Writer’s note: The second paragraph of this article (just below the first image) contains a basic outline of the film’s premise. There are no spoilers that weren’t already inferred in the film’s own trailer. However, if you want to completely avoid potential spoilers, skip over the second paragraph.
In this era of cinematic universes, it’s actually kind of comical that Legendary Pictures and Warner Brothers Studios’ ‘Monsterverse’ ranks in the top two. Sure, you could make a good case for Warners’ DC series and Lucasfilms’ Star Wars stories, but those franchises are marred by a lack of vision despite their merits. The Monsterverse may be a simple, mindless spectacle, but it’s hard to deny there’s a genuine consistency to each entry. They deliberately let character development and logic fall by the wayside to make way for jaw-dropping spectacle. Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island (2017) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2018) have (for the most part) satiated the Kaiju loving fanbase. Enter the monstrous culminating crossover, Godzilla vs. Kong (2021).
After the events of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the only two remaining titans are the giant ape known as Kong and Godzilla himself. Kong is being kept in an artificially controlled habitat, while Godzilla roams the seas, widely considered a protector against titan threats. Things are thrown out of whack when Godzilla inexplicably attacks a human city, thus causing apocalyptic destruction. Researchers led by Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) and Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) believe that only Kong can repel this threat, thus beginning a quest into the hollow earth in order to find the means of defeating Godzilla. Meanwhile, Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) teams with conspiracy theorist, Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) and her friend Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison) to discover why Godzilla is attacking despite being unprovoked.
To be clear, I had to look up all those character names because there’s no way any of them were memorable enough on their own. This is indicative of all these monster movies, as the human characters barely make a lasting impression. The filmmakers want to make characters out of the monsters, so there’s absolutely no passion for the humans (despite their needing to be humans). In most cases, saying the characters barely register would be a scathing indictment, but in this instance it’s actually made to work in the film’s favour. The Godzilla films suffered from its heroes being total flatlines, while Kong: Skull Island suffered from an overabundance of characters. Godzilla vs. Kong doesn’t bother with unnecessary character nuance, cleanly arranging the cast in a functional way which efficiently propels us to the next monster fight.
These battles are what the viewer paid to see, and Godzilla vs. Kong doesn’t disappoint. The previous films prided themselves on their big scale action, but it’s only now that it feels appropriately epic. In previous entries, the battles were either glossed over, obscured by rain or just generally hard to make sense of. That’s not the case here as every Kaiju battle is expertly captured in gorgeous wide shots, allowing us to drink in the monumental size of these legendary combatants. The appeal of the film rests on the action and spectacle, so it’s good to see those elements realised in phenomenal fashion. It’s still quite perplexing to see so much senseless destruction be characterised as heroic, but that’s a buy-in for this genre and you just need to accept it.
That being said, it’s kind of impressive just how often we are treated to some truly beautiful imagery. It’s one thing to give the audience an eye-full of computer generated destruction, but it’s another thing entirely to use that artistry to craft images worthy of being a PC wallpaper. Almost every high-octane sequence takes the time to linger on moments designed to leave us in awe. Few of these moments add thematic nuance, nor do they give the plot any semblance of logic, but they do give the overall piece a sheen of sophisticated science fiction. In a way, the imaginative visuals occasionally elevate the narrative to greater heights.
With that in mind, it’s important to note that Kong vs. Godzilla still can’t manage to transcend the systemic issues of this series. Outside of the monster battles, the plot itself is almost completely inconsequential. The first act doesn’t really have much to offer in the way of storytelling, other than moving the pieces around the board. None of that set-up engages with the viewer too deeply, as it almost feels like the narrative is pretending like it’s not a monster film. Clearly this 30 minute ruse doesn’t work, considering you’ll be checking your watch until you see a giant monkey punch a giant lizard. You could almost sleepwalk through the plot beats, right up until some late in the game revelations expect you to have been invested on a narrative level.
This brings us to the inescapable fact that there’s not much on the film’s mind. To be fair, that’s not a bad thing as not every film needs to be a grand mediation on complex themes (nor was anyone expecting it from this). It’s a big monster movie, so action, spectacle and entertainment is the name of the game. Therefore, it’s no surprise that some aspects of the narrative do feel unintentionally funny in the brief moments where it takes itself a little too seriously. Happily, those moments are few and far between, as Godzilla vs. Kong revels in its own insanity. It’s no accident that the film became far more enjoyable, unique and memorable the crazier it got. With its (mercifully) short runtime there’s only so much insanity it can deliver, but what’s there is wonderfully enjoyable.
For some viewers, it’s not hard to see Godzilla vs. Kong being an absolutely perfect cinema experience. For others, it’s also easy to see it being interpreted as the death of cinema. It’s really going to depend on where your artistic sensibilities lie, or maybe even the mood you’re in. Godzilla vs. Kong isn’t trying to be art, nor is it trying to engage on anything more than a visceral level. On those terms, it’s arguably the perfect version of itself. Some may see it as hot garbage, but they won’t be able to deny it’s well made and one hell of a good time.
Best way to watch it: Probably bring your inner 10-year-old.