Godzilla vs. Kong Review: Attack of the Titans (Again)

If a slightly unkempt, vitamin D-challenged graybeard showed up at your door in 1985, wildly claiming that he was a time traveler from 2021 where he just watched a $200M big-budget blockbuster co-starring the kaiju supremes, Godzilla, King of the Monsters, and Kong, King of Skull Island, chances are you’d shove him out of the way, steal his time machine/portal, and head back to the future. Luckily for us, it’s not 1985 anymore and we don’t need a time machine to see Godzilla vs. Kong, the fourth and hopefully not last entry in the MonsterVerse series. It all kicked off in 2014 with Godzilla, spun-off with Kong: Skull Island three years later, and continued with Godzilla: King of the Monsters in 2019. It was a glorious time to be a kaiju super-fan. It still is.

Picking up several years after Godzilla: King of the Monsters, most of the kaiju (“Titans”) have either slipped quietly into the witness-protection program or found themselves on the wrong side of Godzilla’s atomic breath. Godzilla may reign supreme over the natural world as a so-called “apex predator,” but Kong, sequestered away in a simulated environment or battle-dome resembling the now uninhabitable Skull Island, remains Godzilla’s biggest rival for the heavyweight kaiju title. That’s all well and good, but Kong, a bit bulkier and definitely grayer since we last saw him, has begun to grow restless within the confines of the faux-Skull Island. Not even a world-renowned “Kong Whisperer,” Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), or her adopted daughter, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), a deaf preteen with a Mighty Joe Young-inspired link with Kong and the only survivor of Skull Island’s indigenous population, can keep Kong permanently in check.

Kong doesn’t have to wait long, though, before he awakens on a giant barge, chained and drugged, on his way to Antarctica. His latest journey is courtesy of the combined resources of the Monarch Organization, a super-secret, kaiju-centered, international organization, and Apex Cybernetics, an industrial, high-tech company run by the Elon Musk-like Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir) and his self-entitled daughter, Maya (Eiza González). In Antarctica, Monarch and Apex hope to exploit Jia’s relationship with Kong to convince the giant ape to lead them on an underground expedition to a potential power source that could solve all of the world’s energy problems (shades of King Kong Escapes, among others).

In a parallel storyline, Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), along with her father, Mark (Kyle Chandler), one of the only holdovers from Godzilla: King of the Monsters, believe that Godzilla’s apparently unmotivated attacks, must have some kind of rationale. Along with her best friend/semi-comic-relief, Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison), Madison becomes convinced a hyperactive, conspiracy theorist and podcaster, Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), either has the answers she needs or can lead Madison and Josh to those answers. Together, they break into Apex Cybernetics’ Florida HQ with minimal effort and began the figurative and literal journey that will eventually see their story converge with everyone else’s in Hong Kong, the site for Godzilla and Kong’s final, city-smashing battle.

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Working from a kaiju-first, people-last script credited to five writers, including Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein, director Adam Wingard (The Guest, You’re Next) unapologetically embraces the MonsterVerse’s more outrageous science-fiction ideas. He draws on decades of Godzilla and Kong films of varying quality and/or absurdity, not to mention ideas unironically borrowed from, among others, Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Godzilla vs. Kong keeps an overstuffed plot lurching forward in fevered motion from the moment the audience gets their first look at a middle-aged Kong through the last moments where the survivors take their leave of the kaiju who’ve carelessly destroyed their cities but somehow managed to spare their lives.

As Godzilla vs. Kong periodically reminds us, it’s a kaiju world’s after all. We just live in it, often at the kaiju’s pleasure. It’s a lesson Simmons, a seemingly benevolent billionaire with a messiah complex, learns the hard way, but not before setting the events in motion that compel Godzilla to seek out Kong for a title fight or, of course, putting the entire world in danger. Simmons’ role is the closest Godzilla vs. Kong comes to a human villain—a welcome departure from Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ eco-terrorists, Kong: Skull Island’s unaccountable super-secret organization and the U.S. military, and Godzilla’s corporate/environmental polluters and government enablers. Still, no one will confuse Simmons or Maya for multi-dimensional villains, but that also extends to all the human characters, their perfunctory relationships, and their semi-pivotal roles in the story.

But moviegoers or streamers-at-home don’t come to Godzilla vs. Kong looking for multi-dimensional characters or unique insights into the pre- or post-pandemic human condition. They come to Godzilla vs. Kong to see the title titans brawl on land and sea, on aircraft carriers in the middle of the ocean or in the city streets of Hong Kong. At least in that respect, Godzilla vs. Kong delivers without qualification, reservation, or doubt. Wingard gives the multiple kaiju-on-kaiju battles an emphasis on dynamism and clarity, exploiting differing fighting styles and the body types of Godzilla and Kong to maximum cinematic effect. It’s more than enough to convince all but the most hyper-critical non-fan to overlook story-related shortcomings and embrace Godzilla vs. Kong’s awe, wonder, and spectacle.

Godzilla vs. Kong opens Wednesday, March 31st in North American movie theaters. It will be also available to stream via HBO MAX.

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