Movie Review: “Godzilla vs. Kong”

   I can still remember when Godzilla first arrived in 2014, ushering in a new era for the gargantuan lizard and paving the way for Warner Bros.’ ongoing MonsterVerse. Maybe you do too! I can remember the hype surrounding it and the excitement of seeing Bryan Cranston in a largescale film, hot off his dramatic turn in Breaking Bad. Seems both like a lifetime and like yesterday, doesn’t it?

   I can also remember how one of my friends aptly said he was perfectly “whelmed” by the film. Sadly, it did not gel with me either. A real shame too, because I did like director Gareth Edwards’ film Monsters that came out prior.

   Later, Warner Bros.’ followed with Kong: Skull Island, a fun, easygoing film that really hit the spot in-comparison. It may not have been a great film, per se, but it was a lot closer to the fun, monster mayhem I was interested in.

   At last, Godzilla: King of the Monsters arrived and, once again, I allowed myself to become excited. After all, Michael Dougherty, director of Krampus and Trick R Treat, was helming the film. Unfortunately, it suffered from a lot of the ailments plaguing the earlier film, struggling on how to juggle human characterizations and the “good stuff” so they don’t cannibalize one another.

   This all sets up for Godzilla vs. Kong limping to the finish with the potential culmination of the MonsterVerse series (although, that all changes, assuming it does well enough to warrant it). While Godzilla: King of the Monsters highlighted a waning series interest, it is circumstances outside the series’ control that posed hurdles.

  The Covid-19 pandemic rages on, having left the theatre industry a barren wasteland. Hence why I am watching a film as epic-scale and grandiose as Godzilla vs. Kong on the HBO Max streaming service (admittedly, as a devout moviegoer who once prided himself for triple-features, I’m not explaining at this current stage of my life). On the bright side, Godzilla vs. Kong appears to be doing fairly well. As I write this, it is too soon to speculate on the domestic total (which will be hurt by COVID / releasing in unison with HBO Max), Godzilla vs. Kong has already scarfed down over one-hundred million in foreign markets (bare in mind that China receives a lion’s share of all profit made in their country). With all the disputes and whispers we’ve heard about Warner Bros. and Legendary, it is all very messy and complicated to speculate on, however.

   Set five years after Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Kong is kept under heavy surveillance by Monarch inside a large dome. Kong is able to communicate with a young child named Jia, the last remaining Iwi native, through sign language. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, Godzilla has been running amuck, once hailed as the world’s savior, he is now leaving wreckage and carnage everywhere around him. As you can surmise from the movie title alone, someway, somehow, all of this culminates in them crossing paths in destructive ways.

   As we have come to expect from earlier entries in the MonsterVerse, Godzilla vs. Kong is at no shortage when it comes to largescale, blockbuster action. Godzilla is a suitably intimidating force, whereas Kong, while now enormous in his own right, humanizes everything in some respect. When you look at Godzilla, a massive dinosaur / lizard thing, you see a force of nature that pays little to no mind what damage it causes and who is caught in the crosshairs. Whereas King Kong, a really, really large gorilla, for lack of a more exact description, is easier to align oneself in. Not only do we share a common ancestor and visual similarities, but Kong is able to illustrate an array of interpretable emotions, both in his mannerisms and facial expressions. The action is both bombastic and impressive to look at, and for many of us, that’s about all you want from a monster movie.

   Unfortunately, that’s where a lot of my hang-ups are about Godzilla vs. King Kong as a film. I am not trying, in any form, to present myself as a kaiju aficionado or a monster movie fanatic, but I do understand the basic appeal. I enjoy seeing Godzilla and King Kong battling it out, and I enjoy well choreographed action sequences as much as many of you. But that only accounts for so much of the film.

   Sometime prior, Godzilla and King Kong were treated for metaphors about the environment and industrialization. Godzilla was, at one point, a commentary on Hiroshima, and the consequences of nuclear weaponry. Maybe Hollywood’s latest blockbuster would feel pastiche to try and do that, or maybe that is not what audiences are interested in.

   However, in spite of that, the fact remains there is a whole lot more runtime you have to fill in-order to make a feature length production.

   Of course, you might think to yourself, “Why can’t we have a straight-up brawl with Godzilla and King Kong tearing it up at feature length?” And, to you, I would say that it might not be impossible to accomplish, but that it is not this film. Mad Max: Fury Road is sometimes referred to as a feature length car chase and it is one of my personal favorites. Gareth Evans captivated with a paper thin, actioned-packed The Raid, and so, maybe there is someone who can crack the code on how to choreograph a monster film so well that it is able to reel in the subplots and fluff, but that is not this film.

   Instead, what we have from this film is actors turning their wheels and filling runtime, doing only what they can with what they are given. The characters range from either one-dimensional, cookie-cutter stock insertions or archetypical tropes, with each character’s purpose feeling mechanical and easy to telegraph.

   I think all of us knew, as well, that it was unlikely we would see Godzilla and King Kong battle it out to the death. Like Batman v. Superman or Freddy vs. Jason, or countless others, we have come to expect an asterisk beside the outcome. How cool would it have been to see a free-for-all, go for broke battle? It is not like they won’t reboot Godzilla and King Kong again in a decade! But, alas, this film abides the same formula, and actually feels more blatant and heavy-handed with how it’s accomplished.

   I hope everyone enjoys Godzilla vs. King Kong, and, if you are a fan of Godzilla and Godzilla: King of the Monsters, I don’t believe you will be disappointed. Specifically, because the film feels more inline with the Godzilla duology than as a sequel to Kong: Skull Island. I am not a person who wants anyone to dislike anything simply because I didn’t love it. For instance, I am not a fan of romantic dramas, per se, but, for the benefit of individuals who are, I would genuinely prefer great romantic dramas be made. Because, well, why not?

   Like I expect my right to dislike the film be respected, I respect another person’s right to enjoy it, or even love it. There’re aspects to be enjoyed about Godzilla vs. King Kong, but, I left with the same general sentiment I had about Godzilla and Godzilla: King of the Monsters, disappointed and appropriately “whelmed”.

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