Godzilla vs. Kong feels like the lean/mean action picture that it should be.
Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) Review By Mark McPherson
Published on April 9, 2021
Rating 4 /5
Godzilla vs. Kong highlights the limits to just how far a giant monster movie can go as an American blockbuster. At the same time that Warner Bros was trying to reshape the Japanese monster of Godzilla into the center creature of a disaster flick, Japan was remaking the monster with Shin Godzilla. Not only was Shin Godzilla a more deadly design with classic rubber-suit aesthetics but the film itself was a compelling satire of human bureaucracy in dealing with disasters. Nothing that sophisticated can be expected out of a giant monster movie in the US which is more about spectacle than speculation.
Thankfully, Godzilla vs. Kong is knowing enough to deliver the biggest, boldest, and straightforward giant monster pictures to be the best of this relatively new monster movie universe. Director Adam Wingard is knowing enough that the crowd coming to such a picture are probably not as invested in the aspects of a family drama or a war epic of the humans who scurry around the creatures. The stars are Godzilla and King Kong and they’re thankfully given more screen time than the obligatory smaller characters who bicker about how best to get out of their way.
Taking place after the events of both Kong: Skull Island (2017) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), both monsters are not well. Kong, having been contained by the organization of Monarch, desperately wants to escape his enclosure and find his true home. Meanwhile, Godzilla is attacking the science organizations of Apex for a reason that is unknown to the general public. As for mankind, the various organizations and military struggle to separate the two for fear that they’ll cause more harm in trying to find out who is the strongest.
The framing of both monsters is quite unique. Obviously, Kong gets more of the close-ups for having such an expressive face. It’s easy to both feel and root for him when he starts communicating sign language with a deaf girl he trusts. On the other side of the coin, Godzilla is kept obscured and mysterious, lurking in the ocean like a gigantic Jaws with his fins looming towards his targets. Both of them are engaged in a conflict of fighting for the title of king of the monsters and trying to assert their dominance over other figures that threaten their home.
Unlike the dimly-lit and hard-to-follow action of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Godzilla vs. Kong is a perfectly staged showdown of titans. Skirmishes that break out amid a navy at sea or Hong Kong at night look astounding. The camera always feels like it’s in the right place to give a sense of scale and weight. One of the best shots during the sea battle features Godzilla and Kong on an aircraft carrier where Kong lands a savage blow to Godzilla’s face. We see everything: the punch, the roar, the follow-through of the fist, and the shifting of Godzilla losing his footing.
Sure, there are some human characters who serve their purpose of exposition without extra emotional baggage. Returning from King of the Monsters is Millie Bobby Brown as the monster-obsessed Madison Russell and her concerned doctor father played by Kyle Chandler. Brian Tyree Henry becomes the most eccentric character as a conspiracy theorist with a podcast, determined to unravel the mysteries behind Godzilla. Alexander Skarsgård and Rebecca Hall play their roles as the all-loving scientists who root for Kong finding his home while Eiza González is the wolf in sheep’s clothing along for the ride. Demián Bichir also serves well as the power-hungry CEO built specifically to take technology too far that it literally consumes him.
You can’t talk about this film without describing it more like a wrestling match with a great attack here and a brutal blow there. For being little more than that, the film is a fantastic display of grand sequences. Kong soars through the gravity-defying Hollow Earth where he tangles with giant flying snakes. He’ll later don an electrified ax that can block the atomic energy Godzilla can usually belch out. And by the time both monsters identify the common mechanical threat, it’s a rousing rumble of city-destroying chaos that is no doubt going to fulfill a kaiju lover’s dreams.
Godzilla vs. Kong feels like the lean/mean action picture that it should be. It trims a lot of the fat that has cropped up in previous films and leaves the sweetness that makes this subgenre such a treat. Not only does it top the first film where the two monsters fought on a technical level but in terms of pacing as well.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.