Film Review: ‘Godzilla vs Kong’ aims to blow up the box office with a showdown of all showdowns
First announced in the early 2010’s, the Monsterverse seemed poised to be Warner Brothers and Legendary’s next successful partnership with widespread potential. Yet, despite featuring a wealth of globally-recognizable characters and with blockbuster budgets in tow, after 2014’s Godzilla, the series began to experience a steady decrease in both critical and box-office reception to the point where a viable franchise future was heavily plagued with doubts. Delayed nearly a year due to the ever-present coronavirus pandemic, despite its simultaneous streaming release in the U.S., Godzilla vs Kong arrives as the next film in line entrusted with the task of resuscitating both the Monsterverse franchise and the global theatrical landscape as a whole. Following the titular titans as they clash in a battle that will define humanity’s fate, the film delivers on its expansive premise to result in an action-packed extravaganza that will surely revitalize the landscape en route to becoming a crowd-pleasing smash.
However, that is not to say that the film doesn’t hold the fundamental flaws seen in the style of blockbuster that tends to dominate this field in a similar fashion. Aptly conceived in a writers room headed by Terry Rossio, Godzilla vs Kong’s screenplay indubitably feels as if it were a corporate product wrung various times through the studio machine in hopes of striking populistic gold. While the film centers on the conflict between Godzilla and Kong, the human lens of this film is seen through the eyes of a cast peppered with newcomers to the franchise and returning faces alike in crosscutting subplots that impact the film to varying degrees.
Set five years after the events of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the film first finds Kong in an environment controlled by the titan-centric research organization Monarch, with Dr. Ilene Andrews (played by Rebecca Hall) and her adoptive daughter Jia (newcomer Kaylee Hottle) attempting to form a communicative bond with the isolated titan. However, after the seemingly peaceful Godzilla rises from the seas to attack a corporate facility belonging to the cybernetics company Apex, the company’s founder, Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir), enlists his daughter (Eiza Gonzalez) and a theoretical geologist (Alexander Skarsgård) to join Dr. Andrews’ team and Kong in a journey to the titan’s birthplace in hopes of finding a substance to counteract an increasingly violent Godzilla. Meanwhile, after witnessing the initial events of the film, inquisitive teens Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) and Josh Valentine (Deadpool 2’s Julian Dennison) seek out a popular conspiracy theorist (Brian Tyree Henry), whose theories and eventual voyage throughout the film finds their group discovering the presence of a sinister being at the center of the ensuing chaos.
Absent are the impactful themes and dramatic complexities seen in grounded character-driven narratives elevated to the next level, with the large ensemble of talented thespians delivering solid performances crippled by a screenplay that clinically outlines their internal motivations, arcs, and traits while failing to imbue a sense of humanity into their characterizations. While it’s clear that the film as a whole is not striving to elicit such a response from its audience, the fact that it maintains an unwavering focus on the thinly-drawn human protagonists in its early sequences without a compelling drive does result in a meandering pace filled to the brim with seemingly aimless subplots that would have benefited heavily from being crafted with a sharper sense of storytelling. Eventually, Andrews’ and Russell’s teams do begin to interact in far more effective ways to propel the narrative forward, but the time and routes it takes to reach those points does leave much to be desired.
Yet, as a film whose core intention is not to make one ponder greater questions, but to revel in bombastic grandeur with little thought, once the action sequences become prevalent, one can’t help but note that it more than accomplishes what the film originally sets out to do. Magnificently scaled action setpieces, while absent from the earlier sections of the film, power the latter half of the film to over deliver on its original promise. Sequences set on large ships, gravitationally inverted environments, neon-lit cityscapes and industrial complexes result in a constant change in scenery that helps in the movement of a much-needed quicker and dynamic pace. Destruction, explosions, and thundering roars are brought forth in numerous battles (featuring the titular characters as well as various larger threats) that exponentially grow in scale until they peak in a chaotic tag-team that will surely evoke many cheers in enthusiastic filmgoers. Despite its studio-driven nature, surprisingly, the action that makes up the heart of the film is constructed with an admirable sense of subtle craftsmanship that shall be noticed even by those with an untrained eye. In the director’s chair, Adam Wingard brings his independent roots to the table to cultivate an unconventional edge that despite the prevalence of many action tropes, seeps through integral frames. Intelligent uses of perspective, dynamic camera movements, and colorfully lit exteriors (courtesy of cinematographer Ben Seresin) truly bring the film to life and add a viscerally ambitious quality to each smartly-structured action sequence that Wingard capably pulls together.
Despite Godzilla vs. Kong‘s trope-filled screenplay and a burdensome overreliance on thinly developed characters, its eventual shedding of a grounded focus to embrace its blunt and bombastic nature turns the film into a largely enjoyable and incredibly entertaining blockbuster filled to the brim with enough dumb fun, scope, and welcome visual ingenuity. Built to be appreciated through a grand theatrical experience, with a crowd-pleasing film like this one leading the industry charge, one should not be shocked if Godzilla vs Kong is the blockbuster that revitalizes the marketplace–and its own franchise–once and for all.
Warner Bros will release Godzilla vs. Kong in theaters and on HBO Max on March 31.
Image courtesy of Legendary and Warner Bros Entertainment