We have established already that I’m a mark for Godzilla movies, so I pretty much knew going in what to expect and what not to expect. When you purchase a ticket for a kaiju movie, you’re not looking for deep characterization, complex or thoughtful plotting, or meditative storytelling that reveals something true and surprising about the human condition.
The formula for a successful Godzilla movie is as follows: Godzilla + other monster + smashed buildings + cool visuals and loud noises + extended fight sequences + Godzilla wins = Success/Profit.
Does Godzilla vs. Kong do the job? My (mostly) spoiler-free thoughts below.
Monkey See, Monkey Smash
Up front, the film seeks to put the viewer in Kong’s corner. As a proud member of #TeamGodzilla, this was mildly annoying, but hey, I get it. Godzilla is unrelatable and cold; he’s a hurricane, an unrelenting force of nature (at least until you give him a kid–then things get weird). Kong has a better chance of connecting to the human characters more easily (as we’ve seen in the history of King Kong films), so it make sense from a storytelling standpoint to make him the connection point for our audience stand-ins on-screen. And as the film ramps up and it seems like Godzilla is going rogue and turning against humanity, the humans need the big ape in their corner.
I wasn’t a huge fan of his last “Legendary Monsterverse” film, Kong: Skull Island, mainly because I think it didn’t know what it wanted to be and tried to include too much Acting and Story to be an effective Kong film. (See formula for Godzilla success, above.) That said, I thought the CGI for Kong was really good at that point, and it’s only gotten better. The CGI of Kong’s face and fur in GvK were gorgeous, and it just looked so good on the big screen. (Yes, I watched this in a theater–more on this later.)
In fact, the visuals overall were really stunning in this movie. As I noted previously, the visuals for Godzilla: King of the Monsters were really muddy and dark, so that it was difficult to appreciate the designs of some of the creatures. In GvK, there are beautiful, vibrant vistas that provide the backdrop for these creatures to move and interact, from lush and otherwordly naturescapes to the futuristic neon of bustling urban centers. You can clearly see what is going on at all times, so the fighting and destruction of buildings was crystal-clear and spectacular.
The visuals, the sound design, the fight sequences were all on-point and delivered exactly what I was hoping for.
Unfortunately, the acting and plot also met my (low) expectations.
Cameo, Friend of All Actors
(That was a very weak Gamera reference; you’re welcome.)
Okay, let’s talk plot: it was…let’s be kind and say it was “busy.” But that’s the thing, gang: you probably shouldn’t expect the plot to make much sense. This is part of the whole Godzilla mythos.
In the Toho days, there were all sorts of bonkers plans to try to stop the big guy. Weird, stupid, nonsensical pseudo-science that “just has to work because it’s our only hope!” This movie was no different. I won’t give anything away, but characters were throwing out terms like “gravitational inversion” and “psionic connection” and “living super-computer” like these were sensible, logical terms. It’s gibberish. It’s fine. Eat your popcorn.
The biggest flaw of this movie is frankly that there are too many human characters with not enough to justify their presence, while other characters from the previous films are all but forgotten. Fine actors like Kyle Chandler are given just a few scenes, while characters like Charles Dance’s villainous Alan Jonah are completely ignored in this movie (which doesn’t make sense due to how the post-credits scene from KOTM *should* have played into this film!).
There are essentially 2 groups of human characters, which I’ll call Team A and Team B. Team A has somewhat of an impact on the storyline. They make the choices that drive the action, but really only serve as faciliators to the spectacle. They don’t change anything fundamentally, because in this franchise, the humans are either provacateurs or spectators. This other group of humans includes Befuddled White Guy, Mother Figure, Villain Stand-In, and Little Girl Ape-Whisperer. Do they have names? Sure, but who cares. They have functions and that’s all we need right now. Hush now. Sip your soft drink.
Team B’s sub-plot is more-or-less pointless other than to provide a reveal that honestly could have happened without them (sorry, Millie Bobby Brown). This plot arc follows the antics of Comic Relief Guy, Heroic Young Woman, and Overweight Male Sidekick Who Provides One Single Moment of Usefulness. Other than that one key event (that could have been done any number of ways), they did not impact the storyline at all. At times, it just felt like a necessary vehicle because MBB is still a bankable rising star and the producers think that will get the kids into the seats. (As if the headliners aren’t sufficient!)
I’m being facetious, obviously, but let’s get real here. You didn’t pay your ticket price or HBO Max subscription fee to focus on the human beings in this one. You wanted to see the monsters. And that’s what you got. The humans are glorified subtitles segueing from plot point to plot point.
It sounds like I’m criticizing the film. I’m not.
This is what I came here for.
The Main Event: A Three-Round Championship Bout
And in the end, was I satisfied? Of course I was. This movie was a blast.
The three main fight sequences were thrilling and visceral. There was enough back-and-forth to convince you that Godzilla and Kong are at least competitive, if not equals. When they joined forces to square off against a third combatant, the action ramps up even more.
You know it’s a good action sequence when you find yourself phsically tensed up and flinching one way or the other as you’re watching it.
Now, I’ve been trying to avoid spoilers so far, but I feel compelled to say the following, so put your [SPOILER EARMUFFS ON] and skip to the next section if you don’t want to be spoiled:
While the filmmakers try their best to keep it even and ambiguous, there’s no doubt in my mind that Godzilla proved to be superior. Kong needed human assistance and/or weapons to beat Godzilla, and Godzilla essentially killed Kong at the end, before he was revived. The only reason Mecha-Godzilla almost beat Godzilla was because he had just finished fighting Kong and was exhausted/hurt. Having Godzilla and Kong take down the mech together and then give begrudgingly respect as they each retreated to their home base was a perfect way to end this film and leave the door open for future sequels. (I’m still holding out home for a Godzilla vs. Mecha-Ghidorah storyline–I’m just saying, there are 2 more heads out there somewhere.)
Okay, [SPOILER EARMUFFS OFF].
Support Your Local Moviehouse
I’ve been looking forward to this movie since it was announced…and delayed…and delayed again. With the way that the pandemic seemed to be threatening the economic landscape and the nature of how we consume entertainment, I had serious concerns about whether or not I would get to see this movie in a theater in all its big, dumb, loud glory.
Thankfully, as we seem to be moving toward the end of the pandemic’s grip on society, movie theaters have started reopening, and I was able to go with a group of friends and sit in a nearly-empty movie theater to watch this spectacle exactly as it was intended to be seen.
Before the show started, we settled into our seats, overpriced snacks in hand. The atmosphere was almost giddy, as we chatted through the previews for Fast and Furious 9, Free Guy, Black Widow, and a few other upcoming features. Then, the show began. We cheered, we laughed, we commented up and down the row at different points. And as the lights came up and the end credits rolled, we laughed and joked as we walked out of the theater, revelling in what we had experienced together.
It had been about a year and a half since I’d sat in a movie theater. And while my movie-going outings have become more scarce in recent years since I became a parent, I still got out once in a while, either on a date with my wife or on a Saturday morning with friends. When the pandemic shut down the theaters, I was concerned that this was the end of an era for moviegoing. While it was unlikely that theaters would go away entirely (at least at this point), I started to question if the era of the big megaplex theater was coming to an close.
Hopefully, as the world bounces back from Covid through better treatments, vaccine availability, and smarter health practices, we can get back to “normal”–or at least a better version of “normal”–so that things like live sports and movie theaters become part of our cultural experience again. There’s something special about sitting with your friends (or a hundred strangers) in a darkened theater and enjoying the excitement and spectacle of a blockbuster movie as a group. Moviegoing is a communal event, a shared experience. It’s not just about the movie itself; it’s the whole process–tickets, concessions, the seats, the conversations on the way in and on the way out. It would be a shame to lose all of that. I hope we don’t.
So here’s my final recommendation: Godzilla vs. Kong was a silly, senseless spectacle of smashing that should be enjoyed in a movie theater. Grab a group of friends, buy a big ol’ tub of popcorn and a soda, and have a great time.