Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)
Directed by: Adam Wingard
Written by: Eric Pearson, Michael Doughert, Terry Rossio, Zach Shields
Starring: Alexander Skarsgard, Brian Tyree Henry, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall
IN CINEMAS AND ON DIGITAL NOW
RUNNING TIME: 113 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
It’s five years after the events of Godzilla: King Of The Monsters and humanity has entered into an uneasy truce with the massive monsters that occupy the world and once ruled it, while a company named Apex are developing technology should the Titans attack again. However, said truce is shattered when Godzilla attacks an Apex factory in Florida and is deemed a threat to people once more. The company’s president Walter Simmons recruits geologist Nathan Lind to find a hidden energy source within the Hollow Earth to defeat any rampaging kaiju, and believes that Kong can lead them to this secret power, but with Godzilla often nearby this could be difficult. Meanwhile teenager Madison Russell finds Apex employee and conspiracy theorist Bernie Hayes so she can carry out her own investigating….
The first thing I should probably explain is why I didn’t review this sooner, since it’s been available for streaming for some time now and long-time readers of this website will know that I’ve reviewed every previous Godzilla film and a lot of other kaiju stuff too. The answer is simple; I wanted to first experience it at the cinema, which to me home viewing just doesn’t compare to. And I was in rush to see it, Godzilla Vs Kong hardly being a film one ought to expect to be much good for two main reasons. The first is the utter disaster of the previous ‘Monsterverse’ instalment Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, which almost entirely botched what should have been an outrageously spectacular, exciting and imaginative epic to rival the best of the Japanese monster bashes from Toho, or even better them. Instead it was a mess of awful writing and bizarre embarrassment at being a film about big creatures fighting seeing as the majority of the action was partly obscured by something, making monster battling into something that was almost boring. How could it have gone so wrong? And then there’s Adam Wingard. This filmmaker of very little talent indeed had only previously made only one film – The Guest – which was professionally shot and edited, all his other work being barely watchable what with Wingard’s obsession with shaking the camera about so it’s hard not to feel sick or have a splitting head or eye ache while you’re attempting to make out what’s unfolding in front of you, as well a seeming inability to get decent performances out of his actors. Would this be a third American Godzilla film that didn’t feel audiences had a right to enjoy the main thing they were watching it for?
Yet word soon came out that the result wasn’t half bad, and indeed it’s probably twice as good as its immediate predecessor. It’s basically poor plotting and human stuff which is 50% good and 50% not good, battling against mostly impressive kaiju action, which is certainly some improvement seeing as the previous instalment was poor everything. I’ll say one thing for Wingard; at least he seems happy to give us what we want, which is not something I can say for all the directors in this franchise. The screenplay by Eric Pearson and Zach Shields, writers of the 2014 Godzilla, from a story by Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields [scribes of the last one] and interestingly Terry Rossio who together with Ted Elliott wrote an early script draft for the appalling 1998 thing that was somehow called Godzilla, bears little resemblence to the 1963 Toho King Kong Vs Godzilla, though it does repeat that film’s image of Kong being transported by helicopters, has a similar scene on a ship where Kong is released, and also has more Kong than Godzilla. The older movie still seems to have a rather poor reputation among western Godzilla fans, though this is largely due to its awful Americanisation which added condescending nonsense like a scientist on TV using a children’s picture book of dinosaurs to explain Godzilla. The far less seen Japanese cut also reveals that the film was intended to be funny, rather than being unintentionally so. This film is nowhere near as overtly comic, though it does have some idiocies which are hard not to laugh at, such as a mother calling after her daughter despite her being deaf, or drink spilt on a circuit board being a really decisive action in the climax. Godzilla Vs Kong was originally much longer and was then cut down with some new footage shot to smooth over the cutting. Subsequently the plot contains too much stuff for its running time to properly sustain and things often seem to happen randomly just because they have to propel the story forward. But the human side of things is certainly an improvement – and not the only one!
You’ll remember that the Titans are giant creatures older than the dinosaurs who once lived on the earth’s surface, feeding on residual radiation from the Big Bang, then moved inside as that energy ebbed, hibernating in the Hollow Earth until humans disturbed their slumber with their ruining of the planet. And of course there’s also the SHIELD-like Monarch Project, studying and trying to understand these old gods. We open on Skull Island, though several decades after we last saw it in Kong: Skull Island, with Kong, just before he sees something very strange indeed in the sky, being studied by anthropological linguist Dr. Ilene Andrews. He’s rather friendly to a young orphaned native girl named Jia who will later be able to communicate with the big ape with sign language just like the real-life case of the gorilla Koko who was taught how to communicate with her trainers through similar means. This tells you that this will is a bit more child-aimed than the proceeding three Monsterverse installments, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some viewers are put off by this subplot, though historically Kong has often had a sentimental streak, albeit a rather perverse one in that he usually lusts after blonde human ladies. Here, the Kong/Jia relationship, built largely on respect, is quite touching and isn’t allowed to overwhelm matters, though this would be very hard to do seeing as so much is going on. Indeed it takes a little while for the film to settle as it flits back and forth between various sets of characters and locations so fast that we can barely take it all in even though what’s happening is fairly simple when you boil it down.
Bernie Hayes is an employee of Apex Cybernetics, a company trying to save Earth’s Titan problem, and host of a Titan conspiracy theory podcast. He extracts data suggesting sinister activities at his facility. Then Godzilla suddenly attacks it which surely doesn’t make sense, seeing as he was the planet’s defender before, though of course Godzilla veterans will know that he can be both at the same time! During the rampage, Bernie barely escapes with his life but stumbles on some kind of massive device. Madison Russell from the previous film, a fan of Bernie’s podcast, enlists her friend Josh to investigate Godzilla’s attacks. Meanwhile Apex CEO Walter Simmons recruits Nathan Lind, former Monarch scientist and Hollow Earth theorist, to guide a search for a power source into the Hollow Earth. Nathan is initially hesitant as his brother died in an expedition there due to a strong reverse-gravitational effect, but agrees after Walter reveals that Apex has developed specialised crafts able to withstand the pressure exerted by the gravity field. Nathan meets with Ilene and convinces her to let Kong guide them through the Hollow Earth via an outpost in Antarctica. Kong is sedated and transported there, but there’s the small matter of Godzilla, and their first fight not only takes place in daylight [I’m not joking though can’t believe that I’m typing this] for a change, but also contains one great Godzilla moment – his tail cutting battleships in half – that will delight fans who haven’t already seen it at home and, like me, decided to wait for the big screen.
The best of the humans is Brian Tyree Henry’s Bernie, who’s both amusing and a touch moving in the part, so we’re always happy to see him and aren’t just twiddling our thumbs waiting for the next monster appearance. But I did also really like Kaylee Hottle is Mia – I’m generally not a fan of cutsey kids in movies, but she has an odd and strong presence that almost makes you believe what her character can do. It’s funny that nobody questions why they brought her along, though also a nice change. Julian Dennison’s Josh, an exposition-feeding chatterbox, is just annoying while the returning Dr. Mark Russell, Madison’s father, does barely anything in three corners of the globe. The potentially interesting character of Ren Serizawa, son of the late Ishiro Serizawa and Apex’s revenge-seeking technology officer, seems either very underwritten or heavily cut down. But we become a bit invested in Lind, Andrews, and Jia as they learn to trust each other and work together until they’ve formed a makeshift nuclear family, while Madison’s bonding with Hayes from afar because they share a cynical, questing worldview is also nicely handled. Of course there’s no real depth here, nor is there time for this stuff to be dwelt on – but then there shouldn’t be. But it’s certainly enough to keep us going in between kaiju footage. There aren’t actually very many monster sequences, but they last a while. The final half an hour is visually striking because it’s set in the neon-drenched cityscapes of Hong Kong – okay Guillermo del Toro did it first with Pacific Rim and and being him made it look even better – but the fighting is agile and, while we wouldn’t expect to see such goofy sights as we had in the 1963 effort such as Kong grabbing Godzilla’s tail, swinging him round and round and then throwing him, there are some cool moves and real pace. There’s also an actual victor, which will surprise many.
Wingard likes to get up close and personal to the action, sometimes too much so, but he avoids his ‘shakycam’ crap and it’s all a nice contrast to the distancing of Dougherty who directed the last one. The finale brings on a frequent Godzilla opponent, which – just in case you’re not in the know – I won’t mention. Suffice to say that this creation looks more believable in terms of what he’s supposed to be than before and even looks properly menacing, which certainly makes up for the iffy CGI on Godzilla and Kong’s faces, though overall the older incarnation of Kong comes off well, even when things get really potty around the middle of the film when Kong leads some of the humans into Hollow Earth. It doesn’t make much sense since there’s already supposedly a reinforced cave leading there, and then Kong falls through a wormhole unscathed as the humans need three anti-gravity spaceships to travel there. Yet there’s a wonderful feeling of vintage pulp fantasy, reminiscent of the Pellucidar tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs, when they alight on their destination which is full of strange beasties. This section deserves its own film. Of course the musical score by Tom Holkenborg is typically lousy. The electronic stuff is sometimes nice but totally derivative of about ten other artists, while that ugly grating sound and the horrible sound of strings compressed to almost nothing almost ruin some big moments and echo Hans Zimmer at his very worst. But overall Godzilla Vs Kong really isn’t bad. I have no idea if Wingard is a kaiju fan, but he certainly seems to respect the essence of tokasatsu, while the thought of him next doing a sequel to an absolutely classic John Woo suddenly doesn’t seem so bad. And maybe, just maybe, there’s life in this Monsterverse thingie yet, seeing how this film has done pretty well despite the current global situation we’re in. It’s nice to be wrong sometimes.