In a word, Godzilla vs. Kong is silly. Really silly. There are plot beats and lines of dialogue thrown out by the film’s boilerplate human cast that are so illogical that it will leave you wondering if this entire film plays out in a universe where the rules of reality are somehow warped beyond our recognition. It doesn’t, but given the fact that over the course of Godzilla vs. Kong’s 113-minute runtime we are faced with such gonzo concepts as a hollow Earth, gravity inversions, telepathic skulls, energy-absorbing prehistoric axes, and more, alternate universes would fit right in. That observation may sound like a criticism, but trust me, it’s not.
For younger moviegoers whose “classic” experience with kaiju films stretch back only as far as Roland Emmerich’s geometrically-jawed US reboot of Godzilla in 1998, this level of silliness may be off-putting. Godzilla vs. Kong doesn’t care though. What director Adam Wingard and co-writers Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein have somehow managed to do here is defy play-it-safe Hollywood four-quadrant convention and give us a $200 million modern-day tentpole blockbuster that absolutely revels in the anything-goes gonzo absurdity of its once low-budget roots of Japanese men in rubber suits clumsily punching each other through cardboard scale mock-ups of Tokyo. This approach definitely won’t sit well on some more discerning cinematic palates, but I was totally into it.
Well, not totally totally. More on that later though. For now, I can unequivocally say Wingard and co stage some of the greatest rock-em sock-em monster action that has ever graced the big screen with the absolute slobber-knocker throwdowns spanning the globe and even going inside it. Wingard choreographs the action with a breathless intensity, especially in the film’s final third in which the action dial is cranked up to 11 and then cranked even further until it snaps off. The action is so thrilling at times that it had me joking with a friend afterward that Godzilla vs. Kong is the “The Raid” of monster movies.
As for the reason for all this action: It’s been three years since the events of 2019’s Godzilla: King of Monsters in which Big G saved humanity from his fellow titans and the rampaging Ghidora. The relative peace since then is shattered though when Godzilla suddenly attacks humanity. With human defenses being useless, the rather benevolent Kong – who had been living in isolation on Skull Island and thus avoided the previous kaiju royal rumble – is left as the only one who can come to humanity’s rescue and stop the raging radioactive apex predator. But there can be only one King on Earth.
That’s the Readers Digest version of Pearson and Borenstein’s script which tosses in all kinds of kooky sci-fi concepts and also dives deep (sometimes literally) into the lore of these icons. If you thought King of the Monsters got out-there with its mythologizing, you haven’t seen anything yet.
What you will see is how all the action plays out though, as Wingard has seemingly listened to the criticism leveled at that predecessor film and shoots nearly everything in brightly lit backdrops, with stable, wide-angled cinematography to capture the monster mayhem in all its high-def glory. Legendary’s Monsterverse films (2014’s Godzilla, 2017’s Kong: Skull Island, and the aforementioned Godzilla: King of the Monsters) have all been stunners and Godzilla vs. Kong definitely doesn’t drop that ball. We don’t quite get the painterly artistic beauty of the HALO drop scene in Godzilla, but the visuals just explode off the screen here, especially in a mid-film neon-lit Tokyo brawl for the ages. Hell, I’m even about 80% sure that the director employed some subtle tilt-shift effect in the film’s climax to make it look just a little bit like those classic dudes-in-rubber-suits fights. If that was indeed the case, it was a fantastic touch.
Once again though, just like in every installment of this franchise thus far, the human element lets things down. With just two exceptions, the non-kaiju members of the cast all vary between being a tad grating or just being… there and not doing much. For some, like Shun Oguri’s Ren Serizawa, you can literally get more backstory and depth from reading the brief character descriptions on Godzilla vs. Kong’s Wikipedia page. Even more criminal, the film’s first half often gets bogged down as the script takes time to maneuver these pesky humans around.
Millie Bobby Brown’s Madison Russel is back from King of Monsters but seems to only be here as a link to that movie and to remind the audience that Godzilla is actually still supposed to be a good guy. She’s joined by her friend Josh (Julian Dennison, purely in stereotypical comic relief mode), and Brian Tyree Henry’s Bernie, a motormouth crackpot conspiracy theory podcaster who thinks the tech company he works for, Apex Cybernetics, is up to no good. Together the trio tries to unearth just what triggered Godzilla’s sudden turn from guardian to menace.
More prominently in the casting is Alexander Skarsgård’s lead, Dr. Nathan Lind, a discredited scientist with theories about the hollow Earth. I only know he’s the lead as he gets top billing in the credits and is asked by Demian Bichir’s Apex CEO Walter Simmons to “lead” a dangerous expedition to find a mysterious power source hidden in the Earth, but he doesn’t really act it or get much opportunity to actually, y’know, lead. In fact, I would argue that just about every story beat in which Dr. Lind is involved could very easily have been handed over to Rebecca Hall’s Dr. Ilene Andrews and Skarsgård’s character cut out completely without the rest of the movie missing a step.
As a Jane Goodall-type anthropological expert on Kong, Dr. Andrews is one of those two previously mentioned human exceptions, the other being her adoptive daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle), a deaf-mute young girl who grew up on Skull Island and has developed a close bond with the giant ape. Together, Hall and Hottle – especially the latter, a deaf and mute actress in real life making her screen debut here – contribute all the believable humanity Godzilla vs. Kong has to offer. They feel like people and not walking tropes. And with Hottle turning in an immensely likable performance, Jia and Kong together become the surprisingly tender and gushing heart of this film.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s actually Kong who is the true lead here. He’s a complex and compelling figure whose story undergoes some proper development. Far more development than I would ever expect from a film that is essentially selling itself as a big-budget showcase of a really big monkey hitting a really big lizard with a really big stick. And make no mistake, that really is what Godzilla vs Kong is advertising on the side of the box.
Yes, it may surprise you with its handling of Kong, and Jia adds an unexpected emotional component, but this is the type of movie that just wants you to roar with the simple childlike delight of smashing action figures together with reckless abandon when you see CGI monsters do the same on-screen. Godzilla vs. Kong totally delivers in that regard. I most certainly shook my head at some boneheaded stupidity in places, but this is the type of escapist widescreen popcorn-munching spectacle where fun stomps all over logic and reason.
Last Updated: March 26, 2021