Godzilla vs Kong movie review: Not the king of monster movies, but a royal rumble nonetheless
Godzilla vs Kong suffers from the same malady as so many modern blockbusters: they're immensely watchable, but instantly forgettable.
castAlexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza González, Julian Dennison, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir
Note: This article contains NO major spoilers
(Read in ring announcer voice) It's the cross-over battle of the summer: “King of the Monsters” vs “The Eighth Wonder of the World.” It's the duel of the allegorical heavyweights: the anti-nuclear vs. the anti-coloniali st. It's titan against titan: Godzilla vs. Kong.
Ever since we saw the giant ape punch the giant lizard in the face in the trailer, the hype train for Legendary's new Monsterverse film has been roaring full steam ahead. Don't forget this is a rematch. The last time Godzilla and Kong clashed, it was a draw by all counts. In Ishirô Honda's 1963 film, a Japanese pharmaceutical company pitted the two against each other to boost the ratings for the shows they sponsored. Not surprisingly, they end up destroying castles and cities in the ensuing mayhem. This time around, Hollywood invites the two to fight on their turf to boost its beleaguered box office.
If you're going into this movie to watch Godzilla and Kong exchange blows and public property be destroyed in creative ways, you will get your money's worth. Watching two near-400ft beasts — with little to no concern for collateral damage — turn a whole city into a battleground is one of the primal pleasures of CGI tentpoles. It takes you back to being an 8-year-old, and making two action figures fight each other for no other reason than “Why not?”
The whole planet becomes Godzilla and Kong’s arena. Humanity is reduced to commentators and spectators outside the ring. Because the movie is rated PG-13, there are no millions lying dead in the wake of the destruction wrought by these titans. When our own world, more so now than ever before, appears to be on the edge of ruin, these monsters feel like our primal fears made incarnate. They are our eco-anxieties rendered larger-than-life, in flesh and blood.
Yes, they’re a little clumsy, and tend to tumble into buildings. But Godzilla and Kong are mostly two misunderstood creatures, acting out of self-preservation. No doubt Kong has always been the more sympathetic figure. His handicap for blondes aside, he's a guy trying to embrace solitude — what with being the only one of his kind. All he wants is to be left alone, but monsters of all shapes, sizes and sinister intentions keep trespassing his peaceful abode. In the new movie, Kong doesn't just have a mean right hook, but also an emotional hook. He befriends a deaf girl named Jia (Kaylee Hottle), and their bond is really the heart of the movie. Kong isn't quite rendered as sensitively as Andy Serkis's mo-cap version in the Peter Jackson film. But his eyes still convey so much emotion.
So far in the Monsterverse, Godzilla has been treated as something of a saviour. He's been the alpha maintaining Earth's ecological balance, keeping a check on the hubris of man and monster alike. Humans fired a nuclear warhead at him in Godzilla. They unleashed the Oxygen Destroyer, and nearly killed him in King of the Monsters. Yet, until now, his response to their trigger-happiness has been a steely stare, which essentially translated to: “WTF guys, I'm on your side.” But something seems to be troubling him, as he begins to attack without provocation in Godzilla vs. Kong.
Just like the viewers, the human characters in the movie too find themselves on opposing corners. Leading the cause for Team Godzilla is young Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown). In an effort to understand the rampaging reptile's uncharacteristic behaviour, she sneaks into the building at the centre of the conspiracy. Helping her on this “mission: impossible” are her good friend Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison) and conspiracy theorist Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry). On Team Kong are Jia, her adoptive mother Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and Hollow Earth expert Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård), who are trying to ferry him back to his home world. With Godzilla tailing them, it’s no easy task.
As always, a corporation with non-transparent intentions thinks they are calling the shots. Taking over from Monarch is Apex Cybernetics, led by Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir) and his daughter Maia (Eiza González), who want to destroy the Titan threat once and for all. Three Monsterverse movies later, man is still foolish enough to believe he can have dominion over nature. He can't help but interfere, introducing his own third challenger into the fight to defend his fate. Ultimately, the two titans must tag team against their common threat: Big Tech.
True to past instalments of the Monsterverse, the humans exist merely to remind the audience what's at stake. If nature one day decided to introduce a new alpha predator before hitting the reset button on the planet, how powerless we would be to stop it. There's an absurdly large human contingent expounding plot and mythology in a movie whose premise boils down to: “Big Ape vs. Big Lizard.” A lot of these characters are narrative dead weight. The film features the scientist-children-businessman combo which has been the template of most monster movies since at least Jurassic Park. The scientists help with the pseudo-scientific drivel. Having children react in awe or fear of these titans, it accentuates the same emotions among us in the audience. And who among us doesn't love to hate Big Business?
As the title promises, director Adam Wingard delivers the climactic wallop you wish from such a big-budget creature feature. Choosing whom to root for, however, is a case of circumstance. The movie invites viewers to cheer for both. It's always an event when Godzilla pulls out his signature move: the atomic breath. We know what Kong lacks in bite, he packs in a punch. The film is set four decades after Skull Island, meaning Kong’s grown into a size at par with Big G. The titans brawl in two towering set pieces: one unfolds atop aircraft carriers at sea, the other in neon-lit Hong Kong. The suitably epic climax is the best advertisement the often-maligned CGI could ask for. Unlike in King of the Monsters, the colours here don't overwhelm the frame to such an extent it becomes hard to see the action. Despite the destruction on such a massive scale, it features some of the most seamless mayhem there ever was. Junkie XL's wall-to-wall musical score echoes the monster madness in all its chaos and cacophony.
The first Kong was a stop-motion figurine. The first Godzilla was a man in a rubber suit. But they still set the benchmark for visual effects. Despite the quantum leap in the field, the CGI'd Godzilla's movement retains an analog stiffness, as he stomps over bridges and buildings, evoking the Toho Studios version in 1954. Kong scales a skyscraper, much like he first did in the RKO Pictures version in 1933. But you will be hard-pressed to find a single moment in Godzilla vs Kong, sure to become so deeply ingrained in our cultural consciousness that they will continue to be reproduced in the years to come. In that way, it suffers from the same malady as so many modern blockbusters, as in: it's immensely watchable, but instantly forgettable.
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