“Godzilla vs Kong” is a follow-up to “Godzilla” (2014), “Kong: Skull Island” (2017), and “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (2019). Those films are respectively known as the one that kills off Bryan Cranston too early and cuts away from a monster fight that should have been the most exciting sequence in the movie, the one where someone stretched a “Viet Kong” joke out to two hours, and the one with a human villain who ripped off their evil plan from Thanos. Maybe the logic was that since the two Godzilla movies were about a 3 out of 10 and the Kong movie was about a 4 out of 10, combining them all would result in a 10 out of 10. This movie… isn’t quite that good.
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The movie bounces between what I’ll call the “A” story and the “B” story. In the A story, billionaire tycoon Walt Simmons (Demian Bichir) recruits geologist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) and linguist and Kong-handler Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) to use Kong to go deep into the Earth to find a new source of energy that can presumably protect humanity against the threat of “Titans” like Godzilla. Along for the ride is Simmons’ enterprising daughter Maia (Eiza Gonzalez) and Andrews’ adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle), Kong’s only human friend who can communicate with the ferocious-yet-sensitive ape through sign language. It is in this storyline where Kong and Godzilla do all their fighting, making the B story about a kooky spy within Simmons’ company (Brian Tyree Henry) teaming up with two teenagers (Millie Bobby Brown and Julian Dennison) to uncover a conspiracy mostly extraneous (and momentum-killing). But it is in the B story that two villains are revealed, one of which you’ll probably see coming a mile away, the other a blast from either Kong or Godzilla’s past.
The humans are boring and get way too much screen time, as usual, with the exception of loveable child Jia. I’ve been hearing a lot of people say that the Henry character is their favorite among those played by “name” actors, and at first I thought they were crazy for picking someone so annoying, but then I realized that everyone else is so bland that “annoying” is better than nothing. There’s still no excuse for how easily the obviously-duplicitous character uncovers top-secret information or how long he goes without getting caught.
As for the Titans, Kong is the sweetest human-crusher you’ll ever want to meet. Godzilla is only in this movie to fight Kong in a feud built on ancient instinct. The two fight, and I was solidly behind my fellow mammal. A new opponent emerges later in the film, and I was solidly behind my fellow carbon-based lifeforms. There are three main battle sequences (plus Kong taking care of some business under the Earth’s surface in between rounds). The first takes place in the water, where motion is limited and Godzilla the swimmer has a distinct advantage, but we get a sense of what the Titans can do to one another. The second takes place in Hong Kong, where skyscrapers are destroyed and in all likelihood thousands of people are killed, but this is “Godzilla vs. Kong,” not “Batman v Superman,” so we’re not supposed to think about those consequences. The third is also in Hong Kong, where the combatants take out any structures they missed the first time.
I wasn’t particularly captivated by “Godzilla vs. Kong.” It was always clear to me that these Titans both need to stick around to keep making the studio money, so some sort of compromise finish was inevitable. But Kong is a worthy protagonist and some of the fighting he does with the lumbering Godzilla is impressive. And it’s hard for me to get mad at a movie that does so much to stimulate the box office - $48 million domestically in a five-day weekend. Hopefully we have bigger numbers from better movies on the horizon, but this movie is serviceable as a blockbuster for now.
“Godzilla vs. Kong” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of creature destruction/violence and brief language. Its running time is 113 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.