a bit disappointed. Again, I kind of figured who was going to be the victor before that, but….you get what I mean.

Naturally, the two giant alpha titans of both Godzilla and Kong were the “big stars” of the movie (quite literally). Of course, much like how he was depicted in Godzilla and Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the giant lizard is like a force of nature; a monstrous titan who is somewhat indifferent to the humans of the world and battles other alpha apex predators for dominance…hence the name “king of the monsters”. It definitely works in this movie and Godzilla himself is a great monster, with Godzilla vs. Kong giving the giant lizard creature a different shade; showcasing that the monster can not be reasoned with….and shouldn’t be. Kong, on the other hand, is different beast altogether, with the movie presenting the giant ape with a lot more compassion and emotional reasoning behind his bestial size and scale. Although, Kong is still very much a brutish titan and has the strength and sheer force to go toe-to-toe to face off against Godzilla himself. Together, both giant monsters are a grandiose delight to behold whenever they are on-screen…. both separately and when the battle against each other.

The human cast in Godzilla vs. Kong is where the movie gets weighed down the feature. Naturally, the acting talents involved are good, especially with a lot of recognizable actors and actresses attached to the project (as seeing in the previous MonsterVerse installments). However, the time allotted for most of these characters are woefully limited; creating some of the thinnest and cookie cutter caricatures to come out of the MonsterVerse. Collectively, the movie has three separate groupings of characters that viewers follow, which I will examine. The first grouping (I’ll shall call it Group A) is found within the characters of Dr. Nathan Lind, Dr. Ilene Andrews, and Jia, who follow Kong for most of the feature’s journey in the movie. Of this grouping, the worst (and weakest) of the character is found within Dr. Lind, who is played by Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood and Battleship). Skarsgard is a good actor and certainly makes for a capable leading character, especially one found in blockbuster endeavor. However, Dr. Lind is a rather bland and presented in broad strokes, which makes it quite hard for us to latch onto his character and some of his more emotional moments, including a somewhat vague backstory involving his brother. Thus, Lind is caricature architype as one of the leading roles that really doesn’t go anywhere.

Fairing slightly better is Dr. Andrews, who is played by actress Rebecca Hall (Iron Man 3 and The Town). Like Skarsgard, Hall has done many acting roles throughout her character, which does make her a recognizable actress; lending a bit credence to this particular feature. Hall is fine as Andrews and is certainly capable of making the character be more slightly elevated beyond Dr. Lind’s character. That being said, there isn’t much substance in Dr. Andrews’s character development; making the character lacking substance. All in all, Hall’s Andrews was good and served her purpose in Godzilla vs. Kong’s narrative. Who actually fares the best in this group (and in the entire movie) is perhaps the youngest acting talent in Godzilla vs. Kong, with actress Kaylee Hottle, making her debut with Godzilla vs. Kong and who plays the character of Jia, a young deaf girl who shares a special bond with Kong. She’s definitely cute and lends a lot of the emotional weight in the movie, especially towards her relationship with the giant ape himself, but it is quite impressive that Hottle herself is deaf (I certainly do applaud the filmmakers for bringing in someone who is actually deaf to play such a role in the film) and that she carries herself quite well. In the end, Hottle’s Jia ends up being the most memorable character of the entire movie.

Next, the characters found in Group B or rather superfluous (in general) and are mostly serve the movie by filling in some particular plot points as well as trying to bring comic relief in their respective screen-time. Leading the charge in Group B is the actress Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things and Enola Holmes), who returns to reprise her Godzilla: King of the Monsters role of Madison Russell. While I do think that her character is a bit more mature and has something more to do than in the previous film (all she did was cry and scream in King of the Monsters), there isn’t much for her character to be involved in Godzilla vs. Kong. Thus, Brown’s Madison is mostly in this movie for a continuity aspect and nuances in bringing the MonsterVerse some familiar faces. Behind her, actor Brian Tyree Henry (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and If Beale Street Could Talk) is perhaps the more “seasoned” acting talent of Group B and plays the character of Bernie Hayes, a technician at Apex Cybernetics who is also a conspiracy theorist. I get where they are going with this character and I do believe that Henry was trying to make the character humous with his fast-talking banter, but the character is rather redundant and does service much to the story beyond a few clues to the plot and comedic levity. Lastly, the character of Josh Valentine, a friend to Madison Russell and who is played by actor Julian Dennison (Deadpool 2 and Hunt for the Wilderpeople), is rather pointless in Godzilla vs. Kong. The character is rather redundant and, while Dennison tries to make the character funny, he ultimately isn’t and is merely along for the ride….and that’s it! As a side-note, actor Kyle Chandler (Super 8 and Argo) returns to reprise his Godzilla: King of the Monster role as Mark Russell. Although, his screen-time is quite limited is delegated in the movie as a glorified cameo appearance.

Lastly, Group C is mostly the film’s villainous / antagonist characters that are pitted against the individuals found in Group A and B, with the characters consisting of Apex CEO Walter Simmons, the son of the late Monarch scientist Ren Serizawa, and Simmons’s daughter Maya Simmons. Of this group, the character of Walter Simmons, who is played by actor Demian Bichir (The Hateful Eight and The Grudge), fares the best; playing up the overall cheesiness to the character. Yes, there isn’t anything exactly new or groundbreaking in his portrayal of Walter Simmons, but, given the nature of Wingard’s tones and knowning what exactly the movie he wants to shape in Godzilla vs. Kong, Bichir’s Walter is perfectly fine. Who is perhaps the most disappointing is the character of Ren Serizawa, who is played by actor Shun Oguri (Weathering with You and No Longer Human). I say this because the character is somewhat glossed over throughout the entire movie. Yes, we know that he is the son of Dr. Ishiro Serizawa and Oguri does give a good impression of somewhat mimicking actor Ken Watanabe dialect speech, but the film does give any type of backstory or reasoning behind Ren’s character. Is he good? Is he bad? Is he following in his father’s footsteps? Did he get lost along the way? The motivations behind him are ambiguous and vague and the film never gives the time to analyze this; making Ren Serizawa rather redundant and unmemorable. Lastly, the character of Maya, who is played by actress Eiza Gonzalez (Alita: Battle Angel and Baby Driver), is utterly forgettable in the grand scheme of things happening in Godzilla vs. Kong. That’s not saying that Gonzalez’s acting is bad, but rather her character is completely unnecessary. Laughably underutilized, the character of Maya can be cut out of the film entirely and probably wouldn’t disrupt the overall flow of the story.

FINAL THOUGHTS


Legends collide against each other and battle for dominance in the movie Godzilla vs. Kong. Director Adam Wingard’s latest film sees the MonsterVerse franchise pit its two leading Titans in a grand spectacle of a fight; taking the fourth installment in the series to some visually fun action sequences. While the movie does get weighed down by some of weaker human character development, pointless storyline threads, and predictable narrative, it does manage to generate plenty of visually fun for a giant monster fight, expanding some interesting lore bits, and having a breezy runtime. To me, this movie was somewhere between okay and good. I don’t think it was super terrific as some viewers are making it out to be, but it sure was a fun blockbuster popcorn flick. Personally, I still think that Godzilla: King of the Monsters was better and is still the best entry in the MonsterVerse. But again…. that’s just my opinion on the matter. Still, my recommendation for Godzilla vs. Kong is a favorable “recommended” as I’m sure a lot of people will enjoy this anticipated giant monster feature. The film’s ending is a kind of felt open-ended, which certainly begs the question if the MonsterVerse will continue onward. Another Godzilla movie? Another Kong? Another monster entirely? It’s hard to say, but, given the reception that Godzilla vs. Kong has received, a fifth installment in this cinematic universe seems likely. Regardless if this doesn’t happen or not, Godzilla vs. Kong is fun yet mindless popcorn flick that surely will delight giant monster fans out there; producing bland human character components and stunning CGI heavy spectacle throughout the proceedings. In short, take the film a little bit of a face value and enjoy the ride.

3.5 Out of 5 (Recommended)

 

Released On: March 31st, 2021
Reviewed On: April 5th, 2021

Godzilla vs. Kong  is 113 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of creature violence / destruction and brief language