The following is less a proper review of Godzilla vs. Kong and more a jotting down of the various thoughts that have been rattling around inside my head like a couple of monsters smashing their way through a major city.
The following contains spoilers for Godzilla vs. Kong. Consider yourself warned.
For a movie that gives him top billing, Godzilla feels like a peripheral character for much of Godzilla vs. Kong, showing up only when it’s time to go toe-to-toe with Kong. In other words, this feels very much like a Kong movie; the giant ape is on screen far more often and his particular storyline is the most well-developed.
Perhaps the filmmakers thought that since the MonsterVerse universe already had two Godzilla movies and only one Kong movie, they needed to even things out a bit, or maybe that the Big G required less explanation. To which I say, you can never have too much Godzilla.
That being said, resigning Godzilla to the movie’s periphery does have the side effect of making him feel less like a character and more like a force of nature that no one, not even Kong, can truly control or withstand — which is something that Kong seems to admit when he drops his giant battle axe at the movie’s end and concedes defeat. This is Godzilla’s world, and we (humans and giant apes alike) are here only because he allows it.
As for the battles between Godzilla and Kong, they’re quite fun to watch, and exactly what you’re hoping for from a movie titled Godzilla vs. Kong, with explosions and toppling skyscrapers a‑plenty.
Each battle has its highlights (e.g., Kong leapfrogging from one ship to another during their sea battle, or engaging in a little bit of parkour during their Hong Kong scuffle) and director Adam Wingard (and his army of animators and visual effects artists) do a great job of showing off the damage and chaos in all of their glory.
Of course, as per an earlier blog post, I often found myself wondering about the countless poor souls who were still trapped in those toppling skyscrapers. How would the movie’s tone change were we to see the monsters’ battle from their perspective, from their terror?
I agree with those critics (e.g., James Whitbrook) who described Godzilla vs. Kong as feeling like multiple movies smashed together rather than one cohesive whole. The movie contains four main storylines:
- First off, Godzilla does whatever Godzilla’s gonna do. Which, in this case, is to suddenly start attacking humanity for no apparent reason.
- In the “Kong” storyline, a group of scientists and engineers led by Rebecca Hall and Alexander Skarsgård hope that the giant ape will lead them to a power source at the center of the world that can stop Godzilla.
- In the “Apex Cybernetics” storyline, Millie Bobby Brown and her cohorts infiltrate (with surprising ease) the world’s most advanced company to find evidence of wrongdoing — and a clue to Godzilla’s recent behavior.
- Finally, in the “Monarch” storyline, Kyle Chandler… well… looks really, really consternated all the time.
The “Monarch” storyline is the weakest and least essential one, and feels like it’s only there to have an excuse to bring back Chandler’s character. (Related: I really miss Ken Watanabe’s Serizawa, who brought some much-needed gravitas to these movies.) Similarly, the “Apex Cybernetics” storyline seems to exist only for Brown to be super-plucky and get in way over her head. It’s also really a clumsy way to introduce Mechagodzilla (more on that later). All of which is a shame because Brown has proven elsewhere (e.g., Enola Holmes) that her pluckiness can be far more than just a schtick.
As mentioned before, the “Kong” storyline is the most fleshed out. Hall’s character is an “anthropological linguist” seeking to understand Kong in a secret Monarch facility, where she works with a young native girl named Jia to communicate with the ape. Skarsgård’s character is a scientist whose “Hollow Earth” theories have made him a laughingstock and cost his brother’s life.
It’s all pretty conventional and works for the most part, even the bit about Jia being the only one who can communicate with Kong. The weirdest part is how Skarsgård’s character, who’s supposed to be a discredited, washed up scientist, suddenly develops whatever skills are essential in the moment, whether it’s being a pilot or knowing how to hack some super-advanced technology to give Kong a much-needed boost while battling Godzilla.
The “Hollow Earth” segment was my favorite part of Godzilla vs. Kong, if only because it’s so bizarre and out there. After a trippy 2001-esque wormhole sequence (caused, presumably, by “gravitational inversion”), Kong leads Hall and Skarsgård’s team to a massive prehistoric world near the Earth’s core that just so happens to be his ancestral home, complete with a temple, giant throne, armory, and even some massive ape statues for good measure.
But who made all of this? Kong’s ancestors? Some other unseen race that apparently worshipped Kong’s ancestors as gods? Aliens?
Whatever the answer, this whole segment is absolutely ridiculous, which is precisely why I enjoyed it so much despite it feeling like a totally different movie. It’s like the filmmakers said “screw it” and decided to really go for broke with this segment, and I can respect that. Needless to say, exploring this “Hollow Earth” — which ultimately becomes Kong’s new home — and its secrets is the perfect premise for the next Kong movie.
As it turns out, the movie’s real antagonist is Apex Cybernetics and its slimy CEO (and his equally villainous daughter). Big surprise there. They’ve developed the aforementioned Mechagodzilla, an artificial titan that’ll allow humanity to once again become Earth’s apex (see what they did there?) species. Of course, any true kaiju fan saw this coming a mile away, but Mechagodzilla’s appearance ultimately feels anticlimactic, as if the filmmakers threw it in during one of the final writing sessions because they feared that putting Godzilla and Kong in the same movie just wouldn’t be quite enough.
Naturally, Mechagodzilla develops a mind of its own and breaks free of its creators’ control, forcing Godzilla and Kong to team up against this new mechanized foe. It’s implied that this is because Apex used the surviving head of King Ghidorah (last seen in a post-credits scene in Godzilla: King of the Monsters) as Mechagodzilla’s brain. Which, I suppose, makes Mechagodzilla Ghidorah’s attempt to avenge its own death, which is kind of cool because Ghidorah is awesome — but it also feels like something that the movie could’ve made a much bigger deal about because it’s the revenge of King freakin’ Ghidorah.
On a related note, this all sets up the movie’s most satisfying kill, when Kong crushes the vehicle containing the CEO’s daughter shortly after she steals a sample of the mysterious energy flowing through the Kong family temple and then threatens and abandons his friends. (Which is an amazing sentence to write.)
Speaking of Mechagodzilla, the technology in this movie is amazing. Anti-gravity jets. Mag-lev trains that cross the ocean in minutes via underwater tunnels. Massive underground complexes that are built under places like Antarctica and Hong Kong, and yet are still somehow super-duper secret. (But also, easily infiltrated by a couple of high school students and a paranoid podcaster.)
It’s sci-fi, so any rules governing human technological advancement don’t necessarily apply, and yet, how did it all come about? Here’s an idea for the next Godzilla movie: Aliens! That’s right, extraterrestrials have been guiding humanity’s development for ages because of their interest in the titans, and they’ve returned to capitalize on their investment. Which means — you guessed it — SpaceGodzilla!
(The original SpaceGodzilla wasn’t created by aliens, but rather, was the result of some of Godzilla’s cells being exposed to a black hole’s radiation, but work with me here. I know it’s a loony idea — but is it any loonier than a hidden prehistoric wilderness at the Earth’s core that’s protected by a “gravitational inversion”? And besides, there’s a long history of alien involvement in the Godzilla franchise, from the Xiliens in 1965’s Invasion of Astro-Monster to the Millennian in 1999’s Godzilla 2000.)
While I had my various issues with the movie, my sons did not. I had just as much fun, if not more, listening to their running commentary during the Godzilla/Kong battles. In their opinion, Godzilla vs. Kong was “sick.” As a geek dad, I can’t ask for much more than that.
Finally, here’s my unofficial, totally un-scientific rankings of the MonsterVerse movies:
- Godzilla (2014) — I was underwhelmed by this movie when I first saw it, but it’s grown quite a bit in my estimation. I still think the movie did Bryan Cranston dirty, but it does do a great job of showing just how terrifying creatures like Godzilla and the MUTOs would be.
- Kong: Skull Island (2017) — This movie really benefits from a great visual aesthetic and a solid Apocalypse Now vibe. And, of course, John C. Reilly.
- Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) — It’s a little over-stuffed, but I like the dive into the mythological aspects of Godzilla and the titans. That, and it has King freakin’ Ghidorah.
- Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) — Definitely overstuffed and filled with too many storylines that aren’t explored as well as they should’ve been. Worst of all, it feels like way more of a Kong movie than a Godzilla movie. But everything that happens does so within Godzilla’s shadow. And the Godzilla/Kong battles? *chef’s kiss*
Adam Wingard has stated that ideas for future MonsterVerse movies do exist, but it’s hard to tell if there will be any more because Godzilla vs. Kong is such a natural and obvious culmination. And who knows how the pandemic will affect the movie’s profits, which are usually the key indication of a sequel’s prospects. (Note: Netflix is currently producing a Skull Island animated series.)
Any and all flaws aside, I’m glad this movie was made, and I’m glad to be living during a time when major Hollywood studios are willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on kaiju movies. So I hope this won’t be the last one, because even a bad Godzilla movie is more entertaining than the vast majority of Hollywood’s output.