1 hour 53 minutes
Now playing in theaters and on HBO Max
Starting in 2014 with a boots-on-the-ground reboot of Godzilla, Legendary’s MonsterVerse now culminates with Godzilla vs. Kong, an intermittently fun slugfest that embraces the schlock of past creature features but still has too much thickheaded filler to recommend.
The franchise’s previous entry, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, was the kind of wall-to-wall melee that I wanted from this universe, packed with all sorts of mythical baddies for the oversized lizard to tango with. After only one standalone movie to his name, Kong: Skull Island in 2017, Kong deserved another sequel to bridge the gap between that film’s 1970s setting and present day. Instead, director Adam Wingard hastily shoehorns in decades of dense exposition just so we can see the two beasts duke it out. But the brawl simply doesn’t feel earned within this fictional cinematic world.
We catch up with the titular oversized gorilla as he appears to be living out his days on his home of Skull Island until we find that he’s actually residing inside a dome made to resemble the magical isle. It turns out Kong is actually being protected by the tech company Monarch from Godzilla, who laid waste to many a titan in the events of King of the Monsters and would have no compunction about taking Kong out of the picture as well.
When Godzilla attacks the headquarters of Apex Cybernetics, another tech company looking to control the monsters, its founder Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir) seeks out theoretical geologist Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) to journey to the center of the Hollow Earth for solutions to their colossal calamity.
It’s often said that people don’t go into these types of movies to fully invest in the human characters, since the monsters are so obviously the main attraction and the people below them are often casualties in the big showdowns anyway. For a movie that shouldn’t care much about them, Godzilla vs. Kong spends far too much time setting them up.
The most compelling by a mile are those played by Rebecca Hall and Kaylee Hottle, the former playing a Jane Goodall-type linguist and the latter her adopted daughter who lived with Kong on his native island. These should have been the two main characters in a Kong standalone film, who could have spent the entire movie assimilating the ape to his new surroundings, perhaps similarly to the way the MCU did with Captain America in 2014’s The Winter Soldier.
But of course Warner Bros., perpetually playing catch-up to Disney, rushed this franchise along too quickly and doesn’t have any time to set up Kong as his own entity. Instead, we have to spend time with King of the Monsters characters reprised by Millie Bobby Brown and Kyle Chandler, who are here to consider Godzilla’s motives and defend him against the shady Apex corporation. Along on that B-plot are Hunt for the Wilderpeople standout Julian Dennison and the always welcome Brian Tyree Henry, playing a conspiratorial podcaster who manages a few funny lines along the way. If that wasn’t enough, we also get an Apex operative played by the stunning Eiza González, who oversees Skarsgård and Hall in their The Core-like mission with Kong to the Earth’s center.
If you don’t care about any of this and just want to see some cool fights, then the film at least delivers on that front but really only on two occasions. The first big set piece, where Kong and Godzilla fight at sea atop aircraft carriers, features spectacular daytime CGI and makes interesting use of its unconventional setting.
The final showdown, comprising most of the film’s final act, shows Wingard doubling (tripling?) down on the garish neon aesthetic of his 2014 indie The Guest as the titular titans pick off the brightly-lit Hong Kong skyline building by building.
Godzilla vs. Kong technically makes good on its title but would have been much more satisfying had the producers taken their time to build up the stakes and set up the disparities between the competing colossuses.
New Movies Coming This Weekend
Streaming on Netflix is Thunder Force, a superhero comedy starring Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer about two estranged childhood best friends who reunite after one devises a treatment that gives them superpowers to protect their city.
Opening in theaters is Voyagers, a sci-fi drama starring Tye Sheridan and Lily-Rose Depp about a crew of astronauts who succumb to paranoia and madness while on a multi-generational space mission.
Available to rent on demand is Held, a horror thriller starring Jill Awbrey and Bart Johnson about a married couple on vacation who is terrorized by an unseen force controlling their smart home.
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