If the idea of King Kong using a skyscraper to push his dislocated shouler back into place thrills you, this might be your thing. It delivers exactly on what it promises, so long as you switch your brain off.
Big fights between big names always do gangbuster business. Whether its Mayweather vs Pacquiao or Batman vs Superman, brand names smashing the living daylights out of each other has an immense appeal. Enter Godzilla vs Kong, the fourth entry in Warner Bros’ ‘Monsterverse’ franchise that sees an amphibious nuclear dinosaur fight a big monkey. The film’s title does an excellent job at explaining the content to be honest.
The road to Godzilla vs Kong has been an odd one. It started with 2014’s Godzilla, a mature, Nolanised take on the Japanese icon that largely deprived audiences of its eponymous character. In 2017 came the exceedingly fun B-movie Kong: Skull Island which brought Hollywood’s legendary ape into the same universe, and at a far greater size than ever seen before. 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters was a critical and commercial failure despite its notable attempts at listening to its predecessor’s flaws. Luckily, Godzilla vs Kong was already in production, so the financial shortcomings did not affect this. And what luck that was, because this is the most preposterously enjoyable blockbuster since Mission Impossible: Fallout.
People don’t go to independent films for their innovative CGI, and nor should people go into a film literally called ‘Godzilla vs Kong’ expecting a tightly woven script peppered with three-dimensional characters. The characters are as minimal as possible to make room for the earth-shaking monster brawls, but in the words of Obi-wan Kenobi “… that’s… why I’m here.”
The plot, as irrelevant as it is, concerns the journey undertaken by Kong and his human allies to the centre of the earth in order to combat Godzilla, who has begun attacking the labs of the-definitely-not-crooked company Apex Cybernetics. On Team Kong there’s Alexander Skarsgard, Rebecca Hall, and Kaylee Hottle as Jia, a deaf child whose unique relationship with Kong is the emotional crux of the film as both are the last native inhabitants of Skull Island. Trying to uncover the purpose of Godzilla’s rogue antics is a returning Millie Bobbie Brown and two comic-relief sidekicks played by Julian Dennison and Brian Tyree Henry. The human scenes are ultimately equivalent to the adverts before during and after a televised sporting match: you endure them patiently because the good stuff is just around the corner.
There have been many ‘vs’ films across the decades: Aliens vs Predator, Freddy vs Jason, Kramer vs Kramer (well, maybe not that one) but the problem most of these films have is that they never fully embrace the action of their title, and instead flirt around the edges of the concept or get bogged down with other story strands. Director Adam Wingard (the fourth low-budget indie director to be handed the reins for an enormous blockbuster within the franchise) commits entirely to the titular premise, introducing the rivals immediately. It’s then barely forty minutes in before the two juddering juggernauts are smacking each other senseless, and then the final forty minutes ramps things up even more for the sensational third act. The sparkling marketing campaign and the ludicrous premise have been spoofed and memed in the build-up to it, and its nice to see the film enjoy itself as much as the trailers do (take notes The Meg). The film knows what it is, and what it needs to be (and even goes so far as to give us a winner).
Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest) directs the mayhem with absolute clarity. Unlike King of the Monsters, this is gloriously radiant in its colours and maintains the staggering wide shots for as long as possible. One sequence in an eye-popping, neon-drenched Hong Kong sees the titans go at it for what might be the lengthiest monster fight without cutting to a human. It is utterly glorious, the type of blockbuster filmmaking fans of the franchise have been clamouring for: less people, more beautiful destruction (which is scored by another bombastic effort from Warner Bros’ regular Junkie XL). Aside from the scraps, the film’s second act unveils the mythical ‘Hollow Earth’ which really is cinema-worthy material. The gravity bending landscapes and enormous scale is as breath-taking as one would hope after three films of mentioning it. Such is the splendour of the visuals that the picture may as well be labelled ‘Money Shot: The Movie’.
Godzilla vs Kong has already become a massive success in a post-Covid film industry, showing that where Christopher Nolan and Wonder Woman failed, it took two of cinema’s oldest icons turning buildings into dust to get the industry going again. If this is indeed the end of this fun crossover franchise, then what a vital piece of escapism (particualarly for the current climate) to go out on. Despite being between Godzilla and King Kong, the real winner here is film. Who on earth would have thought it?