Streamlined adventure combined with the best giant monster spectacle to hit Hollywood in a generation leaves audiences the true winners of ‘Godzilla vs Kong.’ In short: the Monsterverse is back, […]
Streamlined adventure combined with the best giant monster spectacle to hit Hollywood in a generation leaves audiences the true winners of ‘Godzilla vs Kong.’ In short: the Monsterverse is back, and it’s better than ever.
The wait is finally over – and what a wait it’s been. After numerous setbacks, Adam Wingard’s punch-drunk love letter to the giant monster genre surfaces at just the right time, giving audiences what they’ve been craving since the Monsterverse began: a raucous good time.
Streamlined adventure combined with the best titanic spectacle to hit Hollywood in a generation leaves audiences the true winners of ‘Godzilla vs Kong.’ In short: the Monsterverse is back, and it’s better than ever.
- Director Adam Wingard fully understands his titular beasts, and gives each their strongest entry in Legendary’s Monsterverse yet
- Kong is the main character of this film, and an utter joy to behold: emotive, engaging, and stoic
- The “doom & gloom” of ‘King of the Monsters’ is replaced with punch-drunk glee
- Plot waivers at times, but is ultimately far more focused than ‘KOTM’ or ‘Skull Island’
- Less cast is more, with newcomer Kaylee Hottle’s Jia stealing the show
- Kong’s classic “Americana” rock soundtrack is perfection, and Junkie XL’s raucous, digital-age composition absolutely crushes it
- Godzilla’s rage-fueled quest to retain his title leads to a no-holds-barred finale that left our audience cheering for more
‘Godzilla vs Kong’ Review: Spoilers Ahead
Where to begin? ‘Godzilla vs Kong’ drops viewers right into the fray, and never lets up. Where previous Monsterverse entries suffer greatly from lagging subplots and disjointed dialogue, Adam Wingard’s entry knows exactly what and where it wants to be, taking audiences along for the very ride its title promises.
‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ delivered on Hollywood-era tokusatsu spectacle, but left audiences feeling dragged. Not this time. From a lifelong Godzilla fan’s perspective, GvsK feels like a breath of fresh air by comparison.
Our story begins on Skull Island through the eyes of Monarch and Kong, with the former’s caging of the latter reaching its limits. Kong yearns for his freedom, and through the convenience of movie-making, he gets it. From here, everything hinges on the Monsterverse’s fascination with its “Hollow Earth Theory,” and rightly so. Through Kong’s eyes, we finally see this marvel for what it truly is: pure, unadulterated fantasy.
And that’s far from a criticism. In a world where giant monsters not only exist, but dictate everyday life, the existence of an entire, ancient ecosystem isn’t a stretch. It’s a given within these films, and exploring it for the first time leads to some of ‘Godzilla vs Kong’s most creative, spectacular storytelling.
Through it all, the human cast does the best with what they’re given, which is a far more concise and straightforward plot than ‘King of the Monsters’s convoluted mayhem. Trailers toted Alexander Skarsgård’s Dr. Nathan Lind as the “action hero” of this piece, but that title belongs to the adorable Kaylee Hottle’s Jia – and to a lesser extent, her caretaker, Rebecca Hall’s Dr. Ilene Andrews. All three actors fit the bill, but Lind falls behind Andrews and Jia who become the heart of the film alongside Kong. This is Kong’s movie, through and through, and his bond with Jia is pure joy to behold. Newcomer Hottle shines brightly, with her incredibly endearing Jia – who also happens to be deaf like her brilliant young actor – serving as the only human Kong has ever trusted. Their relationship makes for the outstanding human-level moments of the affair, with Jia and Kong as a unit stealing the entire show.
It would be a disservice to the movie to not discuss Kong while discussing the cast, too. Kong is not only the heart of this film – he’s the main character outright. Emotive, engaging, and stoic, the King of Skull Island feels every bit as real and consequential as the human cast surrounding him. When Kong hurts, we hurt, and this is what makes ‘Godzilla vs Kong’ fire on all cylinders. He makes the whole thing work, by God(zilla), and the numerous VFX teams led by the incomparable WETA should be beyond proud of the results.
Team Kong’s journey leads straight into the first battle between Godzilla and Kong: the at-sea clash this flic’s marketing has hinged upon. Unlike ‘KOTM,’ however, trailers haven’t given the entirety of it away. It’s an utterly fantastic brawl the likes of which has never been put to giant-monster-film before. Between pitch-perfect callbacks to Kong’s transport-via-boat in both the 1933 classic ‘King Kong’ and 1962’s ‘King Kong vs Godzilla,‘ and the hyper creativity injected into their first battle since that original nearly 60 years ago, Godzilla and Kong’s inaugural slug-fest sets the tone in the absolute best of ways. It’s everything you’ve wanted it to be – and far more.
TEAM KONG vs TEAM GODZILLA vs APEX TECH
Between this titanic showdown and the next, gone are the extra dozens of talking heads you’ll never care about from previous entries. Instead, the script focuses in on the party above – Team Kong – congruently with Godzilla’s. Spearheaded by ‘KOTM’s returning Millie Bobby Brown as Madison Russel, Team Godzilla introduces us to her best friend, Julian Dennison’s Josh Valentine (see: effective comic relief), and the one guy driving Big G’s plot forward: Bryan Tyree Henry’s eccentric theorist, Bernie Hayes.
Bernie can be a bit much at times, but that’s the point. Thanks to Henry’s performance, his podcasting sleuth adds to the film’s bombastic vibe instead of dragging it down. Once he joins up with Madison and Josh, sh*t hits the fan real fast. And it’s a blast to watch. Kyle Chandler is back as Madison’s father Mark, albeit far less moody this time around (thankfully). He’s not in enough scenes to write home about, however. Instead, he serves as an anchor for Madison’s reckless adventuring – which seems to be a staple for Brown’s characters. Ironically, neither of the Russels serve the plot nearly as much as Team Kong or newcomer Bernie, but Brown’s magnetism makes Madison’s return a welcomed one. And can we all be thankful mommy dearest/asinine terrorist Emma Russel stayed dead? Because whoo boy, does ‘GvsK’s script make her ‘KOTM’ storyline like choosing between a happy meal or a Michelin Star restaurant. And that feels like an insult to happy meals.
The two teams’ plot-strings knot together once ‘GvsK’s big bad – tech giant Apex led by Demian Bichir’s “too handsome and rich to be a good guy” Walter Simmons – reveals their dastardly plans. While we’ve yet to hear hide nor hair of Apex in previous Monsterverse entries, their presence here is crucial. Godzilla is back on the rampage, and exactly like his turn in the Millennium series’ Kiryu Mechagodzilla films, the King of the Monsters senses humanity’s attempt to recreate him – and he’s pissed. When will we ever learn?
Much like ‘KOTM’s Orca before it, the heart of Apex’s creation pulses with a signal meant to agitate Godzilla. Mission accomplished, as the Big G utterly decimates their Florida base in search of it. ‘Godzilla vs Kong’ proves once again that watching Godzilla destroy everything never gets old for fans and non-fans alike. The Big G is rendered in remarkable detail within, his power on full display. He hasn’t nuclear-beam-spammed this much since the Heisei era, and we’ve got no complaints. It’s truly fun to behold.
From what his rampage shows us, forward-tech outfit Apex has a public face, but like any evil corporation worth their salt, they’ve been operating on far more maniacal terms behind the scenes, too (and quite literally underground). After Godzilla wrecks their U.S. headquarters, the surface-level plot moves to Hong Kong, and oh, does it continue to deliver.
From Hollow Earth to Hong Kong
Meanwhile, Team Kong is using their mascot to finally discover the Hollow Earth. After realizing transporting Kong through Godzilla’s ocean turf was a terrible idea, ‘GvsK’ throws in another brilliant callback to ‘King Kong vs Godzilla’ when Monarch decides to airlift the titan via helicopters and a giant net. Sure, there’s no hot air balloons nor mention of super strong titanium wire, but seeing Kong transported in this way is an excellent nod to the original.
Once Monarch and Kong land at the Antarctica entrance to the Hollow Earth, three films worth of build-up come to fruition. We see this mythical land in startling detail – all through Kong’s eyes – and this is where director Adam Wingard’s imagination lets loose. Throw out everything you thought the Hollow Earth would be, and instead get lost in a ‘Avatar’-Pandora-esque “Upside Down” (we’re looking at you Millie Bobby Brown). It’s a true paradise-lost: a double-sided, mountainous Earth self-contained within the planet itself. Seeing Kong explore his ancestral homeland and crack some new-titan-species (Warbat) skulls along the way is a highlight of the adventure, and wildly makes up for perplexing questions like: “how is this place within a place entirely sun-kissed? There’s no sky down here, right?”
This does, however, lead to the most questionable aspect of the film for this author. Without spoiling it entirely, let’s say Kong’s ancestors were far more sophisticated than anticipated. Where ancient humans built Godzilla a temple themselves (which prominently featured in ‘King of the Monsters’), Kong’s ancestors did this for themselves – complete with a literal throne. It’s too on-the-nose, but what happens within this ancient king’s castle does solidify the age-old rivalry between Kong and Godzilla. And, of course, it gives Kong his hero’s axe. Sure, Kong’s race had millennia to evolve to a level capable of building structures and weapons and sculptures in their likeness, but it all feels at odds with the scale of Kong and the film itself.
Most gripes with the axe disappear, though, once Kong puts it to use against his rival for the title of “King of the Monsters.” When ‘Godzilla vs Kong’s action returns to the surface in Hong Kong, the next titular battle ensues – and it is so, so glorious. The prominent city, lit entirely in neon, is absolutely leveled by their clash. It is a punch-drunk slugfest for the ages, full of incredible monster fight choreography and brutal consequences for both Titans.
Unlike with ‘King of the Monsters,‘ every gigantic battle in this film is aided by superb cinematography, said choreography, and fantastic lighting. There’s no hiding the Titans you’re paying to see through waves of particle effects. Each fight is a knock-out; completely visible and unbelievably fun to watch from beginning to end.
Within, Godzilla uses every aspect of himself to put Kong in his place. We see the enraged reptilian king crawl on all fours for the first time, which works fantastically with Legendary’s crocodilian design. Kong scales a skyscraper in turn, Godzilla absolutely wrecks his chest with his claws, and Kong even tries his trademark “rip this dinosaur’s jaws apart” move on his near-immortal enemy. This is all, too, just the tip of the iceberg.
The King of the Monsters
And there is a winner. While ‘King Kong vs Godzilla‘ was left open-ended with King Kong swimming away and Godzilla beneath the ocean nowhere to be seen, Adam Wingard delivers on his promise and gives us a decisive victor and “King of the Monsters.”
Yet as the Titans clash once more, Apex’s plan is coming to fruition. The energy source of the Hollow Earth makes its way into their hands, with mastermind Walter Simmons using it to power his ultimate creation – all thanks to his “too rich and gorgeous to be a good guy” daughter, Maya Simmons. Unfortunately, the Simmons’ (and the film’s) big reveal was spoiled years before its release by toys, but this makes it no less pertinent. Alongside Walter’s henchmen and/or partner, Shun Oguri’s Ren Serizawa, Simmons’ master plan finally has the “batteries” to back it up – and the world meets Mechagodzilla for the first time.
Wait, did we just say “Serizawa?” Can’t just glance over that one, can we? Honestly, we kind of have to, because the character is given no backstory nor clarity other than sharing his name with Monarch’s heart from the two previous Godzilla Monsterverse films: Ken Watanabe’s stoic Ishiro Serizawa. We can only assume that Oguri’s emo-esque Ren is the son of the late Dr., and that his questionable ethics led to the two parting ways and audiences never hearing of him prior to ‘Godzilla vs Kong.’ Or… no… there’s no explaining it. It makes no sense. It’s a throwaway altogether, but one non-fans are sure to take less issue with than lifelong ones.
Regardless, Ren Serizawa is out to tarnish the family name, and is literally the brains behind this incarnation of Mechagodzilla. Or at least partially so. In a fun plot-twist that pulls as heavily from Legendary’s other kaiju franchise ‘Pacific Rim‘ as it does past Godzilla lore, Ren has a hefty partner in piloting Mechagodzilla. It’s a direct plot continuation from “King of the Monsters,” and one that solidifies this Mecha’s incarnation as a successor to both Kiryu Mechagodzilla and Mecha-King Ghidorah.
Much like Kiryu before him, this man-made version of Mechagodzilla becomes sentient, and turns on its creators – and what’s left of Hong Kong. It’s up to Godzilla and Kong to end his mechanical reign of terror – and the climactic battle ensues.
Fans fearing a repeat of the “Martha” moment from 2016’s ‘Batman vs Superman’ will have to decide for themselves whether the final battle is a repeat of this lamented cop-out. Rest assured that Kong and Godzilla still want to best the other, but thanks to Jia, however, Kong sees the “real enemy” at hand, and it’s about to go ham.
Much has been said by fans of Mechagodzilla’s new design for ‘GvsK’ leading up to release, and it’s sure to remain the most divisive element of the film. While it’s remarkable on some level to see him realized in full Hollywood VFX detail – his end design feels far too generic to stand against the 1974-75 originals from ‘Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla’ and ‘Terror of Mechagodzilla,’ Kiryu, or even the somewhat doofy-looking Heisei incarnation of ‘Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla II.’ Here, Godzilla’s mechanical doppelganger is an overly-conceptualized behemoth more akin to the ‘Transformers’ franchise than the Monsterverse.
Either way, including the mechanized character in the newest incarnation of both King Kong and Godzilla feels like a hefty nod to each of their Toho histories. While Mechagodzilla is by far the more well known of the two, he owes his entire existence to the original 1967 Toho mecha-doppelganger: ‘King Kong Escapes’s Mechani-Kong.
Once he enters the fray, however, his design and history become inconsequential as Mechagodzilla gives both Godzilla and Kong the beating of their long lives.
Just when you thought ‘Godzilla vs Kong’ couldn’t top the first Hong Kong bout, seeing three of the most famous giant monsters in history beat the absolute pulp out of one another is on another level entirely. With a little help from Godzilla, Kong puts his axe to the ultimate test, absolutely devastating Mechagodzilla when both fail to pull the upper hand individually. It’s raucous mayhem at its finest – and left our IMAX audience cheering for more from the Monsterverse.
In the end, this is exactly what we had hoped for ‘Godzilla vs Kong.’ Not only is it an improvement over all previous Monsterverse entries, but it’s a damn fine monster movie that completely stands on its own titanic legs.
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Appreciate the excellent handling of Toho’s most prolific icons in ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters‘ (2019) – yet wonder why it has to be so damn overstuffed, convoluted, and largely void of joy with each subsequent viewing?
Then, again, Legendary’s ‘Godzilla vs Kong‘ is the movie for you.