(GODZILLA VS KONG opens in select theatres in Finland on May 14th)
The king of monsters
I love Godzilla movies. They’re immensely malleable monster flicks that range from profoundly touching meditations on nature, war, and humanity to outright shlocky D-pictures. It’s also an incredibly long-lasting franchise, going now in its sixtieth year, and who knows how many iterations. So there’s something for everyone, no matter what version of the giant lizard you enjoy.
Having said that, GODZILLA VS KONG was not for me. It’s a big and loud summer blockbuster with a plot devoid of any charisma or logic. Things happen left and right, and some of it is beautiful to look at, but at the hands of director Adam Wingard the big picture is surprisingly dull and lifeless.
Set three years after the previous entry, GODZILLA VS KONG finds the titular monsters in hiding from one another. Godzilla traverses the globe looking for other alpha-monsters to fight, while Kong remains in seclusion at the hands of Monarch. Meanwhile, an unscrupulous businessman feels the time of titans should come to an end, and sets out to wipe out both iconic monsters in one sweep.
Too much all at once
GODZILLA VS KONG has five stories going on at once, and none of them are intriguing. The best of the lot involves a deaf girl and her connection with Kong, but it falls so quickly and readily into the “magic handicap” tropes that not even a stellar performance from Kaylee Hottle can save it. She and Kong share one genuinely magical scene, set on a tanker boat in the blistering rain, and it feels like a remnant of a much better, more touching film than the one we get.
Everyone else feels wasted and trapped in a myriad of rewrites and reshoots. The uber-talented Millie Bobby Brown and Julian Dennison have great chemistry together, but their wafer-thin characters have no purpose in the film. The same goes for Brian Tyree Henry, playing a thinly veiled Qanon truther as a hero(!), who tries to salvage the dour script with his inherent likability. Together, the trio does a lot of running about from place to place, but if you’d remove them from the film entirely, I doubt anyone would notice.
The glorious Rebecca Hall provides needless exposition. Kyle Chandler appears for what feels like a contractual obligation. Demián Bechir chews the scenery with monologues that aren’t good enough for it, and Alexander Skarsgård is here because every film apparently needs its own Skarsgård at this point. It’s a stacked cast of talented performers who feel adrift in a movie more interested in CGI than acting.
This all looks familiar
What’s worse is the effects aren’t that mesmerizing. We’ve seen all this before, and neither Kong nor Godzilla wows anymore just by appearance. We know they’re massive titans of incredible strength, but there’s nothing here to provide a reason why we should care. Wingard spins the camera around them in every way possible, making the fights feel weightless and distant. Entire cities with millions of people disappear in a flash, yet the film doesn’t seem to care about it in the least.
The first of the new monsterverse remakes, the 2014 GODZILLA, is often called “boring” for its insistence on withholding the titular monster for long stretches at a time. But I prefer that teasing over the barrage of effects-driven cacophony. The thought of Godzilla appearing is more unnerving than the inevitable destruction. Wingard accidentally stumbles on a moment like this early in the film. Godzilla attacks a facility by the coast, and we witness the collective panic, disorder, and attempts at preparing for a titan attack firsthand. It’s a simple moment that’s far more effective than the deaths of millions who we don’t see.
A tonal mess
GODZILLA VS KONG throws plot points and ideas at the screen without caring how they fit together, only hoping that something will stick out. But since it can’t decide whether or not it wants to take itself seriously or go wild with the hokeyness, the result falls flat.
Not that the original GODZILLA VS KONG was a particular masterpiece, to begin with, but at least it has the charm to go with the cheese.
Distinct elements do work, and there’s a better movie buried beneath the bloat. At just under two hours, it’s also thankfully the shortest of the monsterverse films, making it that much better than the abysmal Kings OF MONSTERS from two years ago. But Wingard’s version suffers from too many cooks in the kitchen (five credited writers, one a known anti-vaxxer). There’s also a studio-tested sheen that drenches everything in distracting shades of teal and orange.
Everything looks and sounds like you’d expect a two hundred million dollar production to be, but it lacks the vision and grit of Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ terrific SKULL ISLAND or the sense of scale in GODZILLA 2014. Instead, it falls in the middle-ground as an utterly forgettable effects bonanza—something you watch once and forget promptly walking out of the theater.
Surely titans like these two deserve better.