Godzilla vs. Kong

Godzilla vs. Kong

2021, PG-13, 113 min. Directed by Adam Wingard. Starring Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza González, Julian Dennison, Lance Reddick, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir, Kaylee Hottle.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., April 2, 2021

It had to happen. Kong, the lord of Skull Island, was always going to challenge Godzilla, the reigning sovereign of the monsters. This clash of titans in the quest for dominance has been brewing for years – well, since 2017, when Kong: Skull Island established that everyone's favorite giant ape and the city-crushing lizard-whale live on the same creature-plagued world. When Kong sat out Gojira's big bust-up with King Ghidorah in Godzilla: King of the Monsters while every other B-list beast turned up for the fray, something was clearly amiss.

Don't worry, it wasn't that he didn't get an invite. Monarch, the mysterious global organization charged with keeping we puny humans safe from the towering intentions of these enormous animals, has had him locked up for his own safety on Skull Island, under the tender ministrations of Dr. Ilene Andrews (Hall) and her adopted daughter, Jia (Hottle), the last surviving member of Skull Island's Iwi tribe, who has a strange bond with Kong. The status quo collapses when Godzilla, who has been quiet for the last three years, suddenly devastates the Pensacola research base of Apex Cybernetics, a shadowy tech company whose boss, Walter Simmons (Bichir), uses this attack to justify sending research geophysicist Nathan Lind (Skarsgård ) into the Hollow Earth and ... OK, I'm getting tired writing this. Basically, all the human characters are supporting cast to the big showdown, as Kong (the true lead character) tries to work out why Godzilla is back on a rampage. Every human is a supporting character because, as we were told in the last movie, this is Godzilla's world. We just live in it.

If the human side of things seems chaotic and crammed, that's because it is. Even after a comparatively slight-for-a-franchise four films in the Monsterverse, Godzilla vs. Kong doesn't wrap everything up in a neat bow, so don't expect a resolution that brings back every secondary character. Instead, the script brings back some fan faves (most especially Brown and Chandler as the daughter-father survivors of KotM), and adds just enough new characters that make sense within the continuity, or at least connects them with blink-and-you'll-miss-them Easter eggs that make sense within a story that's covered five decades.

That passage of time explains why Kong is now a big boy, big enough to tussle with the reigning monarch of the monsters, and that's what makes all the sense necessary. The earlier films established the idea of ancient creatures that have lived in hiding, and occasionally (on a geological eons time frame) emerge to tussle. After that, the world-building can feel a little over-stuffed in the telling, but when it's shown it makes sense. Wingard pulls together all the disparate pieces in a way he never quite managed with his flawed adaption of supernatural detective cat-and-mouse anime Deathnote, and gives the resolution the stories needed, paying off hints and nods seeded before. It all adds up, which is what it was supposed to do.

Wingard's biggest addition to the franchise is injecting a 1980s teen adventure flick subplot. The Godzilla movies have always been flexible, stretching from pure post-war angst to surrealist eco-horror to kid-friendly goofiness. Out of left field, Wingard (who cut his teeth on mumblegore classic A Horrible Way to Die, You're Next) puts Brown's Godzilla whisperer Madison Russell, her nerdy friend Josh (Hunt for the Wilderpeople's Dennison), and conspiracy theorist Bernie (Henry) into a fun thrill ride that fits right in the tradition of Explorers and Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead.

Of course, everything leads to the massive final battle, the pay-off we've been promised, and Wingard delivers. It's an all-time great CGI slugfest, especially in the opening rounds against Hong Kong's neon-outlined cityscape, for which Wingard's beat-'em-up thriller The Guest now seems like a dry run. It's not elegant. Instead, it feels like a bar fight between gods and monsters. Hail to the kings, baby, hail to the kings.

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Godzilla vs. Kong, Adam Wingard, Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza González, Julian Dennison, Lance Reddick, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir, Kaylee Hottle

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