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‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ a satisfying title fight

April 1, 2021
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If you want to argue that too many of today’s blockbusters spring from blown-out franchises and IP cinematic universes, I’m not going to stop you. It’s clear that big-budget moviemaking has become almost exclusively a realm of CGI and superheroes and the like. Everything is loud and overlarge. It’s a fair point.

Counterpoint: Sometimes you just want to see giant monsters fight.

“Godzilla vs. Kong” is the fourth entry in the Warner Brothers self-styled MonsterVerse (it’s also the 36th Godzilla movie and the 12th King Kong movie, if you’re into that sort of thing), bringing together these heavyweights of giant monster cinema. Directed by Adam Wingard and currently available both in theaters and via HBO Max, it’s the sort of lumpy tentpole sequel that slots nicely into the overall development of the franchise. It’s big and a little convoluted and quite fun, albeit maybe just a little stingy with the aforementioned monster fighting.

It’s a big swing at progressing the overall universe even as it gives audiences the showdown they want. Whether those efforts at expansion prove fruitful remains to be seen – things get a little muddy and tough to follow in spots – but it’s a valiant attempt. And while some of the narrative subplots don’t work as well as others, the overall payoff is worth it.

The Titan Kong is being held under observation, living under a giant dome that encloses his Skull Island home. Project Monarch, the once-secret organization devoted to, among other things, the study of the enormous ancient apex predators known as Titans, is keeping him under wraps in an effort to prevent the inevitable face-off between Kong and Godzilla. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall, TV’s “Tales from the Loop”) is in charge of the project, while young Jia (Kaylee Hottle in her debut) is the only person Kong fully trusts.

Concurrently, you have Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry, “Superintelligence”), an employee at robotics giant Apex Cybernetics. Host of a Titans conspiracy podcast, Bernie believes that Apex is hiding information about the giant creatures and is trying to access the computer system for proof. As he tries to put his plan into place, Godzilla attacks the facility unprovoked, leaving chaos and destruction in his wake.

Apex CEO Walter Simmons (Demian Bechir, “Land”) recruits disgraced scientist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard, TV’s “The Stand”) to lead an expedition into the Hollow Earth, home to the Titans. Lind in turn meets with Andrews and convinces her to allow Kong out of the dome to lead them all there.

Meanwhile, Madison Russell (Millie Bobbie Brown, “Enola Holmes”) – daughter of noted Godzilla expert Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler, “The Midnight Sky”) – has enlisted her friend Josh (Julian Dennison, “The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two”) to join her in tracking down Bernie, who she believes is onto something with what he’s exploring in his podcast.

Each of these groups chasing different ideas down different paths, but slowly, it becomes clear that all of these paths will eventually lead to the same destination; whether they go to a domed island or an underground factory bunker or even inside the Earth itself, there’s no avoiding the inevitable endpoint. And in the middle of it all, the fate of the world teeters as two Titans are drawn together, forced by biological imperative to do battle and establish their dominance over the world.

I could go on about the various plot machinations, but despite the convoluted nature of it all, the reality is that a good chunk of it simply doesn’t matter. Obviously, you’re hoping for an engaging narrative, but no one is showing up for a movie titled “Godzilla vs. Kong” for the story.

You’re here to watch them fight. It’s OK to just say that. As I said earlier, sometimes you just want to see some giant monsters throw down. And in that respect, “Godzilla vs. Kong” delivers, though perhaps not as fully as one might have wanted.

Now, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful – the climactic showdown in this movie absolutely delivers the goods. I just could have used a little less expository wandering and a little more monster punching. We get a couple of teases before the main event, but the overall experience would have benefitted from a more effective exploitation of those earlier moments. A relatively minor quibble, but worth noting.

For a first-timer in a blockbuster’s driver’s seat, Adam Wingard handles his business decently. The split storyline gets a little busy at points and the resulting noise muddles the middle of the film somewhat, but for the most part, the storytelling needs are met. The biggest issue is when one of these subplots (I’m looking at you, Maddie/Bernie) bogs down the pacing of the film; it just feels a bit like unnecessary braking. There are a few issues with consistency that might cause you to scratch your head a little.

But again, once you get to the title fight, most if not all sins are forgiven. This is the faceoff you paid to see and the film gives you your money’s worth in ways that I’m not at liberty to say – no spoilers. But it’s big and explosive, a building-sized brawl that thoroughly scratches the itch. Two enormous icons, leaving it all on the field and giving their all for the fans.

The cast is the right kind of overqualified. Hall is typically great, even as she’s delivering some truly bonkers dialogue. Hottle is charming in a way that belies her lack of both dialogue and experience. Henry captures that particular brand of sweatiness that only a certain type of too-online guy can achieve. Brown is a talented actor, but this part does her no favors – there’s little there, though she does her best. Skarsgard does fine with a part that two dozen other guys could have played just as well; “generic disgraced scientist” isn’t a tough one. Bechir gets there a couple of times, but he doesn’t get enough to do. Chandler is barely here. Again – loads of talent, but a lot of it kind of wasted.

“Godzilla vs. Kong” is an imperfect blockbuster. But it IS a blockbuster, which is something that is frankly wonderful to see. It’s got the scale and the fanfare and the epic vibe. It’s just BIG, and it has been a while since we got to experience a big movie. It might take its time getting to where you want it to go, but once it arrives, you’ll be glad you took the journey.

In the battle of “Godzilla vs. Kong,” the real winner is us.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Thursday, 01 April 2021 11:20

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