Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)

Some background…

Even when I was a child and loved childish things, I wasn’t a big fan of King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962). I didn’t like the look of Kong, there were just too many silly bits, and I never believed that Kong would have won. Of course, I didn’t know who Ishiro Honda was or the story behind the film, but even when I revisited the film during a rewatch of the entire Toho franchise, it wasn’t a favorite.

But I didn’t hate it.

I have a fondness for the classics from the Shōwa era, even when it got goofy, but when the Heisei era began, it was clear that something had been missing: The idea that Godzilla was an actual threatening force of nature, rather than humanity’s defender. Sure, he was still going up against other kaiju like Biollante, King Ghidorah, and Destroyah, but he could be just as deadly to humanity as the monsters he battled. The Millennium era did an excellent job of combining all the earlier elements into a series of continuous reboots – that sounds tedious but worked really well.

We just don’t talk about the 1998 American aberration.

I’m also a huge fan of Toho’s return to the franchise with 2016’s Shin Godzilla and the three animated films produced for Netflix.

When it came to the new MonsterVerse from Legendary Pictures, I wasn’t sure what to expect. One would think that Gareth Edwards was a natural choice to kick off the American franchise in 2014, but ultimately, I felt that he was more interested in making a Gareth Edwards film than a Godzilla movie. But from that point on, Legendary got their act together.

Jordan Vogt-Roberts aced Kong: Skull Island and Michael Dougherty was perfect for Godzilla: King of the Monsters (critics gave this film far too much shit). They knew what kaiju fans wanted from these films and they knew how to deliver it.

When Adam Wingard was announced as director for Godzilla vs. Kong, I was excited, but there was a little flicker of doubt in the back of my mind. I was a huge fan of his work when paired with his screenwriting partner Simon Barrett, from A Horrible Way to Die, through V/H/S 1 and 2, The ABCs of Death, You’re Next and The Guest. Those last two are both just freaking brilliant.

But then Blair Witch happened.

I don’t know what happened, but Wingard and Barrett aren’t credited as working together ever since. I haven’t seen Barrett’s Temple (and his directorial debut, Séance, isn’t out yet), but I did see Wingard’s Death Note.

It was okay. I guess. But Blair Witch was so bad that its bad taste still lingers, and Godzilla vs. Kong was going to be the biggest budget Wingard has ever had to work with. And without Barrett along, and with a script credited to Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein, I just didn’t know what to expect. Granted, Pearson and Borenstein have virtually spotless resumes, so that should have made me more comfortable. But it didn’t.

The idea of a writer’s room contributing to the final project, also made me uneasy. There’s always the possibility of having too many cooks in the kitchen, after all. Even with Dougherty providing notes and rewrites to maintain a connection to King of the Monsters, I was nervous.

Okay, okay. Here’s the review…

I shouldn’t have worried.

Godzilla vs. Kong might be the best film in the MonsterVerse series. And that’s saying something, given how hot I am for both Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla: King of the Monsters. There are a lot of critics out there shitting on the human storylines, but I’ll discuss that in a minute.

First off, this is a beautiful film. I don’t think there was a single bad shot in the nearly two-hour runtime. Kong is beautiful. Godzilla is beautiful. And when they clash, its beautiful carnage. My heart was with Godzilla when the film began, and I never doubted that his attacks weren’t against humanity but were purposeful. I never believed the online buzz that maybe MechaGodzilla was the one attacking. The in-film media praising Godzilla as the “protector of humanity” was off-base.

Godzilla doesn’t give a shit about humanity. He kicked the asses of all the other kaiju because he’s a boss. That’s just how he rolls. So, when he starts blowing up coastal Florida, you just know that despite the collateral damage caused, the King of the Monsters is on a mission. Don’t get in his way.

You can’t get mad at a hurricane, and that’s basically what Godzilla is. A radioactive hurricane.

And it’s hard to really embrace a collateral damage-spewing radioactive hurricane.

This movie is really all about Kong.

From the opening moments (after another fantastic opening credits montage – Legendary has gotten this down to an art) with Kong pushing the boundaries of the dome that Monarch has raised over Skull Island – the implied reason that Kong didn’t show up for the gigantic Titan bust-up that was Godzilla: King of the Monsters – straight through Apex Cybernetics push to find the Hollow Earth, Kong is our protagonist.

Not to dismiss the humans, but their stories are there to provide context, up the danger level, and keep the narrative moving in between massive kaiju fights.

On the Kong side of things, we have Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her deaf adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who have a connection to Kong like nobody else, and Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård), a Hollow Earth theorist who had previously split from Monarch’s employ.

The humans on Godzilla’s side are Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) and her dad Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), both returning from the last film, Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison), Madison’s nerdy friend, and Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), a conspiracy theorist working undercover at Apex Cybernetics to find out what their nefarious plans are.

The baddies – and despite not being overt villains, we all know they’re baddies – are Apex Cybernetics head Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir), his daughter Maia (Eiza González), and scientist Ren Serizawa (Shun Oguri), the son of Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), who sacrificed his life to recharge Godzilla last time around.

Team Kong wants to find a safe home for Kong, where he won’t attract the attention of Godzilla. Team Godzilla wants to prove that Godzilla isn’t just attacking humanity willy-nilly, and Team Baddies wants to find a legendary power source, the sun of the Hollow Earth, with which to power up their secret project, MechaGodzilla (a magnificent design, by the way).

It’s as simple as that. And thanks to some exceptionally lax Apex Cybernetics security, all our heroes end up in Hong Kong for the big ultimate battle. That’s probably all we need to know about the humans, although I should say Skarsgård does a fantastic job as the gangly, awkward scientist (we almost forgot he’s one of the most attractive men on the planet!).

We have two main kaiju fight set pieces, one at sea among a fleet of aircraft carriers and the other under the neon lights of Hong Kong. Both are stunning. We also have a few side battles, as Godzilla attacks Apex Cybernetics in Pensacola and as Kong establishes himself as the King of the Hollow Earth, and they also don’t disappoint.

Seriously, whoever is responsible for choreographing the action in this film has outdone themselves. The battles are clear and violently brutal, with at least a couple of nods to the 1962 original battle. There was never a time I couldn’t tell where we were in relation to both Big Guys and their settings.

And when MechaGodzilla entered the fray, with a psychic assist from the spirit of King Ghidorah, everything went bananas.

The only thing I could think of to complain about was not getting to see this on a big screen. Maybe after my second vaccination. Because if there was ever a film that deserved to be seen on as big a screen as possible, it’s Godzilla vs. Kong.

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