History has witnessed many-a-battle between monsters and legends. Some cut deep, like the one between Horus and Set. While others—like that between Alyssa Edwards and Coco Montrese—were apparently just for show. The Greek goddess Eris, who was once left out of the guestlist for a nuptial service, decided it would be great to pit Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite against each other, in a three-way feud that feels ripped out of the pages of Mean Girls. In Scotland, a scorned English queen literally beheaded her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots. Here in the Philippines, logic seems to have faded into something as illusory as a legend, bested by the man-baby antics of a leader that’s as monstrous in spirit as he is with looks.
But I digress.
In Adam Wingard’s Godzilla vs. Kong, actual monsters duke it out. A giant lizard—likened, at every opportunity that the previous films had, to a God(…zilla)—sets out to square off with a giant ape named Kong. Whereas previous monster battles in cinema are motivated (even a film as execrable as Freddy vs. Jason gave weight to the “vs.” part), GvK doesn’t feel the need for one. Devoted he seems to bring an epic, most badonkadonk, kaiju battle, Wingard unchains both contenders to the stadium for the ultimate monster brawl, all the rest be damned. And so…off to the sandbox we go.
Here’s the sitch, though. There isn’t really an argument for monster mashes as big, dumb, and beautiful as Godzilla vs. Kong—not one you can stake your life on, at least. Narratively, it’s a bust as ginormous as its eponymous monsters, eschewing all semblance of structure, pacing, and logic. Wingard clearly understands that epic monster fights are fueled by their spectacle—and more importantly, their catharses—rather than the story. Unbothered it seems to spell out why this gargantuan standoff even exists, the film leaves us with the time-tested arc of determining which monster dick is bigger.
The result? A monster movie that peaks when it embraces its foolishness. Godzilla rewriting the laws of physics is an absolute point of no return. There’s no going back after that, and you get the sense that Wingard & Co. know it—and are, truthfully, at peace with it. Does it squander an otherwise intriguing piece of kaiju lore? It does, but what the sudden shift (some would say decline) in tone and quality highlights is the malleability of the IP. Both monsters can appear in a sombre, almost biblical rumination or in a superfluous action romp and put on a good show, for Godzilla and Kong are as much Hollywood stars as the rest of the of-flesh-and-bone cast. See if you can spot the moment when Kong goes full-on Die Hard and becomes a bona fide action star.
Millie Bobby Brown returns to the unnecessary role of Madison Russell, an obstinate young woman whose sole contribution to the film is her residual pull among the Stranger Things crowd. Brian Tyree Henry’s podcaster-cum-web sleuth is similarly inconsequential, serving merely as comic relief that the film, frankly, doesn’t ever need. A radiant lizard dragon, a large berserk ape, and an insipid, power-hungry tech founder (played admirably by Demián Bichir) all vying to be at the top of the food chain has enough funny to go around. A third ‘kaiju’ wrings itself to the battle, and it’s even goofier than its showings in olden Gojira films.
Though clearly disinterested with storylines concerning its human characters, Godzilla vs. Kong obviously had to make space for them. At two hours, the entire thing is supremely watchable but also feels very much like a slog. Too many human characters run at the feet of the two giants, even if their arcs never ever become significant. In the end, the film’s two gargantuan stars weigh the story down and simultaneously save it. “It’s humbling for a narcissistic actor like myself,” shares Alexander Skarsgård, who plays a geologist in the film. “To be put in my place, to show up on set and know that no one will go to see this movie because I’m in it.”