Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Godzilla vs. Kong

A year ago, summer was called off, theaters were closed, and studios pulled their largest potential blockbusters from the calendar. Although far from perfect, and with too much of the Godzilla story built on the ashes of the weakest film of the series (Godzilla: King of Monsters), Godzilla vs. Kong delivers the kind of big dumb summer blockbuster audiences have been waiting two years for. The culmination of Legendary's MonsterVerse wastes little time getting both King Kong and Godzilla on-screen. And, clocking in at under two-hours, director Adam Wingard knows not to overstay his welcome.

As the film opens, Godzilla appears to be out of control, attacking the Florida coastline without warning (although his choice of target, Apex Cybernetics, allows some to question the kaiju's motives). Having defeated the last of the Titans, only Kong, who has remained in Monarch captivity on Skull Island, remains. With Godzilla's increasingly erratic actions a choice is made to return Kong to the Hollow Earth, both for his own protection, and in a businessman's (Demián Bichir) hope that something long hidden can be found to defeat Godzilla.

Godzilla, who has been more force of nature than character in his films, gets cast as the (apparent) villain. Much of this storyline is told not through the creature but by bringing back Millie Bobby Brown as Madison Russell who, with the help of her best friend (Julian Dennison, who I kept waiting to pull a shiv from his ass) and a conspiracy theorist (Brian Tyree Henry), looks to prove what is really happening with Godzilla. Just once, for a change, I'd like one of these plotlines to not prove some crazy conspiracy theory correct. While relying on completely new characters, such as the young girl (Kaylee Hottle) who speaks with him and the scientist (Rebecca Hall) who has kept him safe for a decade, the Kong storyline incorporates the ape much more and continues to develop Kong as more than just the last Titan to stand in Godzilla's way.

The choice to move Kong to the portal to Hollow Earth creates the first confrontation between the pair on the high seas (although it's never addressed why the group couldn't simply enter Hollow Earth from Skull Island using the gateways the Skullcrawlers have made use of over the years). The Hollow Earth plotline, involving Apex and former Monarch scientist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) adds a Journey to the Center of the Earth thread to the story that offers some answers to where the monsters come from (while also raising some Kong-sized plot holes the film has no intention of explaining). This section of the film also allows for the introduction of Eiza González who, as in many of her movies, looks great but isn't given much to do other than be the mean girl. Meanwhile, the Godzilla storyline takes the other characters into Apex, and when the two storylines converge the film is ready for its final act to begin offering the final showdown.

Although there are smaller skirmishes here and there, the film's two big fights between Kong and Godzilla are the set pieces which everything else is built around. And they deliver. The Tokyo showdown even manages to incorporate both Kong climbing skyscrapers (which we didn't get in Kong: Skull Island) and the the use of electricity (as a callback to King Kong vs. Godzilla). Both creatures look great and fans of each character will be pleased to see one or the other get the upper-hand at times during their battle. Of course there's more going on than simply the pair squaring off as the script by relies on one of the oldest super-hero tropes (the same one bungled by Zack Snyder in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice).

The film works well as popcorn flick, but it isn't without its nagging plot issues and various human threads which could still use a bit of trimming. Honestly, the Russell storyline could be dropped completely with only minor revisions to the script (which involves one of the weaker plot points during a key point in the film). Kyle Chandler is present, bur the elder Russell is really present only in cameo capacity. Hall and young Hottle fair better, but let's face it, you aren't coming to a movie called Godzilla vs. Kong for the human drama. And, taking direction from Ken Watanabe, when the film steps back and lets the pair fight it turns out to be a hell of a lot of fun.

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