Principal Cast : Alexander Skarsgard, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza Gonzalez, Julian Dennison, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bichir, Kaylee Hottle.
Synopsis: The epic next chapter in the cinematic Monsterverse pits two of the greatest icons in motion picture history against one another – the fearsome Godzilla and the mighty Kong – with humanity caught in the balance.
Spoilers within for this film: read on only if you have seen the movie.
Finally, after cupping the balls gently with 2014’s Godzilla, stroking the shaft for Kong: Skull Island and practically chowing down in Godzilla: King of The Monsters, the Monsterverse finally goes full kaiju deep-throat for Adam Wingard’s Godzilla Vs Kong, a battle royale between two of cinemas greatest titanic leviathans. To suggest you might witness Oscar-calibre acting and introspective, cosmos-mulling dialogue is to invite heady disappointment; the film delivers exactly what the package says it will, and then some. Large, loud and thrilling, Godzilla Vs Kong is the showdown of this generation and arguably the pinnacle of the Monsterverse’s thus-far ambivalent delivery.
Years after the events of Godzilla: King of The Monsters, humanity has seen very little of the lizard titan. Kong, however, lives inside a protective dome on Skull Island, studied by Dr Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) under the auspices of Monarch, whilst her deaf adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle) has befriended the giant ape using sign language. After Godzilla mysteriously attacks a secret facility in Florida, scientists including Dr Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) and Hollow Earth geologist Dr Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) conclude that the existence of Kong poses a threat to Godzilla and that there can only be one apex predator on the Earth. Meanwhile, Apex Cybernetics CEO Walter Simmons (Demian Bichir) has his own plans for Lind’s research, seeking to uncover the reality of the “hollow earth” theory by embarking on a mission into one of the many subterranean tunnels leading through our world; so he sends his daughter Maia (Eiza Gonzalez) to accompany Lind, Ilene and Jia via exploratory vessels into the unknown. Back in the US, Russel’s young daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), together with computer whiz friend Josh (Hunt For The Wilderpeople’s Julian Dennison) and resident podcast conspiracy theorist Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) hope to uncover Apex Cybernetics’ real motivations for engaging with both Kong and Godzilla. And in the conflict between the two massive titans, there can only be one winner.
Warning #2: That’s all the chances you get. Full spoilers from here on out.
Godzilla Vs Kong is the perfect escapist movie. It demands very little of the audience other than to sit back, chow down some popcorn and let yourself be eye-fucked by this effects-heavy spectacle film that punches, blasts and roars towards its deafeningly awesome conclusion with energy, wit and a sense of scale none of the previous Monsterverse films ever developed. You didn’t come to a film titled with two of cinema’s biggest monster icons in a “versus” bout and expect to see carefully developed human interactions or subtle nuance from the dialogue, did you? Godzilla Vs Kong is an absolute blast of gigantic fun from start to finish. It’s also quite well paced, packing a lot of monster action into its comparatively brief sub-two hour runtime. Director Adam Wingard has obviously studied both the kaiju genre and American audiences reaction to them, for he’s whittled away any semblance of introspection or political commentary and replaced it with the cinematic equivalent of a MMA grudge match. Gone is the nuclear subtext of Godzilla’s 60’s Cold War origin, absent too is the exploitative Kong-plotting notated in the original film and its various sequels; instead this fully-funded Hollywood epic batters and jackhammers its audience with willing – albeit physically impossible – monster-e-monster combat that will shatter the walls of any cinema both professional or home setup.
Returning human stars Kyle Chandler (appearing in his second film alongside King Kong) and Millie Bobby Brown have very little to do here that in any way affect the outcome of the film. Chandler in particular, whilst hosting the core emotional throughline of King Of The Monsters, is pushed aside to represent the bewildered scientific community of Monarch, who appear hopelessly outgunned this time around, whilst Brown, as Madison, is saddled with two generally incompetent and charisma-free side-characters who try to provide some gentle gags and giggles when the monster fists aren’t flying. Rebecca Hall and Alexander Skarsgard do their best with exposition and human-to-monster comprehension of what our gigantic planetary brethren are doing, or why, and to what end, but again they aren’t really the stars here. Instead, a lot of the film’s Kong-centric plotline is juxtaposed with the ape’s relationship with the diminutive hard-of-hearing Jia, played by a wonderful Kaylee Hottle. Hottle is to Kong here what Fay Wray was in the original 1933 classic: she provides the heart and soul to her (ie our) relationship with Kong, seeing things through his eyes with a wonderful use of sign language. Demian Bichir plays the oily company chief with ulterior motives (yeah, he gets pwned bigtime) and he seems to be having a blast with it, delivering some truly nonsensical dialogue and character motivation with the perfectly accentuated Mexican dialect that makes being evil seem to goddam sexy. Minor roles to Eiza Gonzalez as Bichir’s on-screen daughter, Shun Oguri as Bichir’s chief henchman, and a brief appearance by Lance Reddick, offer scant detail but a lot of teeth-gnashing bad-guy hating from the audience as the film bludgeons us to submission against the raw power of Godzilla and King Kong.
As far as spectacle goes, Godzilla Vs Kong wants for nothing. In terms of grand, widescreen monster battles the audience will leave having slaked their communal thirst with some of the best fighting manoeuvres these giant creatures have ever – yes, capital-E ever – committed to the screen. I would dare even suggest that some of the moves Kong pulls of here against his franchise opponent even puts his iconic three-way-Tyrannosaurus fight in Peter Jackson’s bloated King Kong well in the shade. The destruction enacted on our world in this film is staggering, with the climactic Hong Kong finale involving not just Godzilla and Kong but also the man-made Mecha-Godzilla in a slam-dunk knock-down drag-out brawl to end all brawls. (I should at this point make it clear that I don’t quite know how Hollywood can possibly top this, or where they might go from here, if anywhere). The film’s reveal of the Hollow Earth, a mysterious “center of the Earth” locale that defies not only the laws of gravity but also the laws of sense and reason (think Nolan’s Interstellar if you removed every shred of scientific factuality and replaced it with cool sunset photography and opulent ancient-millennia myth-making set design) will draw the breath from your body with its beauty, and the full-length version of the film’s marketing department use of the aircraft carrier battle sequence is one of aural orgasm-inducing ejaculate. Honestly, forty minutes into this film and my pants were moist, that’s how much I loved it.
Given how much of this film is driven by computer graphics, the effects within are entirely seamless. The detail on Kong and Godzilla as they slam their way through various locations – the Hong Kong sequence itself is worth the price of admission, and the way Wingard utilises the city’s iconic neon-embedded skyscrapers to provide lighting against the two battling behemoths is simply jaw-dropping. I don’t think I’ve seen a major Hollywood tentpole deliver such effective, brilliant colour schemes alongside perfect CG effects work. Honestly, this is the best we’ve seen either Kong or Godzilla look on the big screen (I’m pretty sure I saw this on the biggest screen available to me where I live, and I was constantly amazed at how often I wanted them to expand the screen size even further to fully capture the actions on-screen even more) and everything, from the gorgeous digital environments, the practical sets and the various kaiju creatures thrust into our faces (several monsters from previous films reprise their roles in minor cameos, while Wingard does give us a couple we haven’t seen before) to the complexity of a giant hairy ape emoting to a small human child, and a craggy, boisterously antagonistic nuclear lizard with destructive energy-beam breath looks near-flawless. Enormous kudos to cinematographer Ben Seresin (Unstoppable, Pain & Gain, World War Z) for a film that looks like moving artwork in almost every frame – a compliment I also paid to King of The Monsters, I believe – even when that frame is filled with cacophonous destruction.
I admit I was less than impressed with Wingard’s most recent directing job of Death Note, even though his roots in horror come with a low-budget pedigree with You’re Next and the 2016 Blair Witch sequel. How he went from such low-rent subgenre filmmaking to helming one of the most caveat-free “entertaining” tentpole movies in a decade is such a boss move and bold step I am now totally on-board for his intended Face/Off reboot and CGI ThunderCats movie. Bombastic, thrilling, in-your-face love-it-or-hate-it entertaining, you cannot describe Godzilla Vs Kong as anything other than a film that delivers exactly what the title demands. If I was to be critical of anything at all it would be that the film is surprisingly Kong-centric for a lot of its time, with the imbalance in plot focus see-sawing in the final act as Godzilla makes a statement with his arrival in Hong Kong and properly tears Kong a new asshole. I get why they did so (Godzilla has had two whole films to establish himself here, whilst Kong only had Skull Island to setup his arc) but I felt the film treated the lizard a little unfairly. That said: this epic work of art absolutely fucking slaps, and I’m inclined to suggest it will sit atop the list of my favourite films so far this decade, simply for sheer enjoyment.