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Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)

Godzilla Vs. Kong': first trailer sees cinematic titans square off in epic  battle

DIRECTOR: Adam Wingard

CAST: Alexander Skarsgard, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Julian Dennison, Eiza Gonzalez, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bichir, Kaylee Hottle, Shun Oguri

REVIEW:

Godzilla vs. Kong, the fourth installment in Legendary Pictures’ Monsterverse (and bearing little plot resemblance to 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla), is an example of how a two-minute trailer highlight reel shows its inherent shallowness when stretched out over two hours. Sporadic monster slugfests are not enough to sustain a Saturday morning cartoon plot with inane human characters scurrying around. Fans of the “classic” Godzilla series—which regularly featured plots every bit as silly as this one—might be entertained, but for casual fans, this series demonstrates diminishing returns.

We pick up three years after the events of Godzilla: King of the Monsters. When Godzilla, who has twice previously come to mankind’s defense, seemingly suddenly goes on an inexplicable warpath, ‘Zilla fangirl Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) is convinced there’s something more going on than meets the eye, and when her Dad (Kyle Chandler) isn’t interested, she sets out on her own to find the truth, teaming up with annoying fellow teenager Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison) and the also annoying conspiracy theorist podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), a whistleblower from Apex Cybernetics, who’s convinced CEO Walter Simmonds (Demian Bichir) is up to something. Meanwhile, the truly wacky plot gets underway, involving fringe physicist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) being recruited by Simmonds and scientist Ren Serizawa (Shun Oguri) to lead an expedition into Hollow Earth (yes, this movie proudly embraces Hollow Earth Theory) to seek an energy source powerful enough to stop Godzilla. To this end, Lind gets in cahoots with an old colleague, Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), the “Kong Whisperer”, who can communicate with King Kong via a deaf young girl called Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who has bonded with Kong through sign language (in this flimsy convoluted scheme, the humans believe that Hollow Earth is the ancestral birthplace of all Titans and reason that Kong can show them the way). Needless to say, this all leads into “Godzilla vs. Kong” when Godzilla gets wind of another “alpha” and comes to assert his dominance.

Godzilla vs. Kong' Review: Let's You and Him Fight - The New York Times

While no one comes to a Godzilla movie for the plot, Legendary’s Monsterverse installments have gotten progressively sillier in the writing department, and Godzilla vs. Kong is gleefully unconcerned with making sense out of an absurd “storyline”. Not only does it feature Hollow Earth as a pivotal plot point, the facilely contrived plot also features such unlikelihoods as a conspiracy theorist podcaster working “undercover” at Apex Cybernetics for years without the whistleblowing activities he’s openly talking about being discovered, and as further evidence of Apex’s lax security, he’s later able to infiltrate it with the help of a couple plucky teenagers. And that’s not even getting into the ridiculous deus ex machina used to bring a character back from the “dead”, and an even more ridiculous deus ex machina used to help defeat the final boss “villain” (hint: it’s not Godzilla or Kong), or the tunnel that leads from Pensacola to Hong Kong (!), or the Apex shuttles that can fly through a portal and withstand the “gravity inversion” of entering Hollow Earth. This is all profoundly silly cartoonish stuff, but the characters treat it with a dour earnestness that makes one wonder if a more campy, tongue-in-cheek tone might have been preferable. Our primary returning character Madison’s storyline here feels even more pointless and manufactured than the one she had in King of the Monsters, and seems to exist primarily to give Godzilla a cheering section (like Batman’s misguided warpath in Batman v Superman, Godzilla is largely the antagonist here, while Kong is a more central “character” and portrayed more sympathetically….actually the movie has a couple weird resemblances to Batman v Superman, including SPOILER WARNING an 11th hour bonus “villain” and a climactic team-up).

Among the latest batch of actors whose thankless jobs it is to scurry around underfoot supplying the inane human plotlines in a Godzilla/Kong movie, it shouldn’t be a surprise that no one does any acting worth writing home about. One could argue Alexander Skarsgard at least shows a scintilla of range by playing against the stoic action hero one might have expected him to be and instead playing an eccentric jittery scientist, although unsurprisingly he gets into the action soon enough. Rebecca Hall is wasted (something that befalls her often) in a role that gives her little to do besides look alarmed. Kaylee Hottle’s bond with Kong is meant to be an emotional anchor, but she feels like the thin plot device that she is. Millie Bobby Brown, who recently showed how much she can shine in a different franchise (Enola Holmes, not to mention Stranger Things), does not achieve the same here, any more than the previous time she played this part. She’s joined by Julian Dennison, who’s just about as annoying here as he was in Deadpool 2, and an almost as annoying Brian Tyree Henry, while her dad Kyle Chandler gets a walk-on role that basically consists of a couple scenes of overwrought parental concern. Our more or less half-baked “villains”, Demian Bichir as Generic Megalomaniac CEO and Eiza Gonzalez as his bitchy daughter, have thankless roles (although the movie does make an amusing skewer of the “Villain Monologue” in a way that might remind viewers of how Deep Blue Sea gave a jarringly abrupt ending to Samuel L. Jackson’s big speech scene). Japanese star Shun Oguri is wasted (his character is apparently meant to be the son of Ken Watanabe’s character from the previous films, but the movie never so much as bothers mentioning this, let alone do anything substantive with it; his name might as well have been “John Smith” for all the relevance it has). One could make the argument that in some ways the protagonist is Kong himself, although he doesn’t have anywhere near the personality here that The King had in the original film or Peter Jackson’s remake (he has more than Godzilla, but Godzilla is portrayed as usual like an avenging instinctual force of nature), and the attempts to give him some feeling—primarily his bond with Jia—feel half-baked. We don’t really “feel” for this Kong like we have for other versions.

There’s at least the occasional visual eye candy. The absurdity of the Hollow Earth plot point may make some viewers’ eyes roll back in their heads, but it’s at least a visually interesting place to look at. Hong Kong makes a striking setting for the biggest Godzilla vs. Kong throwdown (I also dug Godzilla’s glowing eye effect). Adam Wingard, previously best-known for a couple low-budget but well-regarded horror movies, shows he can handle big splashy CGI sequences, although the fights prove that after seeing a giant lizard and a giant ape smack each other around for a few minutes, there’s not that many places to go with it. For all its flaws, and its lukewarm reception, Gareth Edwards’ 2014 film was the strongest of these movies; it took itself seriously, and the weight and verisimilitude that Edwards brought to the monsters has since been freely thrown to the wind in the name of weightless spectacle and increasingly ridiculous plotlines. For some, more screentime for the monsters and their brawls is a welcome development. For anyone seeking any shred of substance, or even coherent plotting, to string monster mashes together, this series has nothing to offer.

* * 1/2

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