Some may argue that all movies ever really need to be is, in some broad context, “cool” — to deliver some variation of spectacle over anything else. That might sound a little flippant, but there’s a seed of truth to that for movie like Godzilla vs. Kong, because the easy part of making such a movie is making the “cool” action set pieces. Everything else around those, as shown in this movie, is a lot tougher to pull off.
The aforementioned superficial approach hasn’t always been the case for Legendary Pictures’ Monsterverse: To start it all off, Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla took bold narrative swings and even stronger aesthetics in regards to scale with its Jaws-like approach to its titular monster. The follow-up entries in the franchise — Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla: King of the Monsters — on the other hand, swung a lot more into the insipid “cool” direction, but still strived to keep the humans front and center in their stories. All of which speaks to the inherent paradox of difficulty of making movies of this nature: In many cases, audiences do just want the “cool” stuff in Monsterverse movies, but human characters are continually the audience’s surrogate and their gateway to the empathy for the creatures.
With the new entry of the franchise, director Adam Wingard is no doubt trying to find the balance between the human, the inhuman, and the spectacle. There are some mysteries, there are human protectors, scientists, conspiracy theorists, arrogant billionaires masquerading as innovators, notions about capitalism and greed, and, of course, plenty of knock ’em sock ’em fights between Titans and other creatures. Yet, for all its efforts to find both character and provide ample room for monster fisticuffs, Godzilla vs. Kong never really comes together in a potent way.
It’s paradoxically a movie that’s almost too clever and convoluted for its own good with its two parallel storylines. And yet, the film is simplistic; it goes to ridiculous lengths to contrive a fairly outlandish story. Of the converging storylines, on one side there’s current and former Monarch scientists (Alexander Skarsgård and Rebecca Hall) and a small, deaf native girl from Skull Island, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who has forged a special bond with Kong, and their aim is to keep Kong safe, but he’s outgrown the island and Godzilla has out-of-nowhere attacked a Apex scientific base. On the other narrative side, there’s Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), an Apex engineer who’s also secretly a podcasting whistleblower, Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), galvanized by the theories in Hayes’ rambling, and her skeptical sidekick (Julian Dennison). Together, they believe that there are outside forces compelling Godzilla to “turn bad,” and his attack is more than just a monster rampage.
But there’s also the connective narrative tissue of Apex CEO, Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir), whos’ out to solve the “Titan problem.” As he convinces Skarsgård’s Dr. Nathan Lind and Hall’s Dr. Ilene Andrews to take Kong to Hollow Earth (the center of the planet) to look for new power sources to solve the problems. It’s a lot of mumbo jumbo and a lot of plot mechanics and a lot of excuses to make it so Godzilla and Kong can fight, and fight they do. In fact, they are easily the film’s best parts, but everything around them — and there. is. so. much. of. it — just pushes and pulls away from having any concurrent rhythm. It’s just all an overly-convoluted scheme to get Kong and Godzilla to go toe-to-toe, and by the time the Hong Kong finale arrives, so much has already been depleted. Legends may finally collide in this installment, but all the “cool” stuff can’t outlast what’s easily forgettable and disposable. Godzilla vs. Kong occasionally delivers in its mass-scale brawl, yet it’s so much in between that feels humdrum and feeble.
Godzilla vs. Kong is available to stream on HBO Max