Since 2014’s Godzilla and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island, the main payoff to Warner Bros/Legendary’s ‘Monsterverse’ was the big prizefight. A product of the chess match of acquiring rights to all the characters involved. The film where the two famous titans would duke it out over who gets to call themselves the ultimate king. This universe has a lot of moments that transport you back to the nostalgic fun of Kaiju films of the past with better special effects. An issue that they ran into was figuring out how to balance that in a cohesive story. Audiences come to see the fights and the destruction, but the small people below are factors as well. It’s a conversion point of having humanity present, but not intrude so much as where the monsters feel like a novelty.
Set five years after the events of 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, where the titans have considerably cooled down. We meet Kong held in an artificial dome by Monarch that mimics Skull Island. As explained by Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), a linguist who works for the company, it’s to keep Kong and Godzilla away from each other. Meanwhile, Godzilla attacks a random Apex Corporation facility and believed to have gone rogue. Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) continuing her role from the last movie, suspects Apex is up to no good. That itch only grows as she intensely listens to a podcast from former Apex employee, conspiracy theorist Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry).
While all the pieces are setting themselves in alignment, the brass of Apex, CEO Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir), and his cohort and son of Ishirō Serizawa from previous films, Ren (Shun Oguri) have their eyes on a power source generating from Hollow Earth. For guidance, they find geologist Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) in claims that this expedition is going to save the world. From the start, director Adam Wingard has a lot of pieces that he has to move in place to make this story come together. All the while, not forgetting the major attractions. With Godzilla vs. Kong, it succeeds. The film establishes the stakes from the beginning while making sure that the monsters are the center of gravity. There are people that want to help, an established shady entity that has hidden intentions, and an ensemble that seeks to find the truth. Established tropes one would notice from other action films, but not busy enough together to take away from the film itself.
The emotional center of the film comes from Kong. It’s established in the monster verse that Godzilla is the figure that is just looking to restore balance. When Kaijus or Mutos overrun Earth, he is there as the enforcer. His ‘truce’ with the humans is just based on that understanding. Kong just wants to go home, and he’s used as some means to an end by some people who don’t see him other than a beast. Jia (Kaylee Hottle), Ilene’s adopted daughter, forms a connection with him through sign language. While Kong is a titan, he’s our link to feeling somewhat close to these creatures that could squash us at any moment.
Godzilla vs. Kong doesn’t hold back on the action. As the last bit of setup concludes in the first act, the destruction and confrontation begin. There are a few times that these two storied characters go toe-to-toe – including an extended last act. You feel every punch and the weight of crumbling buildings. Ben Seresin‘s cinematic style goes in a way where the audience takes the point of view of each titan. The camera positions itself to show how massive these fights are. It’s a film that’s primed for the most optimal viewing experience. The score from Tom Holkenborg remixes old themes and uses them to heighten scenes to an elevated level. With every fight, there’s a winner and loser. Wingard acknowledges this while making sure that each of these characters have their moment of strength.
A major thing that this monster verse had trouble wrestling with was the balance between the human and monster characters. Audiences ultimately want to see the titans in action, but you have to have connective threads to get there. It could be as simple as them just wanting to fight each other with a string of bombastic action sequences. However, the payoff is better when you give audiences a reason to care – perhaps someone to root for. Godzilla vs. Kong is a movie that understands why the viewer is here. The film provides just enough motivation for its human elements where it doesn’t complicate or dominate things. With that, they come together to make good on the fight of epic proportions.
Photo Credit: Legendary Entertainment