The first big blockbuster of the summer has arrived (yes, even in these times Hollywood considers the summer season to start at the end of March). As the title suggests, Godzilla Vs Kong sees the two big monsters of cinema meet face-to-face in a battle for supremacy. We find Kong isolated in a domed Skull Island, monitored by anthropologist Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) on behalf of corporation Monarch.
When Godzilla attacks a research base unprovoked, Monarch recruits scientist Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) to lead an expedition into The Hollow Earth, a realm beneath the Earth’s surface where the titans came from. Using Kong to lead the way, Andrews and Lind find the entry to Kong’s ancestral home, but run into an irate Godzilla along the way. As battle ensues, the humans on the ground discover Godzilla’s reasons for attacking may not be as random as they seem.
Believe it or not, there is a plan behind all this. The two modern Godzilla films and 2016’s Kong: Skull Island are all part of Legendary Studios’ MonsterVerse (doesn’t that just roll off the tongue?), all taking place in the same world and same timeline. It’s one of the few attempts at mimicking Marvel’s shared universe model that has had momentum, although in fairness these characters are somewhat easier to combine (as Ken Watanabe famously said in the first film, you just “let them fight”).
The action scenes turn up the fun factor, with our digital stars duking it out in rich, colourful locations in fights that feel meaningful and satisfying. Director Adam Wingard (The Guest) has been quoted as saying he approached these characters like 80s action stars, and their meetings do have the feel of two grizzled tough guys squaring off.
The previous films often had a slow build to the monster’s reveal, but didn’t really know where to go once the beast was found. This subverts the issue, with Kong’s face being the first we see, and crucially a plot that makes the cast members more than highly paid spectators. There’s a Journey To The Centre of The Earth-style adventure in the second act, and even when the film gives itself over to endless action sequences, it feels like there’s something at stake. Winward goes big with everything, including the moral messaging. It will be surprising to no one that there’s a subplot about how mankind’s greed is the true monster, and there are two groups of characters who keep themselves busy for the most part.
Oscar nominee Hall joins this franchise’s legacy of prestige actors who turn up for the cheque (Juliette Binoche, Bryan Cranston, Sally Hawkins, Brie Larson…). It’s a role vastly beneath her talents, but she approaches everything earnestly and gets the job done. Angular hunk Skarsgård feels miscast as a nerdy scientist, and is there to explain the theory and form a bond with Hall.
There are numerous wobbles that pop up. The cutesy moments between Hall’s adopted daughter (Kaylee Hottle) and Kong are a bit cringey, while a secondary plot involving King of Monsters’ Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) only seems to be there for comic relief. However, such flaws feel less important in a film that encourages you to sit back and enjoy the chaos.
The film has a bigger problem than story or action. It’s that, if you are intending to see this film the day of release, it will be at home (the film will be shown once cinemas hopefully re-open in May). At their heart, these are the archetypal popcorn movies. Godzilla and King Kong are meant to be absorbed on a huge screen, with ear-splitting surround sound and little regard for plot. Watching the action unfold on your TV, as it did for this review, feels a little bit like a birthday party held over zoom. Yes, you’re going to probably have a good time, but there’s something missing.
An absence of any credits scene suggests this may be the final chapter in the saga, and if it is then Godzilla Vs Kong is not a bad way to go out. Leaning into its ludicrous nature was a smart move, delivering exactly what it says on the tin with just enough plot to keep you from looking at your phone. We’d suggest waiting until you can view it on the biggest screen possible, but if you opt for on demand there are worse ways to spend your money.
Godzilla Vs Kong is available on demand now.