Does that mean Godzilla vs. Kong is particularly deep or introspective? No. Does it need to be? Also no. Eschewing the satirical edge of Skull Island or the slow-burn approach of the 2014 Godzilla, this is a Saturday afternoon matinee gussied up with elaborate effects. And it’s made all the better for wholeheartedly embracing that.
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The story picks up broadly from where things were left at the end of 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Giant Titans populate the globe, with Godzilla the top banana among the top bananas. Life has gone on, and the monsters pretty much leave people alone. But when the Big G attacks a facility run by shady corporation Apex Cybernetics, that fragile detente is shattered.
Meanwhile, Kong — now considerably bigger than his “adolescence” during the 1970s-set Skull Island — is being shipped to a place big enough for him to live in: the Hollow Earth, an entire subterranean primordial ecosystem. Kong must make it there before his presence at sea can attract the attention of that certain other alpha creature who may wish to take him down. Whoops, too late.So why do Godzilla and Kong fight? The various developments leading to it are best discovered on their own, but fight they do. A few times. Probably the smartest thing Godzilla vs. Kong does is not delaying the fisticuffs. Yes, there’s a cursory effort to ground the proceedings in a way that hangs together narratively while feeling like a natural progression, but nothing to get in the way of the hot monster-on-monster action everyone showed up for.
Even more of a challenge – given their huge respective fanbases – was ensuring each of the title monsters got their moment to shine while also making their bouts enough of a contest to keep us engaged. It’s a tricky balance, admittedly, but Wingard manages it well.
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Ultimately, Godzilla is Godzilla. A force of nature, he’s neither good nor bad. He just is. Kong, on the other hand, is actually given something of an arc, with his longing for friendship and family imbuing him with humanity. He’s also formed a relationship with a little girl (Kaylee Hottie) calling to mind the Kong animated series from the 1960s as well as the Toho-produced feature King Kong Escapes. And while there’s no “Save Mothra!” moment like the Internet lampooned endlessly when the project was announced, some of the developments aren’t all that far removed from 2016’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Of course, as with the previous entries in this universe, it’s the human characters – including Millie Bobby Brown and Kyle Chandler as Madison and Mark Russell, the daughter-father duo from Godzilla: King of the Monsters – who suffer the most in terms of screentime and development.While it’s nice to see both returning characters again to add some continuity, Chandler’s role, unfortunately, amounts to little more than an extended cameo, though he plays it with clear eyes and full heart, naturally. (The instant gravitas of Ken Watanabe’s Dr. Serizawa from the preceding Godzilla films is sorely missed here,)
Instead, more time is spent on new characters like Rebecca Hall’s scientist Ilene Andrews and Alexander Skarsgaard as Hollow Earth expert Nathan Lind, as well as Brian Tyree Henry playing a paranoid podcaster determined to prove Apex is up to something. (Spoiler alert: they’re up to something.) Of the newbies, Skarsgaard probably comes off the worst, given little in the way of backstory nor motivation to make us feel invested in his own investment with the film’s event. On the other hand, Henry is a bright spot by doing for Godzilla vs. Kong what John C. Reilly did so memorably in Skull Island: puncturing the self-seriousness with a few well-placed laugh lines.