It has been 58 years since King Kong and Godzilla fought each other for kaiju supremacy. Who won? Well, it was a draw though Toho stated that in truth it was Kong due to their fight culminating in Godzilla leaving Japan alone afterwards and Kong surviving the fight to boot, which counts as victory for the eighth wonder of the world I suppose.
The original film, King Kong vs Godzilla, is extremely goofy, even for what was the goofiest overall era for Gojira, the first period known as Showa, named after the Japanese emperor at the time, Hirohito. Yes, that Hirohito if you followed your history courses.
The same era that featured the first, best and possibly darkest Godzilla film from 1954 also had entries with Godzilla flying through the air propelled by his breath, his legendary double jump kick against Megalon made famous as seen on Mystery Science Theater 3000, having an ugly as sin son called Minya-Minilla something, fighting a giant lobster, jumping up and down hilariously in a victory dance and that one clip show film that occurs entirely in a mentally disturbed Japanese kid’s head. Then again, that set of films came out at the advent of the drug revolution of the sixties/seventies and who’s to say that more than a few at Toho Studios didn’t partake?
For those who want clarification on these wacky moments, they are featured in the films Godzilla vs Hedorah( Godzilla vs the Smog Monster),Godzilla vs Megalon, Son of Godzilla, Ebirah: Horror of the Deep( Godzilla vs the Sea Monster), Invasion of Astro Monster( Godzilla vs Monster X) and All Monsters Attack( Godzilla’s Revenge) in that order.
So, for the second feature film to have Kong and Godzilla in the same space ever, maybe it is well that it should be the silliest of Warner Bros./Legendary’s Monsterverse. It starts off as seriously as can be expected with Gareth Edward’s divisive 2014 film, introduces a new and necessarily bigger Kong in Kong: Skull Island( still the best in the series after this movie), mixes seriousness into the more outlandish aspects of the franchise with Godzilla: King of the Monsters to very mixed results and now we have Godzilla vs Kong, the film that eschews seriousness in favor of embracing the imaginative dumb that is needed to make this concept work at all.
Is it possible that a more serious take on G vs K could’ve happened? I have no idea. Both characters independently have had successful serious and even dark takes( Godzilla 54′, Shin Godzilla, King Kong 05′) but put them together, especially for the express purpose of having them clobber each other and what else can be expected?
When it comes to what you paid/subscribed on HBO Max to see, anything involving Godzilla, Kong and any other remotely Kaiju-like thing, Godzilla vs Kong is far from disappointing. It honestly lights up your senses in a way few contemporary blockbusters have in recent years. If I was vaccinated for Covid, seeing this on an IMAX screen would be an inevitability. It’s still impressive on a somewhat big flatscreen, but the impact is still softened sadly.
There is a great mix of all out fun laced with a surprising amount of dread on how any one fight will turn out. Both monsters deal out and are dealt considerable damage. When Godzilla and Kong get hurt, they get hurt and despite being entirely CG creations who can and will without thinking destroy entire blocks of cities and definitely killed more than a few hapless humans, you can sympathize when they get hurt or the battle turns against them.
Despite Godzilla coming before Kong in the title, this is definitely Kong’s film first and has much more screentime than the other. It feels more like a follow-up overall to Kong Skull Island than Godzilla: King of the Monsters despite the return of two human characters from the latter. Despite my bias for Godzilla as an overall character, it is wise that Kong is featured more prominently due to his primate nature relating him better to us lowly humans.
His expressiveness is better demonstrated than G’s though he ain’t lacking either thankfully and to further cement him as basically the main character, he has a sweet, almost symbiotic relationship with a little native girl from Skull Island who through sign language can communicate with her.
Honestly, the little girl is the best human character as all the other ones, including the one played by the talented Millie Bobby Brown of Stranger Things, are so flat and uninteresting. This has mostly been a chain around the neck of most Kaiju films, east or west. Very rarely do I remember the names of any character from any Godzilla movie. Hell, I can’t even recall the little native girl’s name, and I just praised her.
I don’t think it’s impossible to have a Kaiju/ giant monster movie with memorable human characters and perhaps fans of the series complaining about it in this series is a desire in having a new ingredient for a film series that is close to having 40 films at this point. Obviously, the monsters should come first, but at the same time, better human drama and characterization will make the inbetween monster moments much more enjoyable.
To Kong Skull Island’s credit, the moments without Kong or any kaiju creation actually were enjoyable to watch but that was helped by that film also being a mixture of war film and survival adventure story, where the humans by necessity required more attention, especially for the grand tradition of guessing who will live or die in the proceedings. This year’s Suicide Squad by James Gunn is gearing up for that same tradition, though certainly with more black humor attached.
This could very well be testament to how excellent the monster fights are, but compared to the three earlier Monsterverse films, you can feel the drag when it’s humanity on-screen and in focus. I initially wasn’t so hard on the human scenes in Godzilla: King of the Monsters and even Godzilla 2014, but as time passed, yes, I can see how your attention span and enjoyment can and will waver in those moments. Then again, most of Godzilla’s filmography is guilty of the same thing and might be mitigated by the relative “exotic” factor of seeing Japanese culture and imagery post WW2.
There are two parties of humans we follow in Godzilla vs Kong, one that is aided by Kong and the little girl’s presence and one that is absent of any kaiju up until the end. Alexander Sarsgaard, playing a hollow earth researcher and Rebecca Hall, a Kong researcher and the little girl’s adoptive mother, take Kong off Skull Island and plan to use him to gain access to the aforementioned “Hollow Earth”, a fantastical underground world with it’s own separate planetary magnetism as a fever dream tribute to Jules Verne’s imagination and apparent actual theory on the inner workings of the globe( I wish).
There lies a power source that helps explain the energy that makes up the kaiju of the world like Godzilla and his blue breath as well as being a refuge for Kong, seeing as how the world cannot have two apex predator kaijus at the same time, one reason for Godzilla “going bad” in this feature.
The hollow earth’s presence opens up new possibilities for future entries in the Monsterverse depending on the commercial reception to Godzilla vs Kong which thus far is looking good due to the Chinese box office as of this writing. A whole host of classic Toho monsters that have yet to be seen in this universe could easily be said to originate from here. I’m holding out hope for Gigan, one of the coolest and most ruthless Godzilla enemies despite appearing in some of the very worst films in the franchise. He’s actually from space, like King Ghidorah, but whatever, pencil in this guy’s appearence if you can.
The Hollow Earth sequence in the film’s middle also offers the best interplay between monster and man and it is just a pleasing place to look at, despite being filled with plenty of nasty monsters. The plot with Millie Bobby Brown’s Madison Russell from the prior Godzilla:KOTM, teaming up with classmate Josh played by Julian Dennison from Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Deadpool 2 and a conspiracy theorist played by Brian Tyree Henry, is easily the weakest link.
A conspiracy theorist, who of course, is completely correct on anything regarding shady corporation Apex and kaijus but wrong about everything else like lizard people, chem trails and other favorites of Alex Jones. He works at Apex so he can investigate and spy on the company from within and then leak that forbidden knowledge to the public.
At the same time, he runs a podcast which Madison listens to attentively and doesn’t bother to disguise his voice despite all the damning things he talks about. Maybe Apex is banking on no one taking him seriously enough to cause trouble. In fact, Apex might be the dumbest evil corporation ever put to celluloid which sells short the horrifying competency and/or power of real life evil corporations.
Not only do they let Tyree Henry’s Bernie openly discuss Apex’s secrets out to the public with no repercussion brought down on him, but when Madison, Josh and Bernie go to the Apex facility in Pensacola, Florida( recently destroyed by a furious Godzilla for good reason), there is NO SECURITY OR POLICE PRESENCE whatsoever at the facility. Not to mention it should also be a quarantine zone due to almost certainly having some amount of radioactive or dangerous materials lying around.
Even if there isn’t anything life threatening(Godzilla spewing his breath on stuff doesn’t seem to have any deleterious after affect, apparently) to watch out for, Apex could have a faux quarantine zone set up as a façade to further ward away trespassers. Instead, the trio walks in completely without incident and as their journey takes them by futuristic underground cargo tunnel all the way to Hong Kong( roll with it), they don’t get spotted by any security until the very last minute. The lack of danger in comparison to the Kong plot makes it the most boring and skippable on rewatch portion of the film.
That being said, it might be intentional that Apex is this ludicrously incompetent. In the Showa era of Godzilla films, there were various evil organizations, often extra-terrestrial in nature, who had secret bases and plans to use giant monsters as weapons to defeat the native kaiju like Godzilla and conquer the world. Godzilla baddies like King Ghidorah, Gigan, Megalon and Mechagodzilla were the tools of these alien threats and often our heroic human characters snuck in( somewhat easily as well from my recollection) to learn about and sabotage the bad guy’s plans, assisting the big lizard and friends in the process. Speaking of Mechagodzilla…
From the first trailer shown shown off two months ago, eagle eyed viewers were able to spot an unusual figure in one of the trailers first shots. This monstrous dust and debris obscured figure didn’t seem to be Godzilla or Kong. Before pictures of a toy spoiled the surprise, with director Adam Wingard even posing with a figure after the cat was clearly out of the bag, fans realized that Mechagodzilla was likely to appear and almost certainly be the common enemy that united the opposing monsters together.
Hell, there were rumors about something mecha related happening in G vs K due to a post credits scene from Godzilla:KOTM showing that one of King Ghidorah’s heads, ripped off by Godzilla, had been recovered by Apex. Fans wondered if Mecha-King Ghidorah would be the big bad of the next movie. Here is the original appearence of King Ghidorah’s second lease on life, as seen in 1991’s Godzilla vs King Ghidorah.
King Ghidorah technically does return for revenge against Godzilla as his brain is cybernetically repurposed to act as an energy conduit to power Mechagodzilla with a human, Dr. Serizawa’s(Ken Watanabe’s character from earlier movies) wayward son as pilot. Wouldn’t you know it, an influx of “Hollow Earth” energy revives Ghidorah’s consciousness and then takes control of the mecha and, well, you can guess what happens next. Safe to say it has the funniest and most direct interaction between monster and human outside of Kong and the little girl.
Once Godzilla and Kong converge in Hong Kong, you are made witness to some of the finest CGI fights ever created. Both monsters use the metropolis’ number of skyscrapers, the most in the world, to their advantage. It’s a mix of brutal street fight, WWE and hide & seek as like in the original, Kong is the clear underdog and only a dorsal fin axe with Hollow Earth energy gives Kong any real advantage over Godzilla aside from being more agile.
There are some cute callbacks to the original fight( Godzilla indeed gets something shoved down his throat), and it honestly plays out like something from your childhood imagination. The first two Godzilla films in the Monsterverse were like taking a relatively serious kaiju battle, like from the two subsequent eras after Showa( Heisei(80s/90s) and Millennium (2000s)) and giving it a big modern budget. Now we finally see a sillier but no less epic original era battle (60s/70s) given the big budget treatment. I honestly never thought I’d see the day someone did that but here we are.
That alone, and receiving a cool, successive battle with Mechagodzilla ticks off all the boxes of what I was hoping for with a film that wears its absurdity on its sleeve as asset rather than detriment. It accomplishes an old wish held by many movie fans of many generations of seeing this kind of “what if” scenario play out again and with much higher production values.
Taken as a whole, Godzilla vs Kong is somewhat expendable. Taken in the parts you were hoping to see, this new bout between cinematic legends may indeed endure in memory. I’m unsure, however, exactly how an experience encompassing Godzilla, Kong and Mechagodzilla can be topped.
I am certainly open to future entries in this multiverse and if the human side to this movie is any indication, there remains still room for improvement.