Godzilla vs. Kong, 2021.
Directed by Adam Wingard.
Starring Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Kyle Chandler, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza González, Julian Dennison, Demián Bichir, Zhang Ziyi, Lance Reddick, Van Marten, Erol Brandis, Daniel Nelson, Danai Gurira, Chris Chalk, John Pirruccello, Ronny Chieng, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, and Kaylee Hottle.
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.
There is a cutaway shot during the climactic fight of Godzilla vs. Kong that shows a few supporting human characters cheering on the ensuing chaos and destruction; the feeling is mutual. Director Adam Wingard (a fantastic genre filmmaker in his own right known for outstanding movies such as The Guest, but whose live-action Death Note adaptation misfire left plenty of room for skepticism about how he would handle a project of this magnitude) couldn’t have a more crystallized vision of what this movie should be and what it thankfully is.
It’s a thing of beauty how simplistic the reasoning is for these two iconic behemoths to be fighting, which is nothing more than to be considered the Alpha Titan. The script from Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein isn’t working overtime to reach emotional heights or endear us to the obligatory human characters. Instead, the latter is here to service the action and further move things along quickly rather than converse amongst themselves about their own plights and tragedy. At most, there is some table setting and an introduction to these characters but they never become defined or complex, which for once belongs in the positive column. With the exception of the returning father-daughter duo of Millie Bobby Brown and Kyle Chandler, I had to look up if any of the other characters were new or old since there is nothing more to them than surface value motives. And with the exception of Kong: Skull Island, it’s not like any of these MonsterVerse human characters have been memorable anyway.
Admittedly, there was a little cause for concern as Godzilla vs. Kong opens with Brian Tyree Henry’s Bernie as a seemingly crazy conspiracy theory podcaster convinced that the Apex Cybernetics company he does grunt work for is dabbling in some shady and dangerous technology. He’s always a reliable dramatic or comedic presence, but between him, a look at a scientist and her nonbiological mute daughter (Rebecca Hall and Kaylee Hottle respectively) looking after and studying Kong inside a containment facility on Skull Island (something they have been doing for 10 years now with a young child Jia having developed a communicative bond with the gigantic gorilla), and the aforementioned Millie Bobby Brown’s Madison getting into an argument with her father (Kyle Chandler) over an incident involving Godzilla, not to mention another scientist played by Alexander Skarsgård being recruited by the head of Apex (Demián Bichir) to dig deeper into uncovering the Hollow Earth to harness mythical energy to use against Godzilla, and you have what initially seems to be a recipe for an unfocused disaster that is more concerned with people than towering monsters punching each other in the face.
Watching Madison and her friend Josh (Julian Dennison of the ridiculously funny Hunt for the Wilderpeople) teaming up alongside Bernie investigating what Apex is really up to is lacking compared to the mission involving exploring Hollow Earth, mainly because they are distanced from the ongoing battle and given humorous dialogue that doesn’t always land. However, it’s still safe to say that the filmmakers understand not to let the human characters get in the way of what’s advertised.
Really, that’s the last that even needs to be mentioned about those characters as once the story gets going they only really exist to put the titans on a collision course with one another. The Monarch scientists want to use Kong as a tour guide into the Hollow Earth deceiving their peers with a moral compass that it’s about finding him a new home away from potential attacks from Godzilla. There’s also a great degree of spectacle that goes into getting inside the Hollow Earth alongside the stunning art design of the place itself (get ready for gravity inversion, prehistoric creatures, and more).
Meanwhile, an unusually violent Godzilla seems to be attacking the Apex headquarters for a legitimate reason. Of course, he also has to fight Kong hoping to take his place as the one true Alpha Titan even if Kong is at a disadvantage from being tranquilized (don’t ask how they are able to do that because I don’t understand it either, and I prefer not thinking in general while watching this) and chained up for escorting to the Hollow Earth entry point. Pretty much all of these characters converge early on for all-out anarchy, with Adam Wingard’s direction and the cinematography from Ben Seresin providing some of the clearest and most crisp visuals of both destruction and gargantuan-sized monsters pummelling the hell out of each other.
Equally simplistic to the narrative itself is the combat; sure Godzilla has all his usual tricks up his sleeve such as Atomic Breath and other classic attacks, but there’s also a lot of straight-up punches to the face, dropkicks, and smashing each other’s faces into buildings and ships and whatever else is near. At one point, a bomber pilot is grabbed by one monster and hurled into the other exploding on impact. Also, that’s only round one, and it does bring joy to report that there is a definitive victor just like Adam Wingard promised, inside of something more going on that feels par for the course with versus movies but without the copout presentation. The rampaging goes on from sea to evacuated cities all the way to lost ruins, all as the human characters follow and frequently reap what they sow to our vicious delight. With that in mind, this CGI is routinely mind-blowing complete with detailed weather effects such as snow covering Kong or neon lights reflecting off of skyscraper buildings onto the beasts as they tear each other apart. Visually, Godzilla vs. Kong is almost unbelievably impressive.
Fortunately, Godzilla vs. Kong rarely takes itself too seriously (there are some amusing playful needle drops before and after shit hits the fan, and the film never once stops to explain the inner workings of its mythology and science). It’s a crowdpleaser in the purest definition of the term; a knock-em-down drag-out fight that will have you beating your chest regardless of who you are cheering for. It’s some of that good old movie magic that the theatrical business could really use right now, sure to go down as of the most exciting big-screen viewings of the year. That same statement would apply during a normal stacked year with movies. The real knockout blow is delivered by Adam Wingard, offering up relentlessly thrilling carnage and visuals.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com