In Brief: Unbelievably good Godzilla and Kong fight scenes in an unbelievably bad movie.
I have lots of problems with Godzilla vs. Kong. I won’t be alone. Up front, it forces you to pick a favorite movie monster. I don’t know about you but I love them both and I don’t want to choose.
No one really does.
King Kong and Godzilla are among the most popular characters in monster movie history. Some — like me — will argue they are “the” most popular. The 1933 original King Kong is one of the best horror films ever made and is on my top-10 list of all-time favorite films.
It’s been fun to watch him evolve. In 88-years Kong has gone from being about 24-feet tall to something over 300-feet in height. Also not explained these days is how he rose from the dead after falling over 1,400 feet from the Empire State Building’s tip top. Nor has anyone explained how he rose from the dead nor in the other films that also saw his demise.
Godzilla came along in 1954. It’s been fun to watch him evolve, too. Among other things, Godzilla has grown bigger, less chunky and square and the creature’s spines and tail have grown He died in the original movie and — like Kong — has died in some of the sequels.
The original film was an instant hit. I liked it, too, and have continued to love the character through the parade of sequels.
Most Godzilla sequels were critical bombs. King Kong sequels have suffered the same fate. As bad as the follow-ups have been, the characters continue to rank high with me and most monster movie fans. By the way, Godzilla and King Kong originally met via a Japanese flick in 1962. It took an hour for their half-hearted battle to happen. That movie was a box-office success but ended up with a so-so rating from critics and audiences.
When titans meet, it ought to be spectacular.
The fight scenes in this movie — Godzilla vs. Kong — are just that. They spectacular on a cosmic scale. People in rubber suits tripping over toy cities are long gone and producers and directors doing this kind of film have access to creative suites that let them do incredible things with creatures such as these.
Director Adam Wingard is a master of special effects and he has rewritten the creature-feature special effects book. On a big screen Godzilla and his ape opponent are just short of out-of-this-world.
Too bad the story Wingard directs, isn’t.
Sometime after 2017’s Kong: Skull Island and 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, someone sets the used to be mankind loving and protectorate, Godzilla off. His rampage includes the destruction of cities and the death of people. Monster controllers — is that what you call them? — get involved and convince the authorities at Skull Island to let them use Kong to stop Godzilla.
By the way, Skull Island is now surrounded by some sort of a high tech building. Kong is not happy about that and continually, and violently, expresses that unhappiness. The island’s Kong whisperer is Ilene Andrews. She lives there with Jia, her young, adopted daughter.
Jia is deaf. She and her mom communicate via sign language. The kid — it turns out — has a gift. She can actually have conversations with her giant simian friend. No one else can.
The kid plays an important role in the plot. If you can call it one. The cause of Godzilla’s rampage has something to do with a mad scientist and something he needs from inner Earth to make humans dominant again.
You can argue this is kind of a sequel to both Godzilla: King of the Monsters and to Kong: Skull Island. I suppose it is but in reality, Godzilla vs. Kong is just a mish-mash story that has two famous monsters doing a toe-to-toe battle MMA style.
That’s the whole point. Who needs a story? There has to be one, of course, but very little effort is put into that part of the movie. The real reason for the film is the fight.
Addressing the sequel side of things, Kyle Chandler and Stranger Things star, Millie Bobby Brown reprise their roles from that film. She teams with a Clyde Lewis-like podcaster who knows a high tech firm is behind the evil unleashed upon the planet.
The film’s kids — like all movie kids — are such genius technology whizzes that they can outfox and outdo state-of-the-art security systems and Navy Seal-like guards while trying to expose the company’s misdeeds.
Brown is a Primetime Emmy nominee. So is Brian Tyree Henry who plays the podcaster.
On the non-sequel story, Kong’s handler is played by Rebecca Hall who picked up a Golden Globe several years ago. Alexander Skarsgard plays the scientist who convinces her to let Kong help and who is trying to find an inner Earth to give Kong the tools to win the battle against Godzilla. He has won both a Primetime Emmy and a Golden Globe.
It’s sad to see so much excellent acting talent wasted in a bland, nonsensical story.
The exact why of Kong going to the inner Earth is confusing. Much of that is because of the recording of the sound. It is so badly done that it’s really hard to understand what’s being said. I will admit to being a bit hard of hearing sometimes, but the people I watched it with are not. They, too, struggled to hear. Or to care.
Then there’s the mad scientist.
Ultimately, who cares about him? Or any of the characters for that matter? The film is packed with people plots and subplots but other than the two monsters, the only character you’ll find interesting is the little girl. She’s a doll and is played by Kaylee Hottle who really is deaf.
Fortunately, Hottle doesn’t have to say any lines. She’s lucky. The dialogue is horrible, and, as you’ve noted by now, the screenplay is so badly written that it’s hard to follow. Keeping track of everything and trying to care about any of these people is a pain.
That leads to the real star of Godzilla vs. Kong. It is Wingard. The battle Royale is the reason we’re all seeing this one. He and his special effects wizards spent a ton of money — and hired enough people to build a small city — and put together some really great fight scenes. Watching the two behemoths tossing each other about and smashing buildings, sinking ships and creating all kinds of chaos is a blast.
It’s what’s in between that sucks.
In a movie full of disappointments, this is the biggest. The story came from Terry Rossio, one of the main writers of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and Michael Dougherty and Zach Shields who came up with the idea for Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
I do not have information as to how much input they had with the screenplay. The actual writing of this disaster is courtesy of Eric Pearson who co-wrote the very good, Thor: Ragnarok and has been a script doctor for a the last two Avengers movies and Ant-Man, and Max Borenstein who co-wrote Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Kong: Skull Island.
All these writers are quite familiar with the two main characters and movies about them. Like most of us, they not only wrote about them but they grew up with them. After watching this, you’d think they’d never heard of either one. Worse, you’d think these decent — and one excellent — screenwriters have never written a movie. The writing is that bad.
It’s bad enough to make me wish they’d skipped making me decide which of these two excellent monster characters I want to see win a fight. I’m wishing — even harder and hope against hope — that they don’t insist on a rematch.
Director: Adam Wingard
Stars: Alexander Skarsgard, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bichir, Lance Riddick, Julian Dennison, Eiza Gonzalez, Shun Oguri
Rated PG-13 for mature themes, some scary scenes and violence. The monster battling special effects book gets a solid rewrite here. Too bad the story is awful and it’s awful right out of the chute. Kong battling is monkey big business designed to pack in bucks at the box office and via PPV. Give this one the bananas and a 1 1/2 on the Friday Flicks with Gary o to 5 scale.
You can find Godzilla vs. Kong at a few local Portland/Vancouver area theaters and on HBO Max.
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.