At a time when every genre film seems to be a philosophical deconstruction, dark satire, or metatextual discourse, Godzilla vs. Kong deserves a lot of credit. It might be the least pretentious blockbuster we’ve had in quite a while — and after a pandemic-starved year without theaters, it’s one of the most entertaining, too.
Directed by Adam Wingard (You’re Next), Godzilla vs. Kong brings together the titular kaiju (aka giant monster) duo for a massive slugfest that has them brawling — with each other or other gigantic creatures — on land, at sea, and even miles below the surface of the Earth. Although the plot ostensibly involves an evil corporation’s attempts to harness a powerful energy source located within a hidden world, that narrative plays second fiddle to the film’s real mission: Squeezing as many giant-monster battles into 113 minutes as possible.
Less human is more
The fourth film in Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse franchise, Godzilla Vs. Kong is the culmination of a cinematic saga that began with 2014’s Godzilla and continued with 2017’s Kong: Skull Island and 2019’s kaiju warmup brawl, Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
Godzilla vs. Kong brings back several cast members from earlier films, including Kyle Chandler and Millie Bobby Brown as the father-daughter duo introduced in King of the Monsters, and calls back to several characters from past stories via their children or other legacy roles. The familiar names and faces add some franchise continuity, but even with high-profile actors like Alexander Skarsgård, Julian Dennison, Rebecca Hall, and Demián Bichir joining the cast of Godzilla vs. Kong, the film’s focus remains squarely on the title characters.
That might seem like an obvious decision to make, particularly given the project’s title, but it’s one that prior films in the franchise seemed to struggle with.
Not only is Godzilla vs. Kong a narrative sequel to the aforementioned films, set five years after the events of King of the Monsters, but it also appears to have learned from the mistakes of the franchise’s past. After Godzilla and Godzilla: King of the Monsters leaned into their human characters’ stories a bit too much, Godzilla vs. Kong goes all-in on its gigantic protagonists.
Rather than overbalancing in favor of the familiar faces in its cast, Godzilla vs. Kong isn’t afraid to treat its human characters like transitional elements. They all serve the kaiju-on-kaiju story audiences came to see, providing the narrative tissue between city-stomping brawls and the plot points necessary to move the story from one location to the next. Once that’s done, however, they step aside and — unlike in past Godzilla films — don’t overstay their welcome in a movie about giant monsters, not tiny humans.
Kong is king
That isn’t to say Godzilla vs. Kong lacks any character development at all, though.
Kong’s giant, impressively rendered face allows for a wide range of expressions, both powerful and subtle, and Wingard wisely makes him the emotional focal point of the story. The great ape’s journey — both geographically and spiritually — from Skull Island to far-off (and far-down) lands is the beating heart of Godzilla vs. Kong, even when the camera’s attention is on his gigantic fists and those of his reptilian rival.
Godzilla, on the other hand, is treated like the nigh-unstoppable force of nature that he’s always been. To give him the same sort of emotional beats Kong provides would be out of character, and Godzilla vs. Kong shows an understanding of its lead characters that’s both honest and rewarding for fans.
The chaos is the point
In a film with the title Godzilla vs. Kong, the battle between two of cinema’s most iconic giant monsters creates a lot of hype to live up to and, fortunately, the movie delivers on that promise.
The two characters clash multiple times over the course of the film, and instead of these encounters blending together into a mess of explosions, flying debris, and primal roars, each encounter feels unique and full of its own cheer-worthy moments. The oceanic battle teased in the film’s trailers makes particularly clever use of the environment, for example, sending a leaping Kong from the deck of one aircraft carrier to another as Godzilla knifes through the water like a giant shark, leaving one wreck after another in his wake.
Godzilla Vs. Kong is at its best at those points, with the camera closely following both kaiju as they find new ways to pummel, slash, and otherwise brutalize each other and anything else that gets in their way. Their encounters are a celebration of chaos and destruction as they relentlessly crash into one another and the countless neon-outlined skyscrapers and office buildings that become so much collateral damage.
That over-the-top mayhem is a big part of the appeal of Godzilla vs. Kong, and it comes from that universal experience of building, then gleefully destroying imaginary cities — either yourself or with your favorite toys playing the role of metropolis-mashing kaiju. Wingard clearly understands that appeal, and doesn’t shy away from giving the two monsters ample room — and screen time — to fight it out.
Give ’em what they want
That willingness to embrace expectations with Godzilla vs. Kong instead of challenging them is a big reason the film feels as satisfying as it does in the end.
Where other films might try to shoehorn in the odd romantic character arc or pontificate on humanity’s relationship to monsters (and who the real monsters are), Godzilla vs. Kong provides nearly two full hours of well … Godzilla versus Kong. That might not seem like a risky move, but at a time when so many films try to do too much and fall short, Godzilla vs. Kong smartly bucks that trend by focusing on giving audiences what its title suggests, and doing a really, really good job of it.
It’s unfortunate that Godzilla vs. Kong arrives at a time when many theaters remain closed, as modern visual and sound effects have finally made it possible for this match-up to be the spectacle it deserves to be. It’s the sort of film that takes full advantage of what high-end entertainment technology is capable of, and can fill a room with every roar and ground-shaking impact.
No matter how it’s experienced, though, Godzilla vs. Kong is a satisfying experience that delivers on the simple premise of its title in a big way, and offers an oversized reminder that sometimes giving people what they want to see really is the right choice.
Legendary Pictures’ Godzilla vs. Kong premieres March 31 in theaters and on the HBO Max streaming service.
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