‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ movie review: MonsterVerse title bout lives up to its promise

The legendary big-screen titans finally face off in Godzilla vs. Kong, a bright and vivid big screen spectacle that provides extended scenes of Godzilla and King Kong duking it out, and less of the boring human stuff that clouded previous entries in the series. If nothing else, this film should please anyone who tunes into a movie titled Godzilla vs. Kong.

Last seen in the Vietnam war-era Kong: Skull Island, King Kong is introduced here in human captivity, still on the island but inside of a large containment cell that creates the illusion of a world around him through advanced digital technology.

In the opening scene of Godzilla vs. Kong, young deaf girl Jia (Kaylee Hottle) presents the mighty Kong with a small gorilla doll, to which Kong reacts by chucking a spear at the digital walls of his prison in protest. The literal analogy between these characters might be to yourself and an ant, but Kong’s relationship with Jia is affectionately presented and genuinely affecting, and give the movie some real (and much-needed) heart.

While Jia is the one with the real connection to Kong, her mother Ilene (Rebecca Hall) is the famed ‘Kong Whisperer’ who serves as his caretaker. Hollow Earth theorist (Alexander Skarsgård), funded by the Apex corporation, convinces her to transport Kong to the arctic base seen in Godzilla: King of Monsters to lead them to the center of the Earth.

Why do they want to go there? Apex honcho Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir) wants to find… something to help prevent future Godzilla attacks after the monster stomps on their base in Pensacola, Florida. But no points for guessing this mega-corporation doesn’t have the best of intentions.

Meanwhile, Godzilla: King of Monsters’ Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) teams up with friend Josh (Julian Dennison) and conspiracy podcaster Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) to break into the Apex base and witness exposition for the audience.

And Madison’s father (Kyle Chandler), whose embattled character was one of the few effective parts of the previous film, here appears in a subplot that seems to have been excised from the final product. Case in point: he appears alongside top-billed Lance Reddick, who has a single line of dialogue.

But while the humans travel alongside Kong from Skull Island to Antarctica to the center of the Earth and then out to Hong Kong, the focus this time is on the monsters. Godzilla vs. Kong features two extended monster mash fights between the titular titans, which account for a good third of the screen time here.

If that doesn’t sound like much, the roughly 45 minutes of monster action here is at least twice as much as the previous film in the series. On top of that, it’s all filmed in bright and vivid color, and we can actually see what’s going on and follow the battles. While we may not be convinced of the reality of these creatures, we can appreciate their presence not shrouded in darkness or smoke and follow their actions on screen.

Bonus: the retro-futuristic Hong Kong, with its skyscrapers lined by neon lights, looks absolutely fantastic, and serves as the perfect backdrop for the monster mash climax. Kudos to the artists and set designers responsible for designing the cityscape; I frequently found myself watching the buildings as the monster fought around them.

Previous films in this series, and other Hollywood blockbusters in the wake of Man of Steel, have at least paid lip service to the inevitable loss of life that occurs in scenes of buildings being toppled and major cities being reduced to rubble.

But not in Godzilla vs. Kong, which features scenes of destruction in which millions of people must be perishing, but never shows a drop of blood or stops to consider the fate of a single human. There is no threat of death as skyscrapers fall on top of our main characters, and even the baddies who get crushed are only presumably dead, disappearing from the film inside of the monster carnage but never explicitly offed.

That fact, more so than the cartoonish CGI, prevents Godzilla vs. Kong from being the kind of awe-inspiring real-world spectacle that director Gareth Edwards set out to make in 2014’s Godzilla. But that’s probably for the best: most audiences watching Godzilla vs. Kong are there for the cartoon, and want to witness the 9/11-style destructo-porn without having to consider real-world impact.

The MonsterVerse still hasn’t found a consistent tone, wavering from the serious-minded Godzilla to the goofy fun of Kong: Skull Island to the dull and silly Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Godzilla vs. Kong leans heavily into the briskness and clarity established by the earlier Kong movie, and while this may not be the best of the bunch (I’d give the nod to 2014’s Godzilla), it’s likely to please fans of the titular monsters to a greater degree than any of the previous outings.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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