Godzilla vs Kong (2021)
Director: Adam Wingard
Screenwriters: Max Borenstein, Eric Pearson, Michael Dougherty, Terry Rossio, Zach Shields
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Julian Dennison, Kaylee Hottle, Damián Bichir, Eliza González, Shun Oguri, Kyle Chandler, Lance Reddick, Hakeem Kae-Kazim
It has all come down to this: the ultimate “let them fight” movie.
Following 2014’s Godzilla, 2017’s Kong: Skull Island and 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, we now have a grand finale in Godzilla vs Kong. It may not be clever, but it’s certainly big, and it could be just the kind of film spectacle that so many of us starved of blockbuster entertainment for over a year need right now.
After a handy recap montage of the previous three films in the Legendary Entertainment Monsterverse, we pick up the story five years after the events of King of the Monsters, with a now fully-grown Kong contained and studied by crypto-palaeontological organisation Monarch and Godzilla mysteriously emerging to destroy the flagship research facility of secretive biotech company Apex Cybernetics. With Godzilla bound to attack another alpha Titan on sight and leave untold destruction in his wake, Monarch and Apex fund an expedition guided by Kong’s genetic instincts and overseen by Dr Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) and Dr Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) to the mythic Hollow Earth below the planet’s crust in order to take advantage of a new and seemingly unlimited energy source. Meanwhile, Apex CEO Walter Simmons (Damián Bichir) has dastardly plans to exploit the inevitable battle between Titans, whilst the daughter of two monarch scientists, Maddison Russell (Millie Bobbie Brown), aims to expose them with the help of a podcasting whistle-blower, Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry).
The two titular monsters, who come face-to-face for the first time about 40 minutes into the film in an eye-popping battle on an aircraft carrier, are framed very differently to begin with. Kong gets an idyllic introduction on his tropical island set to a crooning love song; Godzilla emerges from the water displaying his glowing nuclear intimidation display before bringing fiery destruction to everything around him, all set to Tom Holkenborg’s ominous, booming score. Kong is clearly our hero and Godzilla the antagonist.
Godzilla vs Kong may well feature the finest, most creative Kaiju fight choreography ever. There’s no hiding in shadows and smoke for these Titans – their final showdown is bathed in the glorious neon of the Hong Kong skyline like an illuminated title fight. You get to see Kong redirecting Godzilla’s atomic breath with MMA moves and using his simian agility to outmanoeuvre Godzilla’s lethal, crocodilian strikes. Kong drop-kicks Godzilla through a tower block and wields an axe with a Godzilla spine as the blade to even the odds, that is until Godzilla catches it in his jaws and throws it straight back at him like a boomerang.
When the monsters aren’t punching each other, this is a classic pulp sci-fi expedition story driven by the ridiculous but entertaining Hollow Earth Theory, a throwback to the stories of writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs and Jules Verne or some of the late 1950s/early 60s genre pictures made around the same time as Toho’s original Godzilla series.
Around the film’s halfway point, Dr Lind courteously hands out sick bags to his fellow hover-craft passengers before the gravity inversion that allows passage into the Hollow Earth hits them. The first time we see this realm shortly afterwards, with Kong floating through the sky before gravity re-asserts itself, the gorgeous prehistoric diorama around him with storm cloud-capped mountains hanging from the sky, is truly something to behold. This has been a realm alluded to for years in the Godzilla franchise but seldom seen or visited.
Humanity of course manipulates Kong’s trusting nature because we’re the absolute worst, exploiting his innocent connection with deaf child Jia (radiant newcomer Kaylee Hottle). The humans get ringside seats to the central conflict, occasionally contributing but mostly at the mercy of the Kaiju and whatever they feel like smashing. At least the ground-level characters get split off into appealing teams this time, the scientists following Kong and most of the action, and Maddison and her computer savvy friend Josh (Julian Dennison) sneaking into Apex with Bernie despite his unsuitability for child-minding (“He carries a bottle of whiskey from his dead wife like a gun!”).
This is a monster movie, and as such you really shouldn’t think too much about the techno-babble thrown around, or how calm most people seem to be now the world knows unequivocally that monsters exist and have been stomping around the planet for millennia. Don’t over-analyse how easily a podcaster and two teenagers infiltrate the top secret levels of a state-of-the-art tech company either. And while you’re at it, don’t try and work out what the ultimate endgame in Apex Cybernetics’ master plan is once the Titans are out of the way. The answer to all of the above is probably because it’s a monster movie and these work on a different kind of logic to other films.
There are big surprises in store here that will leave any Kaiju fan in need of power tools to remove the smiles from their faces, but if you’re not already well up for this kind of film, you will probably be left bewildered.
This is not a grim-dark or gritty take on this material, and while it might be less jokey than some of the more comedic Godzilla instalments, it knows what it is and doesn’t take itself too seriously, as if you could in a film where Kong re-sets his dislocated shoulder with a skyscraper. This is vibrant, colourful and epic, like the drawings on the back of an imaginative kid’s school textbook made flesh. There may not be anything particularly deep going on, but there are also no pretensions, just a love of monster movies and a desire to make the most kick-ass one possible.