Honestly speaking, I’ve treated this pandemic like I’m a soldier in a long unwinding trench. I’ve only focused on what’s in front of me as opposed to placing any expectations on finding an exit to the perpetual maze. However, Godzilla Vs. King Kong was the one film I hoped would be my return to cinemas. The title alone loudly proclaims big-screen entertainment.
Alas, with England still under many restrictions (including the closure of many indoor venues), it remains a product of streaming. This has somewhat taken the wind out of my sails for seeing it. But as this whole situation has proven, surprises come in many forms, and event movies (for lack of a better phrase) still have their place in this strange climate.
However, before I get to my review, was the grand match worth it? What did you think of Godzilla Vs. King Kong. Let me know in the comments below.
By and large, versus films have a law of diminishing returns. Filmmakers invariably have to pick a side in what character and franchise they have to distil to create conflict. Alien Vs Predator was ostensibly an Alien film with the Predator as the heroic figure. Freddy Vs Jason was a Nightmare on Elm Street film with Jason Voorhees coming across as an ultra powered Dream Warrior. By comparison, Godzilla Vs. King Kong comes out to bat for the giant ape. To paraphrase the wise words of the old knight in The Last Crusade (1989)- it chose wisely.
The fourth film in Legendary’s MonsterVerse is about a tech organisation called Apex Cybernetics. After Godzilla attacks one of their facilities, the company’s CEO- Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir) recruits Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) to find an energy source found within the Hollow Earth (the home of the Titan monsters). Lind seeks out Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), who is involved with keeping King Kong safe (in a manufactured Skull Island habitat). Meanwhile, a conspiracy theorist podcaster and Apex employee called Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) is tasked by Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), to go to Hong Kong to uncover the mystery behind Godzilla’s recent attack.
Demonstrably, Godzilla vs. King Kong gives the floor to the American monster who has captivated audiences since the 1933 film. This is not just in terms of focus but also in terms of time spent with the character. Andrews has an adopted daughter- Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who communicates via sign language with the giant ape. These touching moments are a gentle reminder of the all too human qualities of the character. There are also extended sequences where we just witness Kong’s moments of behaviour. The standout sequence being where the character finally reaches the Hollow Earth environment. In these scenes, his movement evokes the childlike jumping scenes of the Hulk in Ang Lee’s 2003 film.
These moments are a fascinating reminder of the stop motion work in the original King Kong; (and by extension- Andy Serkis’s mo-capped performance in Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake)- whereby the effects provide the creature with character. In that film, Kong was akin to a stubborn child who liked playing with his food. In the recent film, Kong is much like a weary middle-aged man who wants to be left alone. This reluctant quality injects many of the fight sequences with a relatable pathos.
At the same time, director Adam Wingard punctuates the fight sequences with an impressive sense of scale. One particularly cool moment is when Kong reaches for a plane to throw at Godzilla. At first, the vehicle looks like a toy before it turns into a dizzying and harrowing point of view shot that eventually registers as a minor explosion on Godzilla. Along with this, Wingard’s frequent use of lower angle shots imbues the title characters with plenty of awe-inducing majesty.
However, for all the enjoyment of the monster mayhem, all is a bit too quiet on the human front. It’s not just that many of the introduced characters are shallow, hardly developed or engaging; it’s that they mainly exist as an obvious chorus for what we’re seeing. One particularly egregious example is in the aftermath of the second showdown between Kong and Godzilla. Lind turns to the camera in an almost fourth wall breaking manner and says “Round 2 to Godzilla!” This aspect of over-egging the pudding exists in many moments of the film. Several semi-poetic scenes are jettisoned in favour of zippy moments to convey information.
As it stands, Godzilla vs. King Kong is not as visually breathtaking as King of Monsters. Nor does it have the spin the bottle tone of Skull Island or the cosmopolitan Spielberg flair of Gareth Edward’s Godzilla film. Instead, it’s a middling monster movie that’s redeemed by the humanity of its digital effects.