Beyond the “rock ‘em sock ‘em” appeal of kaiju movies, with all their wanton destruction of both passersby and property, the genre is actually relentlessly tender-hearted. Each entry has some measure of unoriginal-but-sincere morality to impart about specific human horrors (like nuclear bombs), generic environmentalism, or fundamental compassion. Well, each entry until now…
Insofar as it serves as a periodic update of what the latest special effects can do with cinema’s most-enduring big beasts, Godzilla vs Kong is fun. Well, it’s fun-ish. Fun-adjacent. Fun-esque. That’s because it is also weirdly ugly, lazy, and often the unfun kind of dumb. The result is a mixed-bag of a monster mashup that will definitely leave you asking “Wait, was that the creepy clown Skarsgård or the one who beat up Nicole Kidman?”
When your film has a “vs” in the middle of the title, that “vs” is pretty much the entirety of the plot. After establishing himself as Mr. Captain King Shit of all titans in the criminally underloved Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Godzilla is now throwing a pissy party. He’s been lashing out at stuff. Thus, nebulous government-scientist people align themselves with an evil tech corporation to take King Kong to the hollow center of the earth in order to obtain an energy widget that will do…something to stop Godzilla?
It’s abject nonsense, all of which is fine. Every non-kaiju-obsessive audience member basically hears “yada, yada, yada, big monkey punches giant lizard now” anyway. It is not a problem that useless human characters, like the ones played by Kyle Chandler, show up to say one line of exposition and then skedaddle. That is what everyone should always want Kyle Chandler to do. It is a problem that Godzilla vs Kong doesn’t even make a weak, half-pass at sentimentality.
Hear me out: Without at least trying to contextualize Kong and Godzilla’s respective painful, isolated existence or contrast their instinctive brutality with the brutality-by-choice of humans, all the destruction and fighting feels…kinda gross? It is unquestionably flippin’ radical to see Kong parkour off skyscrapers and whack Godzilla with a glowing rock axe. But doing so without turning the two big brawlers into metaphors, however clunky and inarticulate, makes it feel surprisingly empty. “Neat,” I thought, watching Kong’s spittle flying through the air before my mind immediately wandered to other things. Probably infectious particulate transmissions, but that’s beside the point.
People who don’t truly love the melodrama and morality play aspect of kaiju films very understandably strip them down to stomping and smashing. Those are, indeed, a big part of what make them awesome. But stripped of all the hand-wringing and hokey emotional stuff, they are emptier than a rubber suit hanging on a Toho executive’s coatrack. Godzilla vs Kong delivers on its promise, but it does so with fingers crossed behind its back. Whenever next the creatures rise again, here’s hoping somebody remembers that it takes a big heart to animate such monsters.
Grade = C+
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Robert Daniels at 812 Film Reviews says “These later rumbles, which take place among Hong Kong’s neon skyline, paints a wide canvas for enthralling shows of spectacle whose vibrant whirling colors, crumbling buildings, and lighting bolts of pure projected energy emanating from Kong and his axe and Godzilla and his mouth, it’s as phallic as it sounds, explodes on even the smallest of screens.”
Carla Hay at CultureMixOnline says “there’s really no excuse for why Godzilla vs Kong stinks more than any toxic excrement that can be expelled from these fictional monsters’ bodies.”
Danielle Solzman of Solzy at the Movies says “Godzilla vs Kong isn’t a cinematic masterpiece but the film doesn’t need to be. I still had fun watching the film. Dumb fun that is. In watching at home, I find myself sitting on the edge of my bed. Would I have been on the edge of the seat at the theater? Maybe but I don’t know.”