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Film Review: In “Godzilla vs. Kong,” the Monsters Rule

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | March 30th, 2021

Film poster: “Godzilla vs. Kong”

Godzilla vs. Kong (Adam Wingard, 2021) 2½ out of 4 stars.

The giant primate known as Kong is unhappy. Though he remains on his beloved Skull Island, somewhere in the South Pacific, he is trapped inside a protective shield, built by the humans who observe him to prevent the monster Godzilla from sensing his presence. Should the two apex predators come into contact, it is believed, based on codified legend, that they would fight either to the death or until one submits to the other. So begins Godzilla vs. Kong, from director Adam Wingard (Blair Witch), the fourth entry in Legendary Entertainment’s “MonsterVerse” series, which started with the 2014 Godzilla, continued with the 2017 Kong: Skull Island, and then added still more creatures to the mix with the 2019 Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Now the parallel narratives merge, with epic battles and massive destruction galore. If CGI mayhem is your thing, bring it on.

Since I missed the third movie, I was initially at a bit of a loss to understand all the context here, playing catch up to learn who was who, though there are plenty of new characters, as well. Rebecca Hall (Permission) plays Ilene Andrews, in charge of Kong’s restricted area. Her constant companion is an adopted local girl, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), whose parents are now dead; Kong apparently saved her, and the two share a special bond. Alexander Skarsgård (Hold the Dark), meanwhile, stars as Nathan Lind, a scholar of the Hollow Earth theory that posits that our planet’s core is not filled with extremely hot molten material, but rather a lost world once inhabited by Titans. For those uninitiated into this fantastical cinematic galaxy, Titans are the species of gargantuan creatures of which Godzilla and his dinosaur-like brethren are a part. I know, it’s a lot of exposition to remember.

l-r: Millie Bobby Brown, Julian Dennison and Brian Tyree Henry in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure GODZILLA VS. KONG, a Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures release.

Millie Bobby Brown (Enola Holmes) returns from the last film as Madison Russell, fascinated by the podcasts put out by the mysterious (and to her, as yet unknown) Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry, Widows). Her dead mother and still-alive father (Kyle Chandler, Game Night) are/were somehow involved in the monitoring of Godzilla and company (you’ll have to watch Part 3 to learn what happened), so she has a vested interest of her own to find out as much as she can about the Titans. Bernie is an employee of Apex Cybernetics, run by overly greedy (aren’t they all?) CEO Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir, Land), and he knows there is dangerous corruption afoot, which is the subject of his show. When, just after the opener with Kong, Godzilla destroys the Florida factory of Apex, Hayes’s suspicions are proven true. Why else would the heretofore peaceful (to most humans) Titan attack now? That, indeed, is the dramatic question, and soon Madison joins him in his investigation.

Kong in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure GODZILLA VS. KONG, a Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures release.

How does it all come together (and don’t worry, there are even more folks involved)? Simmons hires Lind to approach Andrews (a friend) and convince her to transport Kong to Antarctica, where an ostensible entrance to Hollow Earth exists. They believe that the huge simian will follow the ancestral call (if their theories are correct) and descend to the Earth’s center, where a powerful energy source is rumored to lie, one that Simmons claims he wants to use to save humanity from its current crisis. Do we believe him? What do you think? Along the way, Godzilla does, as Andrews feared, sense Kong once off the island, and the titular battle takes place, many times over. Whatever the lunacy of the worldbuilding (and my head still hurts from typing all of the above), the fight scenes are impressively rendered.

l-r: Alexander Skarsgård, Rebecca Hall and Kaylee Hottle in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure GODZILLA VS. KONG, a Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures release.

And yet, that turns out not to be the primary attraction. Rather, it is the beautifully animated faces of Kong and his rival that move and wow the most. As superficially drawn as the humans are, the monsters pull on our heartstrings, even while wreaking maximum damage to all in their wake (the collateral body and building count is high). We care about the outcome of their conflict, though a final twist makes it easy to guess how it all will end. Not a brilliant film by any definition, Godzilla vs. Kong is nevertheless extremely solid entertainment.

l-r: Godzilla fights Kong in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure GODZILLA VS. KONG, a Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures release.
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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is a former cohost of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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