One of the first lines of dialogue in Adam Wingard’s Godzilla vs. Kong foreshadows the titular inevitable showdown: “There can’t be two alpha Titans.” Naturally, the collision of Kong and Godzilla will entail absolute destruction. Two unstoppable forces aimed at one another. Kong is trapped under a biodome in the heart of Skull Island, an artificial habitat nested inside his natural habitat where he is monitored by Monarch. And he wants out. Godzilla, meanwhile, walks out of the ocean in Florida to attack the headquarters of Apex Cybernetics.
The Bond Villain-adjacent CEO of Apex (Demian Bichir) and the company’s head of engineering (Shun Oguri) approach disgraced professor Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) about a plan to stop Godzilla which involves Lind’s theory that these mythic Titans hail from the center of our (hollow) Earth. This plan leads them to a researcher in Monarch’s Kong habitat (Rebecca Hall). Lind proposes that they use Kong to lead them inside the hollow Earth through an entrance in Antarctica, where they can harness a power source worthy of taking down the giant lizard.
If this all sounds too convoluted for the first act setup to a movie with the name Godzilla vs. Kong—setup which is crammed into 20 minutes of screentime—then don’t fear too much. You could mute your television set while watching this on HBO Max (or cooking dinner or vacuuming or cleaning dishes) and the experience of the film wouldn’t be altered severely. Just as with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, nothing that the human characters in this film do or say ultimately means much, despite how hard the script tries to engender sympathy for them.
The character with which one most sympathizes is Kong, but even that doesn’t work right within this screenplay. Kong is a captive and his goals don’t drive the narrative, so he is not the film’s protagonist. A professor and a scientist are the protagonists, and they spend most of the first hour just sitting around talking about how they are most effectively going to retrieve the MacGuffin energy source from underneath Antarctica so that Godzilla can be vanquished. They spend most of the second hour looking out the window of an aircraft giving canned reactions to what occurs in the Godzilla v Kong arena.
The action sequences in the film are superior to those in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, but they still ring fairly hollow in execution. The first meeting between the titled characters is probably the film’s peak, and it contains a fairly entertaining, self-contained arc. But even this scene experiences some strange editing choices and, when compared to the lengthy set pieces later in the film, it is gone too soon. The film’s climactic showdown is a mess of lasers, monster boxing, and skyscraper destruction (all fairly standard for a kaiju affair).
So if that is all you’ve signed up for, it will likely do the trick. But I found it painfully unexciting. The film up to this point has failed so fully in establishing any sort of human stakes that the only action a human character is able to take is one of pure narrative convenience. And the only grander, world-altering stakes involve an insanely lazy and telegraphed heel-turn (and the introduction of a figure, whom I won’t spoil here and will only say has a character design that I found to be cumbersome and silly-looking).
Godzilla vs. Kong could be described as a does-what-it-says-on-the-box movie. But it is hard for me to even cop to that excuse. A title card billing the two biggest kaiju-class fighters in the game ought to be more exciting and pulse-pounding than this. Just like Kong does over and over again in this film, this lands with a lackluster thud.
Godzilla vs. Kong: C-
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)