The Legendary Monsterverse has, unlike the last Western attempt at doing a Godzilla film with the 1996 film, has lead from the get-go with the monster fights. Even Kong: Skull Island had the climax of the film be a fight between Kong and the largest of the Skull Crawlers. So, when the film series made it clear that yes, Kong and Godzilla were taking place in the same universe (both with the involvement of Monarch and Skull Island‘s stinger), it was clear that somewhere down the road – Godzilla and Kong were going to have to rumble. And when the time comes for that brawl, you might as well make the main event the title – Godzilla vs Kong.
It’s interesting, with Godzilla vs Kong – not that the film takes its time getting to the big fight, that’s kind of to be expected – but how it brings back some of the old tropes from the Showa era, particularly related to the human plot. Godzilla films have always, to varying degrees, had a human plot underlying the story. However, the Heisei era films and even some of the Showa films ended up introducing varying degrees of plot that are very peripheral to why the monsters are fighting. There’ve been plots with gangsters, corrupt businessmen, mad scientists, and international intrigue that have been only peripherally related to why these two kaiju need to beat the crap out of each other. Here, things are very up front on the human plot as to being directly related to figuring out why the kaiju are fighting.
Indeed, for all that fans on the internet piss and moan about the very presence of anyone under 2 meters and over a half meter in height in a Kaiju film (and sometimes even the people in the last group, for those people who hate Mothra) but the Legendary Monsterverse has a pretty solid focus on keeping their human plots being kaiju-centric. Even the 2014 Godzilla film had its human characters related to the military response to Godzilla, with the protagonist’s wife being a point of view character who was a citizen who was in the way of the fight. To put it another way – Monarch, and the peripheral characters in this series of films, exist to give a view from the ground of the kaiju.
Godzilla vs Kong itself puts us more or less 4 years after the events of Godzilla: King of the Monsters. After several years of quiet from Godzilla and the other Kaiju, The Big G has started attacking research facilities related to a company called Apex. Meanwhile, the perpetual storm around Skull Island has contracted, reducing Kong’s habitat considerably, and killing most of the locals except for, basically, one small girl who is deaf and communicates with the Monarch research staff and Kong with sign language.
Apex is convinced that the Hollow Earth (a concept that was discussed in Skull Island and expanded on further as being somewhat plausible in King of the Monsters) would have a power source that would let them create a countermeasure for Godzilla, and also provide a new habitat for Kong, and they get Monarch to agree to take Kong to a known gateway to the Hollow Earth. Meanwhile, Madison Russell (from King of the Monsters – still played by Millie Bobbie Brown) has been listening to a conspiracy theory podcast run by a guy named Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), which suspects that Apex’s countermeasure is drawing out Godzilla, and she ropes her High School classmate Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison) into finding Bernie and investigating Apex.
And it turns out that Apex’s countermeasure is what’s drawing out Godzilla, but bring Kong out of hiding is also bringing Godzilla out for a fight as well, leading to a three way battle between Kong, Godzilla and the countermeasure in the middle of Hong Kong. Oh, and the Countermeasure – it’s MechaGodzilla. And it’s powered by King Ghidorah.
There’s so many little Kaiju easter eggs in that premise there. There’s Godzilla being drawn to specific targets to attack, as is the inciting event of so many Showa films in the series. There’s MechaGodzilla being operated using the skull, brain, and nervous system of a dead kaiju, to serve as an anti-Godzilla weapon like with the Heisei MechaGodzilla, but because it’s King Ghidorah instead of Godzilla, there’s also elements of MechaGodzilla as an alien anti-Godzilla weapon. All of the Legendary Godzilla films so far have been made with a real sense of reverence for the legacy of the Godzilla franchise, and wanting to do right by it and to pay tribute to those who came before, and there’s definitely a sense of that with Godzilla vs. Kong.
The fight scenes are also generally well done, particularly the climactic fight between Kong and Godzilla in Hong Kong. The choreography for the Hong Kong fight does a good job of taking advantage of the fact that because the kaiju are in CGI, this also means that the choreography doesn’t have to operate from the perspective that none of the adjacent buildings can support the monster’s weight, and instead can have Kong use a more quick, agile, and acrobatic style as a counter to Godzilla. Kong bobs, weaves, and jumps between buildings to close the distance on Godzilla, and from there to use close in fighting to keep Godzilla’s breath neutralized.
The problem is that the camera work does a not great job at handling a sense of geography for the fight. There’s never quite a good sense of how far apart the Kaiju are, and how much of a distance they need to close. When an axe of Kong’s is knocked away, we don’t have a sense of where that axe is to either of the participants in the fight, so we can’t tell when the axe can come back into play, and in turn building tension.
On the human side, there’s, well, the conspiracy theorist – Bernie. Bernie is on the money with Apex – and then he spouts all sorts of other conspiracy theories. The shitty ones. Ones like the anti-fluoridation ones, and David Icke’s conspiracy theory (which is based in turn off of an anti-semitic conspiracy theory). It’s the kind of thing that you could have probably played for laughs 5 years ago.
However, it’s a lot less funny when conspiracy theory nuts are trying to shoot journalists (who are BIPOC) that are trying to cover wildfires less than 15 miles from your home because a conspiracy nutjob said that Antifa was starting wildfires (they weren’t). It’s less funny when believers in a conspiracy theory that is the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the Blood Libel with the serial numbers filed off storm the US capitol to stop the ratification of election results that would remove a racist and fascist aspiring autocrat from office after a single term. It’s less funny when you’re in a global pandemic that’s kept you from going out to meet with your friends, kept you from going to conventions, and has kept you from being able to see some family members in person for over a year – and the conspiracy nutjobs are spreading bullshit that claims that the pandemic is a hoax.
It turns what would have been a chunk of the storyline that made me roll my eyes, and instead made it very uncomfortable. It’s not helped that the character ends up being very fundamentally important to the storyline, so it’s not like you can just tune out whenever they’re on screen.
The rest of the Legendary Monsterverse was an unquestioned recommendation for me, so I wanted this film to be the same way. Sadly, the character of Bernie Hayes makes the film a lot less enjoyable to watch – and puts an asterisk on my recommendation for the film.
Godzilla vs Kong had been available for streaming on HBO Max for the past couple of months (as of this writing on April 30th, 2021), but that expired at the end of April 2021. Unfortunately, it’s not available for pre-order yet. I will update this review with an Amazon link once it becomes available.
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