“It’s all too often pedestrian and obligatory, the last thing that this kind of movie should be.”
by Ken Bakely
Obviously, the main reason one watches a movie called Godzilla vs. Kong to see Godzilla fight King Kong. And by the time that Adam Wingard’s movie has put all of its pieces in order to get its viewers to that point, the film unleashes a dutifully entertaining wave of city-leveling spectacle as the CGI creations attack each other while human characters deliver the requisite play-by-play. But it has taken an awful lot to get here, and it’s hardly worth it. The script slogs through compounding layers of increasingly incomprehensible exposition, either building on previous films or introducing something to be seen in another installment, as a game cast of live-action actors feel underutilized. Nominally leading the plot is Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), the daughter of Kong specialist Mark (Kyle Chandler), who teams up with close friend Josh (Julian Dennison) and conspiracy podcaster Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) to infiltrate the shady Apex Corporation, a biotech firm recently ravaged by Godzilla, and whose CEO (Demián Bichir) is commissioning an odd project headlined by scientist Nathan (Alexander Skarsgård). He eventually teams up with Kong specialist Ilene (Rebecca Hall) – often accompanied by her young daughter, Jia (Kaylee Hottle) – who is preoccupied with strange goings-on involving Kong in his Skull Island holding facility. Nevertheless, they instigate an investigation that leads them – naturally – into a secret second world under the earth’s surface, where the climax promised by the title begins to take form.
The film’s plot is one that is simultaneously marked by its formal clutter and its practical emptiness; Godzilla vs. Kong is bombarded with setup which even it doesn’t seem to care much about. Of course, considering (again) the reason why we’re here, it may not have mattered in a different version of this movie, but it indicates some bigger problems. The movie is at its best when it fully dives into the ramifications of not only its premise, but what leads to it, following the idea without reservation or irony – that is, envisioning the two monsters battling it out while having fun with both the limitless possibilities and inherent absurdity. It should be a fun – and sometimes intrinsically funny – idea, the kind of thing a viewer can take in as beautifully controlled chaos, wowed by the sight while also being able to silently smile alongside it. This requires the movie to adhere to two commitments: to fully grapple with realizing its own world, and to actively enjoy tinkering with the minutia it takes when doing so. Its imagination is its greatest tool. It’s hard not to enjoy oneself, for instance, when seeing characters barrel through the planet’s crust to discover another world beneath, all while taking the notion as seriously as possible.
The problem is that this is not representative of much of the movie. It seemingly cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. Godzilla vs. Kong spends the bulk of its runtime watching its characters run around and perform what effectively feels like busy work. There’s little sense of timing or placement, and it comes off as strangely boring. It’s all too often pedestrian and obligatory, the last thing that this kind of movie should be. Conversely, there are also too many times when it comes off as detached, merely joking about its world, and manifesting itself through endless rounds of inane one-liners delivered by characters which imply a dismaying cynicism about how the movie wants to go about itself. It’s more disappointing than anything else, because there are times when the film more than proves itself capable of being so much more, considering the levels of technical prowess on display, as well as the talented artists involved in bringing this film to life. It comes to life in bursts of undiluted joy, and both the human and monster characters alike should be able to headline that feeling in good measure, as they explore this frenzied world. But, stuck under layers of muddled and overburdened plotting, the rest of the movie can’t live up to that.