Godzilla vs Kong is a joyous rematch between the two most famous kaiju in cinema history, told with a knowing wink and superb production values.
Godzilla vs Kong is a rematch nearly sixty years in the making. Ever since the American (well… Skull Islander) simian King Kong and the Japanese lizard Kaiju Gojira first sparred in the 1962/1963 King Kong vs Godzilla, it has seemed inevitable that the two would someday meet again. Even before the recent Warner Bros. MonsterVerse resurrection of the monster IP, the tandem has collectively seen dozens of movies, including, most recently, the West Roland Emmirich’s much maligned 90s Godzilla and Peter Jackson’s well-loved epic length King Kong. Despite two versions of the film tailored to Japanese and American audiences, King Kong stood as the clear victor in the tandem’s first matchup, and six decades seem more than enough time to earn a rematch.
The Warner Bros. MonsterVerse is perhaps the most consistently successful of the various “shared universes” that have arisen in the wake of the Marvel Cinematic Universes dominant success. 2014’s Godzilla resurrected the kaiju as a behemoth of previously unconsidered size – the monster who once stood alongside buildings now dwarfs them. He’s rendered thicker and more primal, the pleasant reality of a man in a costume long forgotten.
The series continued with Kong: Skull Island, my favorite of the prior monster verse films, which tossed an awful lot of famous people into Kong’s home territory for an epic standoff peppered with Vietnam Era period trappings. It was a film that seemed to grasp both the enormity and scale kaiju storytelling could occupy, while also embracing the dark humor and satisfaction of watching a giant monster murder massive swaths of humanity. Even Godzilla: King of the Monsters has its partisans, a dopey large scale blockbusters that saw a number of legendary Japanese kaiju reimagined for the modern age. While the overall arc of the series appear to have faltered a number of times, it’s safe to say they’ve done everything necessary to get us to The Avengers of giant monster cinema.
Perhaps the wisest thing that director Adam Wingard (The Guest) and his room of writers (including Terry Rossio, of Pirates of the Caribbean fame) does in the structure of this film is cast King Kong as a heroic figure. It’s sensible that the more vulnerable of our kaiju, but also the more human, serves as something more akin to a perspective character. It allows Godzilla to remain the more unfettered force of nature his modern incarnation – and his best historical versions – have embraced. Each version of Kong falls in platonic love with human women. Godzilla destroys all monsters. The storytellers seem to grasp this fundamental difference in character far better than the creators of the original monster mash once did.
Here, we have yet another MonsterVerse movie with an extremely high quality cast left without a whole lot to do. The standout is probably Alexander Skarsgård (Passing, Long Shot) playing the world’s sexiest geologist. He seems the most attuned to the film’s astoundingly dopey storytelling, and flits deftly between faux-science exposition and action heroics. Rebecca Hall (Iron Man 3, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) amuses with delightfully silly emphasis in her line readings. She reads the word “Kong” as a Catholic Cardinal might say the word “Jesus.” She holds emphasis on the “on” just an extra beat longer in something akin to reverence. Her use of the word “God-zilla” is no less wonderfully hammy.
Kaylee Hottle, a young deaf actress, makes an impression in limited screen time. Her kinship with Kong makes up much of the film’s emotional arc and is more effective than the story itself probably deserves. She conveys a ton with her eyes, and I’m hopeful there are solid roles for her in the future. The rest of the cast includes old MonsterVerse friends Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights, The Midnight Sky), Millie Bobbie Brown (Stranger Things, Enola Holmes), along with new monster food, er…, cast including Demian Bichir (A Better Life, Land), Lance Reddick (The Wire, John Wick), Julian Dennison (Deadpool 2, The Hunt for the Wilderpeople), and Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse). All are no worse than fine. Of the lot, Chandler is going the Biggest which certainly fits the material.
I’m loathe to discuss the film’s action in too much detail. In a rarity in this day and age, the film’s marketing team has managed to leave a great deal of the film unspoiled and I have no interest in damaging the sense of mystery. I’ll say this – the special effects are absolutely astonishing and the sense of puckish fun necessary for this sort of story is firmly intact. Nearly every beat is accompanied by a loving wink to the audience – we’re all in on this goofball storytelling together. It is perhaps the film’s greatest achievement that as the actual plot gets dumber, the actors seem to come more and more alive. As absurdity and pseudo-science collide, the film’s sense of dopey fun only seems to increase. It’s so rare that a movie like this seems content to deliver on its base premise. Even 2014’s Godzilla needed to lace serious character drama and a heavy environmental message throughout the proceedings. Godzilla vs. Kong has the confidence to know that we just want an excuse to watch two massive monsters beat the hell out of each other, and, on that count, it overdelivers. Turns out this was a rematch worth waiting for.