After 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, I had two meaningful requests for the inevitable clash between Gojira and King Kong. The first was that we’d have some combat take place during the day, so we could actually see what’s going on, instead of that film’s sickly rain-on-night blue darkness that obscured just about everything. The second was that we would get at least a serviceable plot that wasn’t downright stupid to serve and set up the monster fighting we came to see.
Well, at least I got my first wish.
Yes, after a year of waiting thanks to the pandemic, Warner Bros. has finally come out with Godzilla vs. Kong, the planned climax of their “MonsterVerse,” where the two biggest creatures would square off just like they did back in the 1960s. Except, instead of taking the extra year to make sure their movie wasn’t some of the bullshittiest bullshit to ever bullshit, the studio seemingly doubled down on nonsensical, almost insulting plotting, and extended it to the point that in this 113-minute film, a puny 12 minutes, or 10.6%, is actually devoted to its own titular smackdown. I watched at home on HBO Max, so I could actually log the time.
Picking up some time after the events of the last film (as in whatever amount of time is believable to age Millie Bobby Brown up to being a high school student), Godzilla, now considered the savior and protector of humanity, rises up from the waves and destroys the Pensacola, FL headquarters of a tech company called Apex, in case you needed a giant smack upside the head as to who our bad guys would be. Now, a normal, rational person in this universe would have one of two reactions: 1) “Man, that Apex company must be up to some shady shit to provoke Godzilla’s wrath. I mean, look at their boss, played by Demián Bichir. He’s practically stroking his beard menacingly as he gives the ironic ‘Welcome message’ on the kiosk pretending not to be evil despite stealing Ricardo Montalban’s accent from Wrath of Khan.” 2) “Oh good, less Floridians. Maybe someone who’s not patently insane or evil can win an election down there now.” Instead, the universal reaction is that Godzilla has suddenly become evil and turned on mankind, and only Kong can rein him in.
Instead of offering us anything remotely interesting, all this opening does is reintroduce Brown as Madison Russell. You remember her, right? She was the idiot girl that by rights should have died when she ran to her abandoned Boston home while Godzilla and Ghidora were destroying Fenway Park last time? Yeah, she’s now the star of the entire B-plot, where she, her classmate Josh (Julian Dennison, best known as Russell from Deadpool 2) and a conspiracy podcaster/Apex engineer named Bernie (a tragically misused Brian Tyree Henry) do all the sleuthing to uncover Apex’s evil scheme. That’s right, folks, two teenagers and Black Alex Jones (seriously, he bathes with bleach and believes fluoride in tap water causes mind control) are gonna crack the underlying case that could be summed up with, “I mean, they look evil as fuck, and Godzilla only destroyed their building, so maybe stop them or something?” This gets more screen time than Godzilla and Kong fighting. Oh, and it completely sidelines Kyle Chandler, the one interesting character from the last movie.
We then move to Skull Island, some 45 years after the events of the last Kong film. In a direct ripoff of the last film’s switcheroo reveal of the Russell homestead within the Monarch research lab, Kong chisels a spear out of a tree trunk and hurls it skyward, shattering the holographic ceiling of a research dome that has been erected by Monarch to observe him. Never mind how the facility was built without Kong killing everyone, or how they got the massive ape into the thing, he somehow just now figured out it was all an illusion and pulled a Katniss Everdeen to expose… something.
Anyway, Kong is somehow friends with Jia (Kaylee Hottle), an orphaned and deaf native girl who communicates to him via American Sign Language. Yes, that’s right folks. We’re going the Koko route here. She’s raised by Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), an expert on Kong. They are eventually joined by Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård), a disgraced scientist who believes in a laughable theory called “Hollow Earth,” that instead of a molten core, the Earth has a livable environment at its center, where gravity conforms relative to a location on the outer crust where you happen to be standing. Gee, I wonder if his bullshit will also prove to be true. He’s been recruited by Apex, represented by the CEO’s daughter, Maia (Eiza González, aka Darling from Baby Driver), who is only there to dismissively call Kong a “monkey” and look PG-13 hot. Apex has an HQ set up in Antarctica, complete with convenient, Kong-sized tunnel to the center of the Earth, because people build such things. All of this gets more screen time than Godzilla and Kong fighting.
Okay, do we have enough characters and shoddy exposition yet? I mean, we’ve got the conspiracy theorists who solve the mystery that doesn’t exist, an obviously evil corporation that no one questions, and a giant ape that can somehow be moved in and out of an island research facility at will with no explanation as to the logistics, but he can sign with a deaf girl, which is literally the joke from The Critic kaiju parody, Children of a Lesser Godzilla.
A full 40 minutes in – because when you’ve had three movies to set everything up, you definitely need extra time to make sure everyone can follow along with your nonsense – we finally get the two Titans fighting. And after all that waiting, it’s kind of a letdown. I will give credit that it happens in the daytime, as Kong is being transported to Antarctica on a fleet of cargo ships and aircraft carriers, so we can at least see what’s happening. And we do get a couple undeniably cool shots. But apart from that, there’s nothing special. Making the monsters wet creates this gross glossy sheen effect that makes the already weak CGI look embarrassing, and despite the ship initially flipping with everyone inside, no one drowns, not even the kid. And after a good seven minutes of fighting, Lind gets the brilliant idea to cut the engines to the fleet, to in essence “play dead” with Kong exhausted from battle. Now of course, this is idiotic, because in the first movie, Godzilla was so thorough in his destruction that he breathed fucking fire down a Muto’s throat until its head literally separated from its body, so there’s no way he’d be fooled by such a ruse and not finish the job.
So he gets fooled by the ruse and leaves without finishing the job, allowing our heroes, such as they are, to hit their next point on the map, Hollow Earth, which they reach by somehow carrying Kong the rest of the way to Antarctica with helicopters and giant nets they never had. Once there, the kid has to sign to Kong to go down the hole. When he does, they follow him in these super-fast anti-gravity shuttles called “HEAV”s, which are so sickeningly bad looking they’ll make you have a few dry ones. Meanwhile, the discount Scooby gang literally stumbles into a HEAV themselves and are magically whisked away to Hong Kong in seconds, all to set up the climactic showdown that goes along with the title for five minutes, then adds a third threat for the rest.
This was disgustingly bad. All we wanted was for the film to live up to its title, to justify the last seven years of us paying attention, and we barely got any of it, despite the opening credits of the film literally painting a bracket for the two to face off on. When we finally do get some of the action, we’ve already wasted so much time on bullshit that the only stated motivation for the two to fight at all is, “There can’t be two alphas.” That’s it. The Highlander? After three full movies setting up this colossal showdown, all we get is “There can be only one”? The writers came up with more excuses to illogically bring the fucking kid along than to give any motivation for what was supposed to be the central conflict of the movie. Because of this, we’re left with exactly four cool moments in two total fights.
The only things I wanted were to have some daylight fighting so we could actually see the carnage, and for the surrounding plot to make sense. I got the former, but it only highlighted how bad the CGI can be in these movies. I got to thinking at one point watching Kong eat a bunch of fish, why do the monsters move so slowly in these films? Yeah, they’re huge, but that doesn’t mean they’d be slow. Their strength would still be relative to their size, so they wouldn’t lumber about. They wouldn’t clomp once every five seconds, or take slow, deliberate bites of food. They’d be able to walk and swing their arms just like we would, just bigger. Hell, it’d be more exciting – and even scary – to see them going at full speed, but it’s like the filmmakers decided that the slow approach of the T-Rex nearly 30 years ago should be the standard going forward. Do something new, guys!
And as for the latter, you didn’t even have to really have a plot. There have been three movies already to set up a mythology, just expand it a little bit and let the mayhem play out. In a nearly two-hour flick, we should have had 90 minutes of action to 20 minutes of exposition. Instead we basically got it the other way around. And for our extra investment in story, all we got was utter nonsense. Great comic talent is wasted in service of conspiracy theory bullshit, we let a 10-year-old tag along in deadly situations and then expect the audience not to revolt when Kong somehow sees her tiny form every time he turns his massive head, and the organization that was supposed to be on top of all this Titan madness just ignores a corporation named fucking APEX, as in TOP OF THE FOOD CHAIN, NO NATURAL PREDATORS, APEX! But hey, we get to destroy Hong Kong. That’ll teach those malcontents to ask for democracy and human rights, eh? Can we have our China box office money now?
It baffles me. It truly, utterly baffles me how easy it was to not fuck this up, and even with an extra year to make sure the product was passable, they still did. They went out of their way to not have the title beasts fight for more than the bare minimum. The characterization feels like they watched Enola Holmes and thought, “How can we find an even more absurd way for Millie Bobby Brown to be ‘right’ about something while also being completely wrong?” They made me want to punch a Skarsgård not dressed like a demonic clown. They had three movies to set the stage. All they had to do was let them fight. Ring the bell and let bombast ensue. They couldn’t even do that much, because they cared more about trying to sell us on an upcharge for IMAX so we could have a half-assed “Star Tours” ride around Kong’s face in one of the HEAVs.
You know the point is that these films are supposed to make a case for our continued existence, right?
Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? What’s the biggest letdown sequel you’ve ever seen? Should we reboot The Critic at this point, since the actual films are becoming worse than the parodies? Let me know!