The impact that both Godzilla and King Kong have had throughout the history of cinema are neck in neck; just as they are in this bombastic monster flick that follows an explosive confrontation between these two legendary titans.
If you look back at some of the major watershed moments throughout the timeline of cinema you’ll undoubtedly see the names of these titanic beasts etched within. King Kong stands as one of the oldest and most recognizable monsters in cinematic history; spurring the way for a slew of endless monster flicks that formed an entire genre. The power and influence that King Kong has had on the landscape of pop culture is monumental. Then there’s Godzilla, quite literally the longest running film franchise in cinematic history; Godzilla wins the battle of attrition, outliving and outpacing every film franchise ever made, with a staggering 36 films under its belt. So you see, these titans have been at war for decades, so it’s only natural that every 50 years or so they battle it out; that’s right, this isn’t the first iteration on-screen of these monsters clashing and it won’t be the last.
Godzilla vs. Kong is a continuation of the recent Monster-Verse franchise by Legendary Pictures – in this followup we actually get the return of some characters from the previous film; both Kyle Chandler and Millie Bobby Brown return to reprise their roles as father and daughter. If you’re wondering why this is surprising it’s because every consecutive film within the Monster-Verse has started with fresh new characters and a clean slate; oddly enough, this film is also no exception. That’s right, there are both reprisals and a new set of characters introduced, those being Rebecca Hall as a science-lady and Alexander Skarsgård as a science-man. Additionally, these films almost always contain random side-characters you forget exist, again, this film… no exception.
Let’s get to the point though, it’s no secret that the bread and butter of this film is the fight between Godzilla and Kong – that’s all everyone is here to see – who will reign king. If you’d like to know whether the fight was “epic” and whether it “lived up to its title”; well, I’ll give it to you straight… it does. But a fight is just a fight, one will win, one will fall and it’s guaranteed to be a spectacle. Truthfully though, only around 10% of the film’s run-time actually involves Godzilla fighting Kong, the other remaining 90% is spent trying to build to that moment. It’s that 90% that this film has its troubles tackling. What’s done here narratively in Godzilla vs. Kong is essentially what you’d expect; there are “surprises” that many people have already predicted and outcomes that won’t be too shocking. For the most part, what is provided is a relatively substandard narrative that, in the simplest terms, does the job. This is also the shortest of the Monster-Verse films – allowing audiences to get a quick hit of what they came for, Godzilla and Kong. I’m glad this film had a shorter length, as the previous films have the tendency to overstay their welcome.
The human characters within these films will always be a point of contention, as they exist merely to assist in separating man from monster for the audience. It’s necessary in these films to have a breather between each fight and these (mostly dull) human characters do provide that. As mentioned there is the inclusion of Millie Bobby Brown and Kyle Chandler in this film and I must reiterate, there’s actually something comforting about seeing a familiar face. Each time a new Monster-Verse flick releases, it’s like someone has hit the reset button – all is forgotten and a new set of characters is puked out for the audience. I enjoy the familiarity and hope this trend continues. This film also provides a very charming performance by Kaylee Hottle as a small orphaned girl – her relationship with Kong throughout this film stood as this film’s heart, allowing one to sympathize with this monstrous Titan.
A trend that these films seem to have is this desire to give reasons and explain away why there are gigantic monsters roaming Earth and I commend the efforts to keep the narrative sensible, well… as much as these films can be. However, the fault lies in continuity; for example, in this film Alexander Skarsgård plays a character named Dr. Nathan Lind, in this, for the purposes of plot development he briefly explains what genetic memory is; his explanation is that it is essentially “knowledge that is passed down genetically”. In the context of the story it is simply used to advance the plot, but I find the mention of it quite amusing in a larger context. These Monster-Verse films almost feel like a polar opposite to genetic memory; as with each consecutive film they seem to forget what has previously been established within their world. For instance, within Godzilla: King of Monsters (2019) the story entailed the character Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), stating that “humanity was an infection” and that the titans would “heal” our planet from the “damages that humans have caused”. Well, none of this shows any presence in Godzilla vs. Kong – simply, the world-building here is mostly forgotten. Thankfully, new foundations are built here to replace it as we explore an entirely new environment and dive deeper into the history of these titans. This new environment was the change of scenery this film desperately needed, building the intensity and hype for Godzilla and Kong’s eventual brawl.
For a movie titled Godzilla vs. Kong, one would expect a gargantuan visual effects feast – Adam Wingard and his technical team deliver on most fronts. Wingard replicates the incredible work done in the previous Monster-Verse films by capturing the scope and scale of the magnificent beasts. It may not be as impactful as it is in Godzilla: King of the Monsters but Wingard still provides points of references that call attention to just how truly gigantic these monsters are. Director of Photography, Ben Seresin, sets up some bold imagery at times and immersive camera-shots. Seresin’s strengths are mostly apparent in the anticipated match-up between Kong and Godzilla by having over-the-shoulder tracking shots or low-angle camera shots that showcase how monumental the battle is. Unlike Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Wingard appears less focused on establishing a sense of atmosphere with this film due to some inconsistencies among production design and locations. Godzilla vs. Kong is a mixed-bag when it comes to its set-design. The film contains some great locations that provide opportunity to be creative for the battle of the titans, such as open-sea on military vessels or the bright varicoloured city of Hong Kong. On the other hand, these interesting locations that add interesting elements to the action set-pieces are few and far between – the film offers little else as it resorts to generic and dimly-lit science labs that don’t contribute to the film’s visual aesthetic.
Tom Holkenborg has a good blend of original score and soundtracks throughout the course of Godzilla vs. Kong. His soundtrack choices which are mainly played during the scenes Kong features in are very similar to Kong: Skull Island where the song choices are mainly based from the 1970’s. The original score itself, while it does a fine job to showcase these gigantic monsters, it does fail to capture the fear and intensity of what these titans should impose towards the human characters and audience. The perfect case for this is during Godzilla (2014) when introducing Godzilla, the film used a godly hymn during a HALO drop which elevated the threat and tension of Godzilla as you knew something big was about to happen. Having this same hymn play during Godzilla vs. Kong would have helped make Godzilla more of a threat while striking fear into audiences who are viewing the film.
When you have a film of this stature with two giants going at it in a full-on brawl, you’d expect the sound to be deafening, but sadly in my particular viewing of Godzilla vs. Kong the sound was flat and the channel separation was underwhelming for the Dolby Atmos track this film was boasting. However, I have it on good authority that the film sounded fantastic in a separate screening, so results can vary.
Like anyone entering a film with a “vs.” in the title, there’s an expectation of what you’re about to receive – it’s ultimately a signal that the film is here to entertain and that’s it. But just like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) it’s abundantly clear that creators can and do attempt to make it something more than just a punch-up. Godzilla (2014) essentially started as a boots-on-the-ground disaster movie that happened to include Godzilla; but as things progressed for this franchise its identity did too. These films are falling deeper into fantasy and for many, that is perfectly satisfactory. Just as the Fast and Furious franchise morphed from stealing DVD players to fighting superhumans, there’s a similar line of ludicrousness that this franchise follows too. Some will love it, some will hate; personally, I feel it’s fine.