By Richard Chachowski
Monster movies are hard to make. The pressure on the part of the moviemaker revolves around making a movie that seems balanced between intense action sequences focused on the monster, along with some interesting human characters to propel the film’s main narrative forward. Few movies have been able to do this well and the newest addition to Legendary Entertainment’s “MonsterVerse” franchise, “Godzilla vs. Kong” only partially delivers.
The plot of the movie is divided into two storylines. After Godzilla, seemingly at random, attacks the facility of cybernetics company, Apex, Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown, reprising her role from “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”) begins to investigate the attack, believing Apex has somehow triggered Godzilla into behaving aggressively. Joined by the conspiracy theorist podcaster, Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) and Madison’s reluctant best friend, Josh (Julian Dennison), the three venture into Apex’s underground base of operations and discover what the company is actually doing: secretly constructing the robotic counterpart to Godzilla — Mechagodzilla.
Meanwhile, Apex hires disgraced geologist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) to venture deep into the hollow center of the Earth to retrieve a weapon capable of stopping Godzilla (really, they are just duping Lind into finding an energy source capable of powering Mechagodzilla). The only creature capable of finding said weapon is Kong, Godzilla’s ancient archenemy who has been in dormant on Skull Island under the care of Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and Andrews’ adopted daughter, Jiya (Kaylee Hottle), a young deaf girl whom Kong has formed a bond with.
Using technology developed by Apex, the group transports Kong into the Hollow Earth. They find the weapon/power source, and make it back to the surface to Hong Kong, home to the facility Apex, which just so happens to be the building Mechagodzilla is in, and also where the real Godzilla now tries to find his mechanical clone and destroy it. One long, epic fight sequence then ensues throughout the city of Hong Kong, with Godzilla and Kong going head to head to see who truly is the King of the Monsters.
There is perhaps nothing overly remarkable about “Godzilla vs. Kong.” The director, Andrew Wingard, hasn’t really made a great movie yet, nor does he manage to accomplish this feat with “Godzilla vs. Kong.” The movie’s main human characters are dull, even by monster movie standards, and in the case of Brown’s group, don’t really do much except stumble their way through the movie for the sake of advancing the plot.
It may be that Wingard and the producers of the movie realized how little audiences care about the human characters that sideline the main conflict around the two movie monsters, and decided to go all in on the action and focus on the monsters instead. Critics and viewers might dislike this, believing the characters in this movie are underwritten or boring, but let’s be honest: you don’t go to see a giant monster movie for the humans, do you? At the very least, Wingard’s decision to focus on the monsters helps the movie to get rolling quick, with the setup taking about 10 minutes (“Godzilla’s attacking people and we don’t know why”); whereas the other “Godzilla” movies spent at least the first 30 minutes focusing on the human characters’ story and exposition alone.
While the focus on the monsters was nice, there were some things about the casting that seemed somewhat pointless — Millie Bobby Brown’s role in the movie being particularly confusing. In “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” she played a somewhat central role in the action, but here, she doesn’t really do much on her own, and only seems to advance through the Apex facilities and find out they’re building Mechagodzilla simply because the movie calls for it. Brown and the characters she’s with seem to evade capture for a ridiculously long time, correctly guessing super-high security passcodes that Apex has and just about waltzing through Apex’s facilities.
Her whole storyline seems like a waste of Brown’s character, with her not doing much except (1) discovering Apex is building Mechagodzilla, and (2) figuring out how to shut Mechagodzilla down (something she doesn’t even accomplish; the honors going instead to her comedic-relief sidekick, Josh). At the end of the movie, a friend of mine asked why Brown was even in the movie, pointing out she really didn’t do much to justify the need to reprise her character from the previous movie, and I honestly didn’t know, feeling perhaps the producers cashed in on Brown’s name in order to to hype the movie up.
The plot itself is also a little strange and predictable at some points. From the offset, the company, Apex, just about screams “definitely going to be the bad guys,” so their ultimate betrayal of Skarsgård’s group doesn’t really come across as a surprise. The heavy focus on the the Hollow Earth was a weird direction that I didn’t expect the movie to turn towards either, but nevertheless, contained plenty of amazing imagery, vibrant colors, and strange creatures, appearing almost as a cross between Peter Jackson’s take on Skull Island in the ‘05 “King Kong” and Pandora from “Avatar.”
All this aside, there are quite a few things “Godzilla vs. Kong” does very well. The fight scenes between Kong and Godzilla are incredibly fun to watch, and much more entertaining than any other giant monster movie fights that come to mind. (“King of the Monsters” had some good fight scenes, but kept cutting away when the action was getting good to focus on the human’s stories).
The first two battles, featuring Godzilla and Kong fighting in the middle of the ocean and in Hong Kong respectively, in particular are hard not to enjoy — they never seem drawn out and they take up the perfect amount of time that a giant monster-fight should (watch anything too long and you eventually get tired of it, even giant monster fights). Being not overly familiar with the original Toho “Godzilla” movies, I was curious how exactly they were going to incorporate the fan-favorite Mechagodzilla into the movie, and was not disappointed to see him on the American Big Screen (although his screen time could’ve been longer, his appearance looked like a bulky combination between a Lego set and a Dinobot from “Transformers,” and the movie kept cutting away from most of his fight scenes with “Godzilla and Kong.”)
This isn’t a perfect movie by any means, but it is certainly fun to watch. Sure, there’s a lot of questions the plot leaves that the viewer might just have to ignore (if it’s the center of the Earth, where is the sunshine coming from?), but this is an easy and enjoyable movie to take in. No doubt there are some strange plot points the movie contains (the Hollow Earth sequences, in particular), but I think this movie is destined to get better with repeat viewings and requires the viewer to either ignore or accept a little weirdness here and there and not to ask too many questions — like, for example, how many thousands of background characters are killed in the fight scenes between the giant monsters. If you want a balance between your movie monsters and a handful of interesting characters, go see “Jurassic Park” or “Cloverfield.” If you want a fun time, go see “Godzilla vs. Kong.”