GODZILLA VS KONG (Directed by Adam Wingard, 113 min., USA, 2021)
BY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC The original King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) was a weird East meets West affair that simultaneously exploited Japan’s burgeoning obsession with professional wrestling and celebrated the 30th anniversary of Godzilla’s corporate overlord, Toho Co., Ltd, by having the two larger than life icons duke it out on the big screen. Now almost 60 years later, we are getting an American-produced rematch that wants to be the Batman Vs Superman of the Legendary Monsterverse. The primary difference here is that director Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest) fully embraces the humorous, weirder, more sci-fi elements of these films instead of plumbing the darker depths that the franchise has trafficked in thus far.
Kong Vs Godzilla picks up more or less where King of Monsters left off, with humanity struggling to come to grips with their newly-diminished standing in the food chain. Godzilla, who was once believed to be humanity’s protector, is on a world wide rampage. Apex Cybernetics, the military-tech giant, is desperately searching for an energy source to power a new weapon that will rid the earth of the giant lizard once and for all. The quest for said power source leads us to Kong, who has grayed up a bit since we last saw him in 1973. Skull Island, no longer the paradise it once was, has become a stormy wasteland, but they don’t know where else to hide the giant ape from Godzilla, who we discover is his natural enemy, as they are both categorized as apex titans. Leaning into Bill Randa’s (John Goodman) “Hollow Earth” theory from Skull Island, a group of scientists hope to relocate Kong in the subterranean Shangri La and, in the process, find a fabled source of ancient energy to kill godzilla.
Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) leads the charge for team Godzilla alongwith Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), an Apex whistleblower who is also trying to understand the reason behind Godzilla’s recent rampages. Even though Brown is relegated to a rather conspiracy-ridden Stranger Things-esque storyline, she has the chops to hold her own on screen. Leading Team Kong, strangely enough, is a rather timid Alexander Skarsgård as Nathan Lind, who is playing against type as the Hollow Earth expert and ex Monarch employee recruited by Apex to escort Kong into the Earth. Oddly enough, the humanity and heart of the film lies in Kong’s story. We discover during his journey that Jia (Kaylee Hottle) a young Iwi, has taught Kong sign language and by doing so has given humanity a voice in this battle. This isn’t something completely new, since in the Toho films humanity was able to communicate with Mothra through her tiny, twin fairies.
There are two kinds of fans of American Godzilla films. Those that love the monster-on-monster madness that the franchise offers and was the bread and butter of the Japanese films, and those that can’t seem to wrap their minds around the fact that not every film keeps with the more arthouse trappings of 2014’s Godzilla, Gareth Edwards’ brooding but bedazzling masterwork. While the first film in Japan was also was more of an art film, deconstructing the horrors of atomic war, with each subsequent entry (32+ films in total so far) after, it strayed farther and farther from that path to court the younger fans who showed up year after year for Godzilla ’s latest smash-’em-up adventure.
While I hate that every film these days is trying to unlock some shared universe a la Marvel, Wingard delivers a film that with its two concurrent storylines feels like it could almost topple over at any moment, but it surprisingly doesn’t thanks to its unrelenting all-action/no-exposition momentum. Keep in mind we are four films deep at this point and it appears to all have been working up to this spectacle powered by Bayhem-esque explosions and awash in neon hues as the fate of the world once again hangs in the balance. High art this isn’t, but it sure is a hell of a lot of fun, and might be the one that for me really captures the absurdity and glee of those later Godzilla films in the Toho canon. As far as Legendary’s films go this entry feels more in line with Kong: Skull Island, its loud, its bombastic and completes the franchise’s transition to popcorn tentpole, dropping all the arty pretension of King of Monsters, which no doubt will upset those looking for another dark dissection of the follies of man vs nature. Instead we have hover ships flying inside the earth and the savior of the human race is a giant monkey who speaks sign language and has a magic glowing axe. I loved every second of it.
GODZILLA VS KONG IS NOW STREAMING ON HBO MAX