Godzilla vs Kong
This paws-versus-claws battle is at its best when it's going all-out on the action and fantasy fronts.
The kaiju to end all kaiju (or to fight them, at least), Godzilla isn't a villain. When the giant critter first rampaged across the screen 67 years ago in the original and still best Godzilla film, it was born of the need to confront the consequences of nuclear weapons. When fire blazed from the monster's mouth, there was no doubt that it was sparked by the apathy and arrogance that humankind showed the planet by creating the atomic bomb.
Predating the leviathan by debuting in 1933, King Kong isn't a villain either. If the enormous ape hadn't been captured and exploited, the so-called 'eighth wonder of the world' wouldn't have had a date with the Empire State Building. If humanity hadn't interfered with nature, he wouldn't have clutched several blondes — Fay Wray to start, Jessica Lange in 1976, Naomi Watts in 2005 and Brie Larson in 2017 — in his oversized hands across the decades.
Given that neither of Godzilla vs Kong's towering titans are truly terrors, and therefore neither should really emerge victorious over the other, getting them to face off seems pointless. "They're both big, so they can't get along" is the simplistic concept. This isn't a new train of thought, or new to the American-made Monsterverse that's been nudging the beasts closer together for seven years. Thankfully, in the hands of You're Next and The Guest director Adam Wingard, Godzilla vs Kong has as much in common with its superior Japanese predecessors as it does with 2019's terrible Godzilla: King of the Monsters. The follow-up to 2017's Kong: Skull Island, too, this new battle of the behemoths doesn't remake the duo's first screen showdown in 1962's King Kong vs Godzilla. And, sadly, it hasn't ditched the current Hollywood flicks' love of unexciting human characters. But it crucially recognises that watching its titular creatures go claw-to-paw should be entertaining. It should be a spectacle, in fact. The film also realises that if you're not going to make a movie about this pair with much in the way of substance, then you should go all out on the action and fantasy fronts.
In other words, Godzilla vs Kong feels like the product of a filmmaker who loves the Japanese Godzilla flicks and Kong's maiden appearance, knows he can't do them justice thematically, but is determined to get what he can right. Wingard is still saddled with a flimsy script with a tin ear for dialogue by screenwriters Eric Pearson (Thor: Ragnarok) and Max Borenstein (Kong: Skull Island), but his massive monster melees are a delight. That's fantastic news to everyone who strained to get a proper glimpse of Godzilla in 2014, found that Skull Island borrowed a little too much from the Jurassic Park series, and suffered through the dark and ugly-looking King of the Monsters. Also welcome: Godzilla vs Kong's eagerness to lean into its genre. When it surrenders to its pixels, and to a tale that involves a journey to the centre of the earth, subterranean asteroids, altercations with giant flying lizards and an underground tunnel from Florida to Hong Kong, it's equal parts loopy and fun.
That trip to the planet's interior is guided by Kong, whose life has changed since last swinging across the screen. Kept in a dome that simulates the jungle, the jumbo primate is under the watch of Jane Goodall-esque researcher Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall, Tales from the Loop), and bonds with Jia (newcomer Kaylee Hottle), the orphan also in the doctor's care. But, after Godzilla surfaces for the first time in three years to attack tech corporation Apex's Miami base, CEO Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir, Chaos Walking) enlists geologist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård, The Stand) on a mission. Testing the latter's hollow earth theory, they plan to track down an energy source that could be linked to both Zilly and Kong's existence — but only if Kong will lead them there. In a plot inclusion that'd do Scooby Doo proud, teenager Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown, returning from King of the Monsters) and her classmate Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) are certain that Apex is up to no good and — with conspiracy theory-obsessed podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry, Superintelligence) — start meddling.
If you're tired of seeing podcasting overused as an easy narrative crutch — as also present in everything from the most recent Halloween to the new Mighty Ducks TV series — you're not alone. Story-wise, Godzilla vs Kong makes a slew of such lazy choices. When its handling of technology brings up memories of the atrocious first US take on Godzilla back in 1998, that definitely isn't a good thing. And, despite the high-profile array of talent involved, the film doesn't give its cast anything to brag about. You could be generous and assume that's intentional, because Godzilla and Kong should be the stars of the show and dwarf their flesh-and-blood costars in multiple ways; however, the feature spends far too much time with its thinly written humans to support that notion.
When the movie's monsters are pushed to the fore and thrust together, though, Godzilla vs Kong is a much better film. One exceptional sequence doesn't make any picture a masterpiece, but the luminous wrestling match that takes place against Hong Kong's neon-lit skyline is instantly gorgeous, impressively staged and reminiscent of Tron: Legacy's dazzling imagery. While the fact that the film's fights aren't messy, dim and frenetic to the point of being visually nonsensical shouldn't be as much of a win as it is, that's the state of big blockbuster action these days. Indeed, the knack for action choreography that Wingard initially showed in the underrated and underseen The Guest is firmly a highlight here. The idea of pitting its titans against each other remains ludicrous, but Godzilla vs Kong knows it, leans in, delivers on the concept and adds a pulsating synth score. Wingard has the average recent Blair Witch on his resume, too, so he has struggled with jumping into an existing franchise before — but from the eponymous animals to a not-at-all surprising but still well-handled late appearance, he has helmed one of the Monsterverse's most engaging entries yet.