REVIEW: Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)

The enormous ape ‘Kong’ (right) journeys to the center of the Earth and goes head to head with the giant radioactive lizard ‘Godzilla’ (left) in Adam Wingard’s GODZILLA vs. KONG — Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures / Legendary Pictures.

Directed by Adam Wingard (‘The Guest’; ‘Blair Witch‘; and ‘Death Note‘) — Screenplay by Eric Pearson & Max Borenstein.

Versus-films are certainly nothing new. Films with titles such as Godzilla vs. Kong will probably always make me think of Paul W.S. Anderson’s Alien vs. Predator and its tagline: “Whoever wins, we lose,” which, in turn, makes me think of both Ronny Yu’s Freddy vs. Jason and Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. None of those films are necessarily highly regarded by the vast majority of film critics, though I enjoy a couple of them, but there is of course one versus-film that trumps them all, Robert Benton’s legal drama Kramer vs. Kramer. That Oscar-winning masterpiece, which is nothing like the aforementioned films, is however, to put it mildly, an exception to the general rule, which is that versus-films are — at least now — mostly known as these show-stopping mash-up popcorn films. That is certainly the case with Adam Wingard’s latest film. It is, as one expected, nowhere near as good as Benton’s film, but it is, however, better than most of the other films that I’ve mentioned in this paragraph. Because Godzilla vs. Kong is a fun popcorn movie, which, with these kinds of blockbusters, is all you can ask for.

The fourth film of Legendary’s MonsterVerse, Adam Wingard’s Godzilla vs. Kong takes place some time after the events of Godzilla II: King of the Monsters. At the start of the film, Kong is being monitored by the Monarch organization inside of a giant dome that envelops Skull Island. Dr. Ilene Andrews (played by Rebecca Hall) is known as a ‘Kong whisperer,’ as she is able to communicate with the enormous ape by way of Jia (played by Kaylee Hottle), a deaf young woman who uses sign language to communicate with Kong. Kong trusts Jia and has formed a bond with her.

Elsewhere, Godzilla has started attacking Apex Cybernetics facilities seemingly out of nowhere, and meanwhile Apex’s CEO Walter Simmons (played by Demián Bichir) has recruited Dr. Nathan Lind (played by Alexander Skarsgård), a geologist and Hollow Earth-expert, to venture into the Earth’s core. Lind won’t be going there alone, though, as he swiftly convinces Dr. Andrews to help them take Kong with them to the center of the Earth. But their journey will be perilous, as Godzilla knows a ‘titan’ is being transported from one end of the planet to another. A dangerous battle between two titans will commence, as humanity cannot safely control both of the monsters that are, in a way, vying for control of Earth’s surface.

It may all sound a little bit complicated and, admittedly, it is. It’s actually even more complicated, as this description has completely omitted the B-plot involving Brian Tyree Henry, Millie Bobby Brown, and Julian Dennison’s characters, and I’ll explain why in a moment. A problem that these films have had is that they tend to struggle to marry the great big kaiju battles with a human narrative that feels like more than just filler content. Although I can’t say that I am a huge fan of Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla from 2014, one thing that I did really respect it for was the subplot involving Bryan Cranston’s character. However, these films have mostly failed to create a truly engrossing human element, even though I did enjoy some of the genre archetypes from Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island.

This problem is still apparent in Adam Wingard’s Godzilla vs. Kong and it is my single biggest problem with this film. Not only are the main characters thinly written, but some of them are also quite dull and get by almost solely on being overly cartoony. I, honestly, do enjoy Skarsgård, Hall, and Hottle’s characters, but the characters involved in the aforementioned B-plot just do not work for me, and, when it comes down to it, I think this film would be much more entertaining if the B-plot involving Henry, Brown, and Dennison had been scrapped in favor of additional scenes that further expand on the main characters and their mission.

Some, but not all, of these versus-films work on a very particular formula that tend to make the ultimate conclusion rather predictable. That is also true with this film, but that resolution and final battle is executed in a way that I thought was much more satisfying and exciting than it was in, say, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, to provide just one similar example. Though, much like films like that and Man of Steel, Godzilla vs. Kong is also riddled with weightless destruction and so many presumed human casualties that are not made to feel particularly significant by the movie itself.

The reason why this film works, though, is that Adam Wingard’s approach to the kaiju-genre is focused so much on capturing scale and having a pleasing, though slightly repetitive, visual aesthetic. Though the film is perhaps overly complicated and includes a not-so-gripping subplot, the film succeeds where it matters. You can feel the love that Wingard’s film has for Kong especially. So much so that some fans of Godzilla may be a little bit disappointed, even though the lizard does get some wild moments. The actual battles between the kaijus are triumphant and spectacular, and there is enough action here to make the film’s final act very engaging.

I love the choreography of the major battles. I love how Wingard’s film frames the titular characters when they are involved in pivotal scenes. I greatly appreciate that the action in Wingard’s film is rarely if ever indecipherable. The titular characters often have their great battles in daylight, and if they don’t then rest assured that there are plenty of neon colors to help you make sense of things, as well as add a touch of style to the film. It should also be said that the film’s major highlight, outside of the major battles, is a sequence inside of the Hollow Earth. I wanted so much more from this environment, and I would happily watch several films that take place there.

Frankly, Godzilla vs. Kong is exactly what the average person would want from a big kaiju blockbuster film, but it isn’t anything more than that. It doesn’t try to be as extraordinary as Peter Jackson’s outstanding epic King Kong, and it doesn’t have as many ambitions as Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla. But Godzilla vs. Kong succeeds where it counts for these films. It is a return to form for the franchise after the very disappointing Godzilla II: King of the Monsters, but it is also a notable return to form for director Adam Wingard. Godzilla vs. Kong is a big, dumb, action-heavy, cartoonish, and stylish kaiju film. But that is exactly what it was meant to be. It never takes itself too seriously, and I think that’s a good thing in this case.

7.5 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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