After nearly 60 years since their first meetup, and after years of attempts for a Round 2, King Kong and Godzilla finally duke it out again in Godzilla vs. Kong. The latest film in the age old saga, speculation arose this might happen following Legendary moving 2017’s Kong: Skull Island from Universal to Warner Bros. Pictures. Confirmed shortly thereafter it was happening, it was soon revealed this would not be a remake of 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla, but a standalone all new film. All this in mind, following a delayed release due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Godzilla vs. Kong finally popped up in theaters and on HBO Max for streaming on Friday, March 31, 2021.
Directed by Adam Wingard (V/H/S 2012, Blair Witch 2016) and written by Eric Pearson, along with Max Borenstein, one would think its story is straightforward enough- giant ape meets giant lizard, then the two have a scrap in whichever city happens to be in the way. This is true, except the film also works in two stories with the humans, each following a different ‘Titan’, before having the two converge and wrap up for the final act.
The ‘Kong’ story has the big gorilla held in a Monarch containment facility to keep him from bumping into Godzilla. The problem is that he is growing increasingly tired of it and threatens to break out. But opportunity knocks when former Monarch scientist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård: True Blood series, Big Little Liars series) convinces his old colleague Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall: The Town 2010, The Prestige 2006) to bring Kong on a mission funded by Apex Cybernetics. Using Lind’s theory of a Hollow Earth, they will take Kong through subterranean passages to the hollow, confirming whether it is where the Titans originally came from, and bringing Kong ‘home’ if it is.
The ‘Godzilla’ story has the fire-breathing beast destroying an Apex facility in Pensacola, Florida without provocation. Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown: Stranger Things series, Enola Holmes 2020) finds this unusual and figures Apex must be working on something suspicious. She joins forces with her friend Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison: Hunt for the Wilder-People 2016, Deadpool 2 2018) and Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 2018, Widows 2018), an ex-Apex employee and conspiracy theory podcast host, to see what Apex could be doing to provoke Godzilla.
So, how is it? Usually the human stories are pretty ho-hum compared to the monster action, and it is not different here. The pseudoscience can stick in some people’s craw, and Henry’s conspiracy theorist character is essentially a cuddlier, true-believer take on Alex Jones. This is also a universe where giant monsters exist, spun off from the original Godzilla series, which featured worse pseudoscience and occasionally more insulting characters (check out the blackface in the original King Kong vs. Godzilla).
Still, the classic series also had a bigger sense of fun and more lively characters. The ones on offer here are not particularly memorable. Henry gets some fun lines and scenes here and there, while Demián Bichir (The Hateful Eight 2015, The Nun 2018) plays Apex head Walter Simmons like a Saturday morning cartoon villain. Audiences will get that something is wrong with Apex the moment he appears. Kaylee Hottle (Made in Hollywood series) has some nice moments with Hall and Kong as Skull Island’s last surviving native. But the other characters come off rather dull especially compared to the cast in, say, 1968’s Destroy All Monsters or the original King Kong from 1933.
Luckily, the better (by comparison) characters are in the ‘Kong’ story, which has the better plot of the two. It features plenty of Kong, gives him some heart, and even has a few mini-battles along the way. While the ‘Godzilla’ story lacks Godzilla in favor of Henry, Brown and Dennison pranking about. It does lead to a better payoff, though it relies a little on having seen 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters beforehand. Going into it blind might spoil the result of that film, and be a bit confusing overall.
Then there are the monster battles. The first one is pretty unique, taking place in the middle of the ocean. It takes about 40 minutes to get there, but it features some nice stunts and set pieces, making use of Godzilla’s amphibiousness to crank up the odds against Kong. While the entire final act is essentially one long fight between the two in the city. The CGI is really well-done, featuring realistic textures, and expressions that threaten to give the Titans more character than most of the humans. Especially with Kong, whose anthropoid features help him look more sympathetic than Godzilla’s reptilian perma-scowl.
There is an extra twist- that payoff to the ‘Godzilla’ story. It is a nice extra, and one that might be genuinely surprising even to veteran Kong and Godzilla fans. They start off strong too, though even the most impressed might find the cynicism creep in after the film’s over. Kong and Godzilla are big monster icons, and the film is sold on the tagine that “One Must Fall.” Yet they still need one or the other (preferably both) for more films. How can one ‘fall’, satisfy the audience, and still be around for more films? That is what the twist answers.
Ultimately, Godzilla vs. Kong brings the action. The clash of the titans lives up to its promise, even if the reasons behind their rivalry is somewhat undercooked. While the drama is better told through characters who can only roar, growl and do sign language than the ones who can actually speak. There have been worse stories and characters in the Godzilla series, yet there have been better ones too. As such, it sits in the middle of its franchise and that is why Cryptic Rock gives Godzilla vs. Kong 3 out of 5 stars.