Godzilla and King Kong are two of cinemas most iconic monsters. Whether scaling the Empire State Building with the woman he loves, or rampaging through dilapidated cities, the two have always been on a collision course throughout their Hollywood history. Tragically, not since their first battle in 1962 have the legendary kaiju graced the screen together, but Adam Wingard is on hand to fulfil the long-gestating clash as the culmination of the MonsterVerse with one of the biggest and most highly anticipated blockbusters released in far too long, Godzilla vs. Kong.
Godzilla is angry. Following an unprovoked Godzilla attack for the first time since his arrival in 2014, the Earth has grown fearsome of their once great protector. Searching for answers as to what exactly has made Godzilla so irate, a ragtag group of scientists enlist Kong, the supergiant ape kept under watchful eye on his now armed forces occupied home, Skull Island, to find an answer to stopping Godzilla once and for all.
Legendary’s MonsterVerse, per Wingard, was created to climax with this titanic battle, though despite the generally middling reception the franchise has had thus far, the gradual procession from 2014 to now is remarkably well developed. Godzilla vs. Kong is a far cry from Gareth Edwards’ 2014 epic, a film as grounded in reality as one can be when its titular character is an atomic lizard, but both Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla: King of the Monsters worked tirelessly to flesh out its universe and bring the titans together, introducing beings from the Hollow Earth and expanding the roster of titans all over the world. As such, it doesn’t feel out of place for this latest entry to meddle with gravity, magical axes, and a journey to the centre of the Earth; it feels earned.
Godzilla vs. Kong has far more in common with Skull Island of its preceding creature-features, placing Kong at the forefront of our journey, somewhat relegating Godzilla to a bit-part player on his personal quest to restore order. Wingard, though, has a few tricks up his sleeve to maintain the allure of such an iconic character by deploying the tactic deployed by Gareth Edwards in Godzilla and Steven Spielberg in Jaws (heavily echoed in a sequence in which a destroyed warship latches onto Godzilla’s tail and pulled across the surface of the water like the iconic yellow floatation devices). Godzilla’s screen-time is minimized to create a sense of mystery around the character and inspire fear of him for maximum impact when he inevitably and ferociously wreaks havoc.
Kong, meanwhile, is the star of the show, and a borderline pacifist by comparison. A tenderly developed relationship between himself and a young, deaf orphan help humanise Kong beyond the levels reached in his previous outing. Kong is a kind soul at heart, placing protection at the forefront of his mind during most of his battles rather than all out fury, but he has moments of absolute ferocity that prove even too much for a walking nuclear power plant. Better still, though, are the carefully designed skirmishes to allow Kong a chance against such an over-powered foe, using his human companions, the local environment, and his lateral thinking skills to counterattack. Wingard is under no illusion that Godzilla is the more powerful beast, but Kong’s intelligence really plays a hand in the film’s final act as the two square-off in glorious fashion against the neon, Hong Kong skyline.
Batman v Superman, this ain’t. The title fight is worth the price of admission and then some. The earlier aircraft carrier fight, while impressive, was merely a taster for the anarchy that awaits. Adam Wingard evidently has a keen eye for mega monster madness, brilliantly choreographing the fight scenes so the local geography is always in mind as Kong hurtles across, between, and through buildings at breakneck speed. Pacific Rim’s neon infused sequences were surely an influence on this film-stealing segment, borrowing its camera placement to give the monsters the necessary size and weight for every beam blast, axe swing, scratch, and haymaker to land with astonishing force.
The camera is having the time of its life here, with flourishes aplenty as it circles the action in a balletic marriage between monster and virtual cameraman, complete with crash zooms and spectacular one-takes. As if mimicking the Universal Studios simulator rides of years gone by, the camera blasting beyond a bellowing Kong’s face and circling a Godzilla energy beam in one smooth movement was a moment watched once, twice, and three times over to appreciate the majesty on show, a rare benefit of the home cinema experience. The Hong Kong sequence is Godzilla vs. Kong at the very height of its powers, evident for all to see that the scenes that preceded it were designed to get us to this very moment and indulge our wildest giant monster fantasies. On spectacle alone, Godzilla vs. Kong is a triumph.
Less triumphant, it must be noted, is anything involving a human. It isn’t for lack of talent; Rebecca Hall is about as reliably great an actor as they come, Alexander Skarsgard has charm to burn, and Brian Tyree Henry is one of the more effortlessly funny actors on the circuit today. Godzilla vs. Kong is so brazenly uninterested in its human characters, however, that any of their talents are purely fodder for exposition dumping about the film’s brilliantly ludicrous lore. Millie Bobbie Brown and Julian Dennison barely come out of this one alive, as the film’s attempt at witty banter between the two regularly falls flat, though Dennison has a naturally funny line delivery that rescued many of its more painful interactions.
Kaylee Hottle’s Jia, the little girl who has a connection with Kong, is the sole character with any semblance of care and attention paid to her, which makes her role in the film’s final act even more impactful. It becomes increasingly clear as the film progresses that Wingard pours all his love into his spectacular action scenes and sees the human interaction as an obstacle to overcome to get to them. It’s hard to argue against his approach.
There is a fundamental understanding that the creative team behind Godzilla vs. Kong, from its director to its writers to its visual effects artists, understand exactly what its audience wants. What it abandons with its human characters it delivers in spades with Godzilla and Kong, providing moments of genuine euphoria that had this reviewer whooping and hollering at his television screen; a 5 second shot of the two facing off and screaming at each other from opposite ends of a tunnel is one of my favourite cinematic moments in years. One can only imagine the energy in a cinema during its numerous moments of euphoric carnage. Godzilla vs. Kong is a very welcome return to massive blockbuster cinema that delivers on the promise of a battle for the ages with aplomb.