Don’t let anyone tell you there’s a way to make a monster movie. I’m only a dilatant, but even I’ve seen movies that fill out the time between monster smashes with serious thematic considerations, earnest awe at the spectacle, sarcastic jabs at the absurd situation, and silly goings on that match giant lizards, monkeys, moths, and robots throwing punches. It’s all been done effectively, with the only mortal sin being when it’s excruciatingly boring.
And Godzilla vs. Kong, even when it wavers, never becomes boring. It’s not particularly serious or silly or earnest or sarcastic, either, instead merging together the less than impressive approaches of the Godzilla and Kong branches of the fledgling American MonsterVerse franchise into something that is bland but not bad.
The distinctiveness of the two sides is the main thing that made me hesitant about their advertised heavyweight battle. It’d be hard to mess up the actual fights between the two movie legends, but that human filler, that’s almost always what makes or breaks monster movies, and the two approaches they’ve tried are not only distinct but also weren’t quite successful. The Godzilla movies, 2014’s Godzilla and 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters featured the usual Godzilla themes on environmental meddling and humanity’s powerlessness against Earth’s natural forces, and they’re generally too self-serious for their own good. The lone Kong entry, 2017’s Kong: Skull Island (which I reviewed here), has a decidedly lighter tone and is much more gleeful with its mayhem. There’s no firm middle ground between these two approaches, so it’s unsurprising that the attempted merging made for poor footing.
Strangely, it’s Kong who gets the more serious storyline here and also the much larger one. Turns out it’s actually a misnomer to call this movie Godzilla vs. Kong; this is a Kong movie with a few memorable appearances by Godzilla, but the big sea lizard has about the same role as the monstrous adversaries of the previous movies, and they didn’t get the title treatment.
The focus on Kong is because it’s the wants of humans and Kong that collide to drive the movie forward. A team of humans who want a power source from Hollow Earth (where the monsters emerge from) need Kong to guide the way while Kong is in search of a new home. Hollow Earth may provide this for him, so Kong is removed from his secure monitoring site and transported to an entrance to the depths of the planet. This alerts Godzilla to his presence, and the good old need to establish a hierarchy causes him to attack.
The pseudo-Godzilla storyline isn’t actually about Godzilla but is instead a farcical investigation of Godzilla’s movements by Millie Bobby Brown’s Madison and a crack team consisting of her teenage friend Josh (Julian Dennison) and conspiracy theorist/podcaster Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry). It’s a silly plotline, if you’re being generous, and a nonsensical waste of time if you aren’t. Still, the trio is funny, and the movie doesn’t spend too much time on them.
The humans following Kong into Hollow Earth get a bit better treatment, particularly Kong expert Dr. Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her adopted daughter/last survivor of the people on Skull Island, Jia (Kaylee Hottle). Jia and Dr. Andrews truly care for Kong, and their bond with him and what it reveals about the giant ape makes you invested in his survival during the monster clashes.
But even they only get a cursory bit of attention. This movie is smart enough to sprint through the human stuff, even if it’s not smart enough to figure out how to use them as particularly interesting filler. It knows that you’re here for impressive monster battles and it gives you several, which largely take place in well lit areas with clear skies so you can see all the punches, all the atomic breath attacks, and all of the made up physics. And that’s what these movies are about: big monsters smashing into each other and wrecking everything around them in a completely nonsensical display of mayhem. It’s basic, lizard brain entertainment, and particularly if you’ve chosen your fighter you’ll be cheering as they trade blows (I went in firmly on Team Godzilla and was roaring along with him).
In the wake of these satisfying battles, the lightness with which the humans are handled isn’t a killjoy. They are there simply to set up events and provide gaping jaws as Godzilla and Kong go about their business, and their complete uselessness is almost comical. The best monster movies tie them in better, so despite the advertised grandeur, this is a relatively forgettable entry in the genre. But it’s still a fun one.
Release: currently available in theaters and on HBO Max
Director: Adam Wingard
Writers: Eric Pearson, Max Borenstein
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Julian Dennison, Demián Bichir, Shun Oguri, Kaylee Hottle