<em>Godzilla vs. Kong</em>: Monster Smackdown
I have to say, this current series of Hollywood movies about Godzilla feels like the wrong kind of throwback. Taken as a whole, the 2014 reboot, the 2019 Godzilla: King of Monsters, and now Godzilla vs. Kong remind me of nothing so much as Michael Bay’s Transformers movies from the 2000s: big, personality-free blockbusters where all the attention is lavished on the CGI characters, while A-list actors are thrown willy-nilly without regard for whatever human qualities they bring to the project. At least we’re spared Bay’s slavering over the asses of his lead actresses.
Even so, I thought we were past this. The Marvel Comics adaptations have served as an object lesson in delivering action on an epic scale while also giving the actors things like character arcs that they can play when they’re not in their superhero costumes. Somehow, the other studios seem reluctant to learn this. (And don’t email me about the Snyder cut of Justice League. I can’t work up the interest.) If you’re coming to Godzilla vs. Kong for the monster-on-monster fight scenes, the movie delivers on that. Three films in, though, you’d think they’d be trying for more.
The film begins, wittily enough, with King Kong waking up in the morning to the retro sound of Bobby Vinton singing “Over the Mountain, Across the Sea.” (I would have picked “Mr. Lonely” myself.) It seems like a normal day on Skull Island, only scientists have clapped a biosphere dome over the place to keep the big ape from escaping, and he ain’t happy about it. That changes when Godzilla does a heel turn and launches a seemingly unprovoked attack on Pensacola, Florida. A villainous tech CEO (Demián Bichir) approaches Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård), who shares the billionaire’s belief that the Earth is hollow. They speculate that King Kong comes from that subterranean space, and if they can escort him back there, this will stop Godzilla for, uh, some reason. Anyway, Lind convinces Kong’s biologist keeper (Rebecca Hall) to go along with this. Just as important is her adopted deaf Inuit daughter (Kaylee Hottle), who is the only person who can communicate with Kong.
I mean, this is a lot of plot for a movie about monsters bashing each other in the face, and I haven’t even gotten to Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) from the previous Godzilla film falling in with a conspiracy theorist (Brian Tyree Henry) who’s keeping tabs on the CEO. How scared are we supposed to be of a tech conglomerate that has no idea that one of its own employees is running a podcast on its misdeeds? These nerds are bad at their jobs. So are the military, which at least is in keeping with the rest of the movies in this series. All the humans’ efforts would fall apart if it weren’t for that little girl, whose presence really should be intolerably cutesy here. Instead, it leads to a couple of cool bits when she walks into an extremely loud environment and the soundtrack goes silent to reflect what she hears.
These bits are courtesy of director Adam Wingard, the talented director who joins the series after having excelled with small-scale thrillers You’re Next and The Guest. He adapts to this big canvas without any strain, though also without the sense of humor that distinguished some of his previous efforts. He’s best with the parts that the movie’s audience have likely come for: the fight sequences between the two monsters (plus a third from the original Japanese series that makes a surprise appearance here). The fight choreography is easy to follow, and we’re given a sense of where the combatants are in relation to their surroundings, whether it’s Godzilla’s attack on Kong as a navy flotilla is towing him to Antarctica or the climactic smackdown over Hong Kong. Wingard is better than Michael Bay at staging fights between giants. Faint praise, but there it is.