Adam Wingard gets his turn to direct a film featuring famous giant monsters and you may have already heard from a lot of people who are delighted with how Godzilla vs. Kong plays out. I enjoyed it, particularly the fun little moments that seemed to reference other movies (there's a particularly enjoyable Jaws reference during the first major encounter), but there are some things stopping it from being the film that finally gets everything right in this developed Monsterverse.
Let's get the plot out of the way first. A big corporation, Apex, want to find a way down and into the Hollow Earth, a space underneath us where the titans may have originated. They hope to find a powerful energy source down there, and the best way of making it there is to follow Kong, who has been kept in a containment unit near Skull Island that looks generally pretty similar to Skull Island. This leads to some Monarch staff (mainly Ilene Andrews, played by Rebecca Hall) journeying with a scientist (Nathan Lind, played by Alexander Skarsgård) and some Apex bods to a place where they can drop off Kong, and hopefully follow him down into the Hollow Earth. But transporting Kong may alert Godzilla to his presence, which could lead to a fight between the two of them. There's also a little deaf girl (Jia, played by Kaylee Hottle) who can communicate with Kong, and the return of Madison Russell (Mille Bobby Brown), who teams up with a friend (Josh, played by Julian Dennison) and a podcaster/Apex-insider (Bernie, played by Brian Tyree Henry) to find out what is behind the recent resurgence of Godzilla, and his attack on a specific Apex site.
What I've just summarised there is pretty much everything you need to know about the plot of Godzilla vs. Kong. In fact, if you were to miss large sections of the movie and only saw the fight scenes then you could thank me for keeping you up to date. It's understandable that this is a film that plots everything out as an excuse to give viewers scenes with the two titans battling one another. That's the selling point, and Wingard definitely delivers on that front.
The action is nicely shot, enough of the surrounding environment has some weight to it as it all gets demolished, and there is a smooth and clear approach that allows you to enjoy the loud noises and spectacle without getting a headache. No small feat.
The screenplay, by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein, is nonsense, but it's nonsense that is generally perfectly acceptable for this kind of thing. The science seems vaguely plausible, the characters work together, or fight one another, for believable reasons, and everything kills time in between the moments of mass destruction. It's a shame, however, that the script feels the need to include the characters of Madison, Josh, and Brian. Their inclusion feels completely unnecessary, and moments featuring them could have easily been transferred to other characters. It would have also saved us from some of the worst of the acting, which I'll get to next.
In the Kong-centric narrative strand, the cast do well with what they're given. Skarsgård is likeable and has the right motives for his actions, Hall feels very much like a perfect fit for her character, and young Hottle shines in the moments that highlight her smallness against the giant figure of Kong. Eiza González also works well, the company figure along to make sure any decisions made protect the Apex investment. Elsewhere, sadly, the acting ranges from poor to downright abysmal. Demián Bichir is Walter Simmons, heading up Apex, and is basically asked to act as if he's wearing a monocle and twirling a moustache. Then you have that aforementioned trio. Henry is good fun, but Dennison is wasted (it's the only film I have seen him in so far where I didn't warm to his character), and Brown is so bad at times that I was waiting for her to "break character" onscreen and show that she was playing someone trying to emulate tough and determined from characters she'd seen in other movies. She doesn't, which means the moments with her over-acting to show she is tough and determined are actually choices made for the performance. She's never been that bad in anything else, which leaves me to wonder whether she'll struggle to transition into other non-Stranger Things roles, or whether Wingard was just not great at directing his cast.
But the action delivers, and that's what a lot of people wanted from this film. It's what a lot of people wanted from all of the films in this Monsterverse, but different approaches elsewhere have led to wildly varying results. Personally, I prefer the first two movies in this cinematic series, but this has a number of highlights that are undeniably pleasing for fans of the featured titans (including a third "fighter" that was obvious to anyone who looked more closely at some of the trailers).
Watch it, enjoy it, have a big bowl of popcorn with it, and don't overthink any of the plot details. I'll happily buy it when it becomes available, but I still much prefer the stranger pleasures of Shin Godzilla.
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