Dir: Adam Wingard. Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza González, Julian Dennison. 12A, 113 mins
Godzilla vs Kong is a film hungry for the big screen. It should be a full-body, collective endeavour, where audiences gather around a cinematic boxing ring and watch two cultural icons duke it out. But, in its favour – and to the credit of horror director Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest) – that thrill isn’t entirely lost now that it can only be experienced at home.
As someone who’s firmly Team Godzilla, I still cheered when the overgrown iguana tried to drown Kong somewhere in the Antarctic Ocean, and cried out in despair when his ape nemesis suplexed him in the middle of downtown Hong Kong. As the climax of a bitty and uneven franchise, Godzilla vs Kong is profoundly silly – and all the more enjoyable for it.
We’re a long way from 2014’s Godzilla, the first outing in Legendary’s short-lived MonsterVerse. That film did well to grasp the baseline terror of studio Toho’s original creation – a demonic manifestation of the trauma Japan suffered after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Wingard’s film is a $200m iteration of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, but doesn’t find itself dragged down by the excesses of the MonsterVerse’s other, equally frivolous entries. This doesn’t feature the crass Vietnam references of Kong: Skull Island (2017) or the visual incoherence of a rain-soaked San Francisco in Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019).
Why do Kong and Godzilla want to fight? The words “ancient rivalries” are periodically brought up – and that’s all we get. True to form, the human characters are still pointless. What’s most confusing about Godzilla vs Kong is that everyone is so casually introduced that it implies we should already know them and be invested in their fates. There are only two familiar faces here, King of the Monsters’s rebellious teen Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) and her father (Kyle Chandler), a higher-up in the mysterious Monarch organisation. The rest – including Madison’s dorky friend Josh (Julian Dennison), conspiracy podcaster Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), reclusive scientist Dr Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) and “Kong Whisperer” Dr Andrews (Rebecca Hall) – all seem transplanted from previous films that exist only in some parallel reality.
What they’re all meant to be doing is equally unclear. Madison, Josh, and Bernie try to work out why Godzilla’s reemerged, while Dr Lind and Dr Andrews have Kong guide them to the Earth’s core, which they believe contains a formidable power source. It’s a Jules Verne-inspired detour, of sorts, that’s surprisingly imaginative. It’s all filler between the monster fights, but these scenes are so airheaded that they’re at least fun. Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein’s script is profoundly illogical to the point of delirium, while the sets are all trimmed with neon lights so everyone looks like they’re at a cyberpunk-themed laser tag.
What’s most important about Godzilla vs Kong is how it treats its monsters, who have long lost the mystique of their initial outings. Now they finally feel like fleshed-out characters. The film’s opening is soundtracked by Bobby Vinton’s “Over the Mountain, Across the Sea”, and lovingly takes us through Kong’s morning routine: a yawn, a butt scratch, a waterfall shower. Amusingly, the ape has been written to be something of everyman here, like Die Hard’s John McClane, to the point he even gets his own leaping-out-of-the-way-of-an-explosion moment. Godzilla, with his beady eyes and constant screaming, is more like a very large, very angry chihuahua.
When they do fight, the limb-flinging, body-slamming nature of it all feels somewhat realistic, even if one participant does regularly shoot atomic breath out of his mouth. No one could possibly accuse this film of taking itself too seriously – and that’s Godzilla vs Kong’s greatest strength.