Much of the story may be looney tunes, but the monster fights make GvK an entertaining flick.
Warner Brothers dropped their marquee monster mash this week. While it’s abundantly obvious that we love giant monster fight movies here on Deluxe Video Online, I’ve noticed a lot of reservations about Godzilla Vs. Kong in the wider movie-watching world. It’s kinda baffling. The Monsterverse movies have their charm, but they’re certainly not the kind of beloved cinematic universe like Marvel that you should worry they’re going to “screw up.” As we covered this week, the original King Kong Vs. Godzilla was certainly no cinematic treasure to jealously guard either.
At the end of the day, I think WB put out exactly the kind of film they needed to. It respects fans of both titans, ties together a lot of the plot-lines and themes found in the other Monsterverse movies, and delivers the kind of spectacle that fans of the OG Godzilla and Kong movies can appreciate.
Godzilla Vs. Kong (2021)
Kong and his protectors undertake a perilous journey to find his true home. Along for the ride is Jia, an orphaned girl who has a unique and powerful bond with the mighty beast. However, they soon find themselves in the path of an enraged Godzilla as he cuts a swath of destruction across the globe. 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.
Down the Hollow Earth Hole.
One thing to get out right off the bat is that most of the ideas in the Monsterverse are nuttier than an ice cream sundae. The film franchise has always trafficked in conspiracy theories and pseudo-science, and Godzilla Vs. Kong triples down on those explanations for why giant creatures regularly stomp cities flat. There’s none of the “avenging forces of nature” tropes that the more serious monster films used for respectability. It’s all hollow earth, shadowy global cabals, and cryptozoology here as far as the eye can see.
The nice thing about this approach is that it hearkens back to the science fiction and futurism of the late 1800’s, most famously popularized by Jules Verne. GvK owes quite a bit to Verne’s sensational adventure stories, notably Journey to the Center of the Earth. That stories like Verne’s were among the first to be turned into films, and inspired the legion of stop-motion artists who made King Kong a household name feels fitting.
The film also puts its thumb on the scales when it comes to “fanciful scientific speculation” versus “wild-eyed conspiracy theories.” One main character spouts off about recognizable bunk like lizard people and the Illuminati, and essentially becomes the comic relief, while another character who actually uses science on the hollow earth theory winds up vindicated and becomes a hero.
Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!
So, the story, much like Godzilla King of the Monsters, has a lot of fanciful stuff, to put it generously. How’s the monster fighting?
Pretty dang great, to be honest.
The movie does a good job of letting each combatant shine. While the final score is much less ambiguous than in King Kong Vs. Godzilla, it’s not a one-sided drubbing. Even if your favorite doesn’t wind up being the winner, both get a lot of scenes in which they receive the lion share of the glory. Importantly, each also get scenes where they’re on the back foot, lending credibility to the drama of “either of these guys could win.” The film does eventually pick a winner; it’s also wise enough to make sure that fans of either Kong or Godzilla will have enough of the film devoted to their choice of king to keep them happy.
In addition to the titular cage match, there’s also a lot of other creatures to ooh and aah over. It’s not Destroy All Monsters, or even Godzilla KotM where we get a smorgasbord of named creatures and fan favorites. It’s a bit more like Skull Island, where they create a believable ecosystem of monsters for Kong and Godzilla to live in. Not every animal in the jungle can be Shere Khan, but then again the jungle wouldn’t be very interesting if they were ALL Shere Khan. That being said, most of them are presented in such a way that they are legitimate threats, either to our named titans, or to the human surrogates who follow in their wake.
Does It Work as a Movie?
The silliness of the story was initially a detraction for me. I know it sounds insane to balk at a hollow earth plot-line in a movie about a giant monkey fighting a dragon. It was just a bit of a tough stone to swallow. Visually, it’s pulled off gorgeously. It just kept scratching at the back of my mind that if the film could get this silly, it could get even sillier. Luckily, it remained just earnestly loopy instead of foaming at the mouth crazy.
The nuts and bolts of the film are very well done. The pace moves briskly and keeps two competing plates spinning: essentially one about the team of humans following Kong, and the other about the team of humans trying to understand why Godzilla has become so aggressive. They meet and diverge enough that you don’t feel like either is a subplot.
Visually, the film kicks ass. The CG looks great, from the monsters to the settings to the explosions and destruction. Unlike Godzilla 2018, we don’t get the constant low-angle, monsters never-in-focus shots, or everything occluded in rain and darkness. We get just a few of those types of shots to feel like a touchstone, but mainly we get our monsters in all of their rampaging glory. The film even establishes a new trick of keeping the monster’s front in focus while it is either tumbling through the air or being whipped around the setting, leading to a 360 degree shot where we never lose view of the character’s face. I can tell they thought it was a neat trick because they do it at least three times. They were right; it’s pretty exhilarating.
Hail to the King.
If you can accept the absurd parts (and, again, we’ve already bought a ticket to a “monkey fights a dragon” flick!) Godzilla Vs. Kong delivers the goods. The visuals are crisp and detailed and evocative. The movie gets through its story without either bogging down or rushing. I liked most of the characters, though I have to say Kong’s entourage are much more engaging in my book. And finally, Godzilla Vs. Kong does a solid job of feeling like a movie with two equal protagonists. No matter who you root for, there’s plenty in the movie worth getting excited over.