REVIEW: ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ Goes Full Kaiju Movie

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Godzilla vs KongOkay, I’m sure you read the title and are thinking to yourself, well Godzilla is a kaiju, so surely all of his films have been “full kaiju movies?” And the answer is to a point. Much of American kaiju films lack the grandiose science fiction angle outside the tech used to track the kaiju themselves. That said, Godzilla vs Kong, the long-awaited heavyweight battle of the Titans, goes full kaiju film by embracing science fiction and fantasy at a level we haven’t seen from the Monsterverse before. 

Directed by horror director Adam Wingard, Godzilla vs Kong is the latest entry into Warner Bros’ Monsterverse and takes place three years after Godzilla: King of the Monsters. It features a screenplay by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein, as well as a story by Terry Rossio, Michael Dougherty, and Zach Shields. In the film, Godzilla has seemingly turned on the people he once protected. In the midst of Godzilla’s rampages in areas that seem to correlate to Apex Cybernetics locations, Kong and his protectors undertake a perilous journey to find his true home—and help Apex find a power source to rival Godzilla’s strength along the way. 

In true kaiju fashion, the sworn enemies cross paths, leading to round one of a knock down, drag out fight in Godzilla’s territory: the ocean. The initial confrontation between the two titans —instigated by unseen forces—is only the beginning of the mystery that lies deep within the core of the planet.

For its human cast, Godzilla vs Kong sees the substantial return of Millie Bobby Brown’s Madison, who is determined to prove that Godzilla has been provoked. On team Godzilla, for lack of a better naming scheme, are Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), a paranoid Titan truther who has been working on infiltrating Apex, and Josh (Julian Dennison), Madison’s friend, who is just kind of along for the ride. 

On Kong’s “side” we see a new team of characters. First is Jia, a young Deaf girl with a unique and powerful bond with Kong. Then there is her surrogate mother Ilene (Rebecca Hall) and her former friend Nathan (Alexander Skarsgård), a theoretical physicist whose work on the Hollow Earth leads him to team up with Apex. 

Additionally, there are some amazing actors cast in tertiary roles that, while they have some screen impact, don’t see the rounding out that the extended ensembles of the last two Monsterverse films did. This includes Demián Bichir, Eiza González, Kyle Chandler and Lance Reddick to name a few.

While the human component of the film outside of Jia are lacking in just about every way, we don’t show up to kaiju films for human drama. We show up for creature design, the lore, and ultimately, for Godzilla vs Kong, to see the build-up of the previous films pay off. On those fronts, the film delivers with an amazing use of absurd science fiction glory. 

When it comes to the main event, the three battles between Godzilla and Kong that happen over the course of the film, we get the chance to see Godzilla like we haven’t before: in the water. While we’ve seen him move through water, we haven’t seen him fight in it. This showcases his advantages over Kong but more importantly highlights his crocodilian features with barrel roles, tail whips, and more. Additionally, in their second encounter, we see Kong leaping in the cityscape, his agility on display as well as his ability to use a battle ax. In those moments, Wingard and team put their best foot forward, reaching into the mythos of each character and putting them in situations where their strengths can be highlighted. Plus, it answers the question “who would win” in a definitive way, while also giving kaiju fans proof that the real kaiju story was the friendship they made along the way. 

That said, there is one element missing: the powerful shots of the kaiju emerging in an epic way that strikes both the humans and the audience. While there are glorious entrances, when stacked against Kong: Skull Island and King of the Monsters, Godzilla vs Kong doesn’t showcase its kaiju in the same way. Instead, the focus from the human perspective leaves the kaiju feeling too small and not as regal as was depicted in the past. Where the last WB Godzilla adventure shows us fights and interactions from a kaiju’s eye-view, this entry looks up, and focuses on the human reactions to the kaiju. ground the kaiju in a way that somehow makes them lose a small bit of their majesty. That said, the animation of the kaiju is breathtaking when shown close-up, mainly the depiction of emotion in Kong and Godzilla’s eyes and facial features. The kaiju themselves tell a story even without human narration. 

In its greatest feat, Godzilla vs Kong wonderfully wraps together the entire Monsterverse. It delivers on small throw away lines like the Hollow Earth, after credit scenes with the severed head and a prolonged Kong containment plan run by Monarch, and small elements that mapped out the bones of kaiju lore regarding where they came from. In fact, despite being the fourth director to pick up a Monsterverse film, Wingard is able to match elements of the past two films in a way that expands on them without rehashing them.

The one frustrating element of the story that isn’t tied together is the inclusion of a new Shirazawa played by Shun Oguri. Not only does his character not have substantial lines, but he’s played as an easter egg, an “oh is that Dr. Shirazawa’s kid” character. Add in the fact that Ren Shirazawa is one of the film’s “bad guys,” aiming to not only fight, but beat Godzilla, and hi character is a disservice to the legacy left by Ken Watanabe’s Shirazawa and ultimately his sacrifice in the last film.

Godzilla vs Kong also embraces the more fantastical elements of kaiju science fiction. A self-contained world at the center of the Earth, ships that defy gravitational pressure to travel there, tubes under the surface to push rapid transport between continents, and of course, a weapon to rival Godzilla. Oh, and all of the “technology” that seems to establish Kong and his kaiju species as intelligent to the point of having a culture and hierarchical structure, fit with a throne. It’s here where my kaiju fan heart flutters. The absurd becomes canon and a new enemy that I hoped would be introduced but doubted that an American studio would showcase in a spectacular way.

There are some failings for Godzilla vs Kong, but its ending and its kaiju focus isn’t one of them. While the first two acts of the film showcase humans and human interaction with kaiju (though I’m still mad at Coach for not trusting Godzilla), the final one is entirely about the kaiju. And it’s in its finale that I’m sure kaiju fans will find themselves cheering. 

Overall, Godzilla vs Kong hit the kaiju genre hard and succeeds in its use of science fiction and kaiju battles. While the people being the least interesting part of a kaiju film is par for the course, the humans on screen lack the charisma and story tie-ins that the others in the Monsterverse had, and the film doesn’t compensate with more kaiju. But even with its faults, its finale is grand; the only time since the pandemic started that I wish I had seen a film in a theater. As a kaiju fan, I’m happy, but the film is eclipsed by its predecessors—well, except Godzilla (2014).

Godzilla vs. Kong is streaming now, exclusively on HBO Max.

Godzilla vs. Kong
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

Overall, Godzilla vs Kong hit the kaiju genre hard and succeeds in its use of science fiction and kaiju battles. While the people being the least interesting part of a kaiju film is par for the course, the humans on screen lack the charisma and story tie-ins that the others in the Monsterverse had, and the film doesn’t compensate with more kaiju. But even with its faults, its finale is grand; the only time since the pandemic started that I wish I had seen a film in a theater. As a kaiju fan, I’m happy, but the film is eclipsed by its predecessors—well, except Godzilla (2014).