Movie review: Godzilla vs. Kong

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

Humanity is rather fond of its position as the metaphorical king of the castle on planet earth.

It informs how we treat the planet (poorly), each other (just as poorly) and our view of just about everything that comes across our path, with the general view being that we can pretty much do as we please and no one can stop us.

But in Godzilla vs. Kong, the sequel to Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) and Kong: Skull Island, humanity, newly self-restored to its position as the alpha species on the planet, finds that maybe its rush to stick the crown back on its collective may be a tad premature.

Godzilla, it seems is back, no longer humanity’s saviour and friend and king of all the Titans but an adversary again, one prone to attacking Pensacola, Florida with a special and inexplicable focus on a company called Apex Cybernetics which finds itself comprehensively thrashed when the scaly behemoth comes ashore and wreaks havoc.

You know, almost immediately that Apex must be up to no good for why else would Godzilla attack it, an impression deepened by the company’s founder and CEO Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir) who exudes all kinds of unsettling vibes even as he talks of humanity taking back control from the Titans in the most lofty of tones.

He’s not a bad guy so much as a morally compromised and shortsighted one, but saying anything beyond that is a spoiler treasure trove too far; suffice to say that much of what takes place in Godzilla vs. Kong has a lot to do with Apex and little to do with Godzilla and of course King being big, bad, nasty Titans which of course they aren’t.

(image courtesy IMP awards)

In fact, it becomes quite obvious that Kong is one of the good guys.

Kept in a containment facility on Skull Island, he is looked after by a team which includes Dr Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle), a deaf Iwi Islander who has formed a close and touching bond with a giant gorilla that everything regards with a mix of awe and fear.

Kong is tiring of being cooped up in his jungle prison – it may expansive and limitless but he is intelligent enough to know it’s all a charade as one very well place tree trunk makes abundantly clear – and he gets his chance to get away when Dr. Nathan Kind (Alexander Skarsgård), a proponent of the Hollow Earth theory which argues that inside the planet exists a whole other world from which the Titans emerged after a series of titanic battles for dominance in their inner-world domain.

He is treated as the Looney Tunes of the academic world, a man who believes in the fantastical and the impossible, arguing they are very real and something with which humanity should acquaint itself if it’s going to understand Godzilla and Kong and come to terms with the Titans.

Or stomp all over them.

Yes, without divulging too many details, Godzilla vs. Kong is packed to the brim with caring people, idiotically self-serving people and those, like conspiracy podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), eminently capable and endlessly curious teenager Madison Mitchell (Millie Bobby Brown) and humourous sidekick Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison) who simply want to get to the bottom of things.

In that respect, the film is like any blockbuster where some evil person is doing their best to turn events to their own nefarious ends, other good and decent people are trying to stop them and two “monsters” (but are they? Many of the people in the film could give them a run for their money) battle it out at sea and in Hong Kong, which emerges rather worse the wear from the encounter.

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

In many respects, Godzilla vs. Kong is your typical big, dumb, fun blockbuster, which is not necessarily a bad thing if its done well, and this film is, kept to a pleasingly taut and admirably elegant 113 minutes with every scene able to justify its inclusion and characters who, while they may not be a extensively realised as they could be, nevertheless mostly move beyond narratively-slaved cardboard cutout material.

That’s especially the case with Ilene and Jia who enjoy a close and special bond, the kind that infuses the film with a whole lot more heart than you might have been expecting; the main emotional game in town, however, the relationship between the young girl and Kong which is key to many of the movie’s most affecting moments.

Yes, a blockbuster full of death, destruction, destructive egos and manipulated beings, all of which leads to a lot of bang-em-up, bash-em-up action sequences, actually has a strong and beating heart at its core, a core so touchingly vibrant that it manages to cut through all of the bombastic furore and noisy excitement and leave you feel like something very human has managed to happen amidst huge battles between primeval beasts.

It’s a remarkable achievement, and while it doesn’t mean the Adam Wingard-directed Godzilla vs. Kong is going to be treated as something kind of insightful indie darling, ripe with great meaning and insightful humanity, it does offer the film the chance to be far more than another messy clash of powers greater than humanity (who are not, once again, even close to being the biggest, baddest alpha team in town).

While the film isn’t perfect, leaving some of its characters dangling with little to do – here’s looking at you Kyle Chandler as Dr Mark Mitchell who is given little more to do than look gravely concerned and dedicated to building up forehead wrinkles with much furrowing of his brow – it mostly delivers on its blockbuster swagger with aplomb, providing a tasty piece of escapism for COVID-denied cinemagoers long denied it.

A rip-roaring festival of emotionally rich blockbustering that beautifully balances shatteringly-good action sequences with elegant exposition and a tremendous amount of heart, Godzilla vs. Kong remembers at every stage that the sort of epic cinema-screen spanning stories of which it is indisputably one, should also be a lot of diversionary fun too, a mindset that ensures that for all its dark pontificating and brutalist battles, it remains the kind of film that makes you forget the world outside is not exactly the nicest place to be at the moment.

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