By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Playing at select theatres, on HBO Max and Apple TV
To say Godzilla vs Kong is leaning on the ape winning is obvious in the first few minutes of the movie, and we see him as a giant monkey than fierce beast from Skull Island. He’s been domesticated and I’m not fond of this idea.
Although fiercely independent, the Monarch Organization can exert a bit of control because this titan has a relationship with a very young mute girl, Jia (played by newcomer Kaylee Hottle). She’s the last of her tribe who once worshipped the furry guy as a god, and Kong chose to save her instead of the entire tribe. Their home got razed by that weather system which surrounds it, and this group felt a sense of duty to do what’s right after the incident decades ago–they helped awaken a lot more monsters than they bargained for.
But in this latest Monsterverse offering by Legendary Pictures, another titan, Godzilla hates the idea of being dethroned. He’s the King of Monsters, after all. He’ll actively hunt down threats to his reign. His first fight with Kong is by sea and their initial battle’s a taste of what’s to come. Director Adam Wingard wastes no time in giving us a grandiose wrestling style match, which is visually elaborate and brutal in design. The CGI done to realize these battles is flawless. I wouldn’t want to be caught anywhere in that slugfest.
In a street fight, however, blood is often spilled. It’s good these beasts get hurt. Godzilla’s atomic breath weapon can borrow through thousands of miles of solid rock! I’m surprised Kong isn’t incinerated. The third adversary is able to after being fueled by the same power core, but to understand this potentially gaping plot hole about how powerful this nuclear powered reptile is needs thought.
To get truly bloody can’t happen, especially when this film is tailored to appeal to younger children. Anyone older and who loves to watch proper wrestling wants to see Kong not pull any punches. In order for him to assert his dominance, he has to put a few creatures six feet under. Plus, who doesn’t want to pet a giant ape? Jia does, and this film’s affectionate nod to How to Train Your Dragon is obvious.
On the human side of the equation, the storyline is about who will reach Hollow Earth first. It’s either with Monarch, with Kong leading the way, or Apex Cybernetics. Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) is a conspiracy theorist who sees the bigwigs in this corporation are the worst–but he has to prove it! He belongs in the same league as Seymour Simmons and Leo from Michael Bay’s Transformers–they’re all nutters. Plus, Hayes was too easy to track down. To peg him as serious doesn’t work, even though Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) from Godzilla: King of Monsters believes in him and had no trouble finding him. She still considers the titanic reptile a hero. Her friend Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison) somehow tags along, and he’s a totally useless character who barely exists as comedy relief whereas the girl is Godzilla’s cheerleader.
On the flip-side of this equation, Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) and Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) are far more important. They can’t figure out what to do with Kong. Technically, Lind had a chat with this film’s principal bad guy, Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir), CEO of Apex, and he tries to prove humanity is the true predator. Had the story focused more on Simmons’ attempts and how his company is a threat, I believe the franchise has a future. This business can be as dangerously threatening as Genom, a megacorporation out to ‘do good.’ Since they have advanced robot technology, perhaps they have synthoids too. The anime Bubblegum Crisis never had to deal with kaiju, but I recognize the ideas presented. Apex’s Hong Kong pyramid shaped headquarters looked way too familiar!
In a different milieu, we don’t have a story as engaging as Shin Gojira. Its stab at how governments are slow in responding to crisis situations made that film memorable, and the last few frames of humanoid bone hybrids from the reptile tail are certainly horrifying. Apex’s importance in this MonsterVerse is not as defined because they’re a new player in this film. I surmise more will be revealed if additional films are planned. They may well build a proper Mecha King Ghidorah instead of the implied version which ran amok in the shell of a robot version of Godzilla.
Hopefully a continuation can take place. Although Legendary’s films don’t have the same nuances as the Japanese movies, the blockbuster design and new interpretations are welcoming. The titans are rendered in all their digital glory than the rubber suits from the yesteryears. Godzilla continues to be broody, Kong is pensive and Mothra benevolent. King Ghidorah is chaos incarnate in this list of re-imagined beasts. He is a storm god.
To move away from Toho’s Kaiju bible gives future films a chance to adapt from world mythology rather than another intellectual property. We don’t need crossovers with other universes like Pacific Rim or include the cosmic terrors from H. P. Lovecraft when there’s a vast catalog of beasts from lore to adapt. Creatures like Tiamat have been inferred, and I’d love to see them on screen over any other Japanese studio’s creature creation. Plus, to take from world mythology can help explain the scene from Godzilla: King of the Monsters where Dr. Ishirō Serizawa finds an Atlantean style ruin. It’s safe to say more of Hollow Earth will be featured.
Legendary Pictures is also doing great with its own creations–namely the Skullcrushers and Warbats (both of whom are terrific additions)–and the MonsterVerse just won’t feel the same if they continue to borrow. It needs to stand on its own two feet in order to grow.
3½ Stars out of 5