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REVIEW: Godzilla vs. Kong is More Worthy for Its CG-Created Monsters Than Much Else

March 29, 2021 08:00 | By
Godzilla

Godzilla (L) vs. Kong (R)

Make no mistake that Warner BrosGodzilla vs. Kong is not the first time the mighty behemoths have clashed, and it probably won’t be the last. When Legendary Pictures scored the rights to the Toho Studios franchise and the Universal Pictures staple King Kong (probably with limitations like only referring to him as “Kong”), a new face-off was bound to happen.

If you’ve been living in a bubble for longer than the past year, Godzilla vs. Kong is indeed a sequel to 2017’s Kong: Skull Island and the two previous Godzilla movies that have been met with mixed reactions. (For transparency, I loved both Godzilla movies more than Kong: Skull Island, because Godzilla — and there’s no real argument here– is the best movie monster of all time.)

Regardless of that fact, the movie begins on Skull Island where Kong is still king with a whimsical song choice that shows Kong to be a real pussycat, especially when paired with a deaf girl named Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who isn’t even remotely scared of Kong despite their vast size difference. From there, we’re introduced to a slew of characters, including the returning Millie Bobby Brown’s Madison Russell, who for better or worse, is the only constant from the previous Godzilla film.

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We also meet Alexander Skarsgard’s Nathan Lind, who is leading an expedition for APEX Cybernetics to the Hollow Earth, an extension of Skull Island at the center of the earth, where there exists a power source that can defeat the rampaging Godzilla. The catch is that Lind’s plan relies on capturing Kong and bringing him as a guide and protector for their journey. When Godzilla catches up with the journey on their Antarctica-bound ship bearing Kong, the two Alpha Titans clash with no regard to human life or the calamitous damage they’re causing. At the same time, Brown’s character teams with a conspiracy theorist played by Brian Tyree Henry and a friend played by Julian Dennison (from Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople) to find out what APEX is up to and how their plans mesh with the frequently-nefarious Monarch from previous films.

Make no mistake that despite her top billing, Godzilla is considered the antagonist for most of the film while Kong is painted as a hero that goes out of his way to protect the humans that hound him, even creating weapons at times, as if to prove that he’s far smarter than a mere energy-breathing radioactive lizard. For some unexplained reason, Godzilla has gone from earth’s savior to an APEX predator who needs to be eliminated, especially once it’s realized that Kong can’t defeat him, but we never learn how that happened.

Director Adam Wingard, who established himself fairly early on for indie horror films like You’re Next and The Guest, before the remake Blair Witch, takes the reins for this one. Sadly, he’s forced to work with a fairly flaccid script that gives very little reason to be interested in any of the human characters who are there just to prepare us for the next fight between Kong and Zilla. That’s not to say that the work by Costume Designer Ann Foley (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) completely goes to waste, but it does very little to help with forgettable characters.

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On the other hand, Cinematographer Ben Seresin (World War Z, The Mummy) ably helps fix one of the major problems with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, since much of the action takes place in the daylight, so you can actually see what is happening. In general, the use of lighting helps to make things look more high-tech and mysterious, some of which probably can be attributed to Production Designers Owen Patterson and Thomas S. Hammock, as they’re working from a script that allows them to work in far more interesting environments, including the ocean, Antarctica and the Hollow Earth setting that’s like a larger scale Skull Island with even more fantastic beasts. 

Most people will be watching GvK for the monsters and not just those in the title, and thanks to the work of Visual Effects Supervisor John “DJ” Dejardin and a team of thousands of VFX artists that give Godzilla and Kong real physical weight and realistic detail, that makes it so much easier for audiences to accept them as the only real characters that matter in the movie.

Whoever realized why it was important to bring Composer Tom Holkenberg (aka “Junkie XL”) onto the project should get a lot of credit for the requisite epicness needed from the film’s score to make the action scenes really move when integrated with the editing by Josh Schaeffer, ACE (Pacific Rim: Uprising). It’s particularly interesting to see how Dejardin and Holkenberg went from the recent Zack Snyder’s Justice League to Godzilla vs. Kong, since their work is front and center in both epics.

On the other hand, unlike Snyder’s recent redo, I hated the song selection for the movie as they don’t work, and they really take away from Holkenberg’s score rather than add to it. I understand the need to instill a movie like this with some levity or lightness but it feels somewhat schizophrenic.

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You can’t have a proper monster movie without the proper sounds, and Sound Designers Erik Aadahl (Godzilla, A Quiet Place) and Ethan Van der Ryn (King Kong, The Lord of the Rings) do an excellent job in that regard, as do Re-Recording Mixers Tom Ozanich and Dean A. Zupancic (A Star is Born). It’s a tragic shame that many (including myself) might have to watch this movie on their television sets without the proper sound system to fully appreciate the sound team’s work, because it’s clearly fantastic and meant for the biggest screen and speakers.

Despite all the amazing work done to create all aspects of this epic monster battle, there are still so many problems with the storytelling, the writing and the acting that makes the human characters so bland and unmemorable you won’t even bat an eye if one or two get killed. Unfortunately, blame for that has to go to Wingard. He hired all the right people around him to make GvK a giant epic but didn’t spend enough time to make sure the basics like script stood up to the action.

As much as Godzilla vs. Kong is just a fun, escapist romp that shouldn’t really require too much thought or analysis to know whether you’re gonna be on board with the giant monster fights, like many big blockbusters, it’s more of an achievement by Wingard’s creative craftspeople then for anything that can be credited to writers or cast.

Godzilla vs. Kong will be released into theaters and on HBO Max (for 31 days only) starting on Wednesday, March 31.

All pictures courtesy Warner Bros. and HBO Max.