King Kong vs. Godzilla, released in 1963, proves more a great high concept than an actual film worth seeing. It serves up a fun international battle of monsters and surrounds it with a lot of sound and fury that signifies very little. The human characters are particularly irrelevant here. I have affection for it only because I was among the legion of kids who loved watching the old (and not so old) daikaiju films. Years later, with a newer kaiju series, made in the United States and featuring budgets greater than entire past series of such films, it was inevitable someone would stage this match again.
In the end, we once more have spectacle and very little else. The big ape dukes it out with the lizard king, and humanity gets caught in the middle. Representatives of humanity scurry about and do various things that service the plot.
The story sets the film's tone with a rather fun opening that turns dark. It holds together, but we quickly realize that the current series is following the classic daikaiju playbook: make the first film scary and serious, and then proceed into popcorn entertainment with outrageous plots, monster battles, and frequent splashes of humour.
An evil corporation monkeys with Things Humans Should Leave Alone and brings King Kong and Godzilla into conflict. In a twist which fans of TV wrestling and superheroes will see coming from the start, the two adversaries later join forces when they realize they face a more dangerous foe that threatens the world.
This film features more stunning effects than any daikaiju film in history, from the expressive, relatable Kong to the visually stunning world within the hollow earth.1 The fight scenes look great and, if you focus on those and don't really worry about anything else, you'll have a good time.
But it's lacking in other elements that would have made a better movie.
Godzilla vs. Kong piles on the ludicrous pseudoscience and absurdities, what with creatures several storeys high, the hollow earth, inverted gravity, and a credible online conspiracist. These are minor matters. Once you've decided to accept Kong and 'Zilla, the rest just slides into place. No, the flaws occur when the film fails within its own rules, and with characterization. Godzilla forgets about his fiery radioactive breath at the most inopportune times, using it only on those occasions when the movie finds a way for it to be temporarily ineffective. Otherwise, we would have Godzilla vs. Braised Gorilla. Meanwhile, a crazy guy and two untrained minors saunter into and traipse around multi-trillion-dollar secret facilities because these places have absolutely no effective security.
Then we have the character issue. I know we don't expect a lot of character development with kaiju, but a little less noise and a few more moments with characters would help. They have brilliantly desexualized the "Kong Girl" trope by making her a child, and Kaylee Hottle frequently outshines her big-name adult co-stars. Kong himself gives an effective and relatable performance with his CGI face. That friendship would have been an interesting one to develop further.
Other characters need to come a little less out of nowhere. Several accomplished thespians go through the motions because they haven't been given enough to do. Millie Bobby Brown and the Comic Relief Squad do well with their parts, silly and overly exposition-filled though they are. A few quiet moments with them might have grounded the movie.
Then we have the relationship between the title characters. The critical turning point in their relationship occurs with too little developed justification or motivation, recalling more than a little a similar moment in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Even the frequently silly Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) understood that, if you're going to humanize giant monsters, you have to give them relatable motivations.
It ends with a bucolic scene and an over-the-top musical moment. Adult viewers should consider bringing some wine, because the conclusion certainly supplies the cheese.
This film lacks the intensity and horror of the best kaiju movies. That said, you know what you're getting into when you decide to watch Godzilla vs. Kong, and it's pretty much this movie.
Director: Adam Wingard
Writers: Terry Rossio, Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields, Eric Pearson, and Max Borenstein
Alexander Skarsgård as
Earnest Guy Who Wins Us Over Nathan Lind
Millie Bobby Brown as
Obligatory Clever Kid Madison Russell
Rebecca Hall as
Sympathetic Scientist Ilene Andrews
Brian Tyree Henry as
Crazy Conspiracy Theorist Who's Actually Right Bernie Hayes
Demián Bichir as
Evil Corporate Megalomaniac Walter Simmons
Shun Oguri as
Bad Guy With Some Regrets Ren Serizawa
Eiza González as
Arrogant Villainness Maia Simmons
Julian Dennison as
Humorous Sidekick Josh Valentine
Kaylee Hottle as
Girl with whom Kong shares a bond Jia
Lance Reddick as
Key Figure with Minimal Screen Time Guillermin
Kyle Chandler as
Scientist from Previous Movie Mark Russell
Hakeem Kae-Kazim as
Officer Overshadowed by the Leads Admiral Wilcox
Ronny Chieng as Jay Wayne
John Pirruccello as Horace
Chris Chalk as Ben
Nick Turello, Conlan Casal, Brad McMurray as
Useless Red Shirts Apex Cybernetics Guards
Daniel Nelson as Hayworth
Priscilla Doueihy as Monarch Mission Tech
Kei Kudo as HEAV Pilot
Bradd Buckley as HEAV Pilot
1. I admit to feeling a little disappointed that, in an Easter Egg heavy film with a lot of impressive effects and a few special guest monsters, that the inner world did not feature any Meganulons, the gigantic subterranean insects introduced in the original Rodan. They have since appeared a couple of other times in kaiju films.