Del and Mladen review ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’
“Godzilla vs. Kong” Starring Alexander Skarsgard, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Shun Oguri and others. Directed by Adam Wingard. 113 minutes. Rated PG-13. Theaters and HBO Max.
It’s quite the compliment to the Florida Panhandle that “Godzilla vs. Kong” opens with the king of the kaiju unleashing radioactive hell on the Apex Cybernetics facility in Pensacola, though I doubt the Chamber of Commerce is holding mixers to revel in its newfound celebrity. Still, it’s cool for us nerdists and might help the next Pensacon recruit some real celebrity muscle.
Meanwhile, that maiden salvo of destructo-porn sets the pace for this third installment of the “new” Godzilla, who in my book looks a lot less charming or even convincing than the original guy in the rubber suit. Freshened up with modern FX and a 21st century sensibility, Godzilla stomps onto the screen as an avenging angel out to punish mankind for making such a sloppy mess of the Earth. But then he’s always done that.
Next you’ve got Kong, the giant ape, who has received an updated and politically correct sentience PLUS a sense of morality to boot. When the two square off it’s not a clash of titans but a clash of value systems, with an evil corporation – yes, there’s always an evil corporation – operating as the fulcrum for the conflict.
“Godzilla vs. Kong” is the story – well, it’s three stories really – of Kong’s attempt to finally go “home,” Godzilla’s attempt to make sure he remains at the top of the apex predator heap and Apex Cybernetics’ attempt to obtain a new and powerful energy source that will allow them to engage full-throttle in various evil, shadowy, corporation-y things.
The particulars are a lot more confusing and I will go into them only to the extent of setting the stage: The Apex Corporation has discovered a new source of energy in a hollow realm at the center of the Earth and needs this energy to adequately power a “project” it is working on. It hires expert Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) to lead an expedition there, assisted by Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her hearing-impaired daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who are studying Kong. Apex needs Kong to show them the source of this new energy. Meanwhile, Godzilla, responding to its natural imperative to be the biggest and baddest monster of ’em all, senses the presence of Kong and goes on the offensive, much to the chagrin of Monarch Project scientist Mark Russell and his monster-attuned daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown). She teams up with conspiracy investigator and podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) to investigate Godzilla’s newfound aggression and whatever link that might have to Apex, and drags along her buddy Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison) as comedic ballast.
Did I mention it was complicated?
Suffice it to say that all three storylines converge and loose strings are tied after some romp ’em stomp ’em, bad-ass kaiju/Kong butt-kicking. Some of the resolutions are happy while others are merely satisfying. The point is, the viewer will have been entertained for two hours and Legendary Entertainment and Warner Brothers will have earned another $200 million, which should keep the lights on over the next few weeks.
The performances are all good. I would single out young Kaylee Hottle as Jia, the remaining member of a tribe that was extinguished on Skull Island by a natural disaster, as the showcase of the lot. She and Kong were kindred spirits in loss, and her performance effectively portrayed that subtextual link in their relationship.
The rest of the movie was not as compelling. The original “Godzilla” exhibited a kind of primeval ferocity that has endured over the past 66 years and inspired countless sequels and remakes, most of which traded the animal nobility of the original for cheap yucks and self-parody. The modern iterations – “Godzilla,” “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” and now “Godzilla vs. Kong” – exchange parody for politically correct, touchy feely emotional imperatives that are no more satisfying to the palate than a quivering plate of tofu prime rib.
What saves “Godzilla vs. Kong” are the spectacular special effects, the fight scenes between Kong and Godzilla, and Kong’s humanity, which worked a lot better than it should have. It really felt like Kong was one of the characters and not merely a CGI-generated killer ape.
If the story had been as strong as the acting and special effects, I’d give the movie an A. As it is, “Godzilla vs. Kong” gets a B. It’s better than some other B-graded movies but not as good as others, and I think that’s fair. I can’t advise you to see the movie in a theater in the middle of a global pandemic, but I expect it’s a visual spectacle on the big screen.
“Godzilla vs. Kong” is a bonkers movie. Del’s modulated review of the film is, ah, too modulated. Because “G v. K” is utterly bonkers, the film deserves an extreme grade, A or F. But, because I saw the movie at an Imax theater my perception has been distorted. Let me tell you, Imax sound makes my fairly sophisticated, newish AVR-driven, 7.1 surround-sound system sound like an AM broadcast from 1930.
“G v. K” is an F, if you’re interested in a story that links the Monsterverse’s previous three movies to its fourth. I was insulted by the film’s flimsy, disingenuous effort to make it seem part of a continuity. Particularly distasteful was the improper dose of homage to the name of Serizawa. Depending on my mood, I may even characterize it as insulting. The physics of Hollow Earth is bonkers. Godzilla and Kong balancing while they fight on a ship that’s, I don’t know, a magnitude lighter and significantly less wide than the beasts are tall is bonkers. G and K fall overboard to fight underwater and the humans try to help Kong by launching Hedgehog-like depth charges to disorient the reptile and it worked. Bonkers. Why wouldn’t Kong get disoriented, too, and continue on his merry way to drowning? Huh? If the Kong whisperers were worried about Godzilla sniffing out Kong if the ape left his Skull Island containment facility, why would they transport Kong by boat across the Pacific? Godzilla is amphibious. Godzilla lives in the ocean. Godzilla has, apparently, extrasensory power to detect an Alpha interloper. Transport by water was bonkers. Hell, a few scenes later, the humans are moving the ape to Antarctica via sling and a lot of helicopters. Bonkers storytelling to the left of me. Bonkers storytelling to the right. I bonked my head a few times to orient myself to the insane worldbuilding, the deconstruction of the storyline in the preceding three Godzilla films, or the uselessness of the daughter of the bad guy. What the hell happened to the eco-terrorist dude in “Godzilla: King of Monsters” who bought a severed Ghidorah head from some down-on-their luck fishermen?
In the areas – vision, plot, script writing, directing – that make or break a movie, “G v. K” is sheer F-ness. Really. No joke. I’m serious. The fact that the visual and sound effects are so good augments the F-ness. It’s clear that producers and the director thought they could substitute coherence and the internal logic an impossible movie premise must generate for a lot of spectacular FX fighting and some damn fine sound effects. The soundtrack is good as is most of the acting. Where Del the modulator gives the kid in the film kudos, I bow to Rebecca Hall’s Andrews. Her delivery of lines and an assortment of gestures help mitigate the harshness of the dys-reality of the realm created in G v. K. Hall did for “G v. K” what Mila Kunis’s Jupiter did for “Jupiter Ascending,” plausibly explain or soften the absurdity of what unfolds on the screen.
Yes, I’ll probably see “G v. K” in an Imax theater, again. Yes, I’ll buy the movie in Blu-ray format when it becomes available. But, listen to me, “G v. K” is crappy, unless you’re sound-o-phile.
Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.
“Kong Skull Island” Starring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts. 1 hour, 58 minutes. Rated PG-13.
King Kong really needs to find a Mrs. Kong, if you know what I mean.
That poor, besotten beast, trapped all alone on Skull Island without the company of a female, has developed a frightening case of blue –
Cough cough cough. Ahem! Sorry about that. I momentarily forgot about this review’s PG rating.
Suffice it to say that in many of the Kong iterations we see a lonely ape the size of the federal deficit pining for a tiny but beautiful human woman, which ultimately leads to his demise, usually at the trigger finger of a sympathetic but competitive human male who has no intention of sharing his tiny but beautiful human woman with a giant ape, even if the giant ape is a movie star.
You don’t see that in many Plenty of Fish profiles.
In “Kong: Skull Island,” the eighth outing for the sexually frustrated mega-simian, movie fans receive a rehashing of many of the Kong tropes with a few new wrinkles that don’t add anything to the canon. But then the movie’s purpose is not to tread new ground but pave old ground for a sequel.
In “Skull Island” Bill Randa (John Goodman), a functionary in the Monarch organization (which figured into another recent giant creature movie), convinces a senator to fund a trip to Skull Island to look for, well, whatever is there – oil, uranium, or monsters.
Oh, and he needs a military escort.
That brings Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) into the picture, along with his unit of cannon fodder and one young non-com comedian (Thomas Mann). They’re joined by pacifist war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and noted tracker Loki, er, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) to complete the lineup.
The group arrives aboard a fleet of helicopters that, after traversing some seriously bad weather that would have folks like you and me clutching air sickness bags like rosaries, reaches the jungle-infested canyons and scenic vistas of Skull Island. Hell immediately breaks lose and does not stop until about a hundred minutes later when the credits roll.
Pacing was off. My impression during the movie was that plot development was moving along too quickly, as if director Vogt-Roberts had taken input from an efficiency expert. Characters were hurriedly sketched, given only a short scene to establish their bonafides and histories, and then it was off to the races.
The script struck me as strangely flat. While the movie offered many funny lines, it missed what I thought were better opportunities for funnier lines. The actors had little to sink their teeth into.
John Goodman’s and Samuel L. Jackson’s characters were straight out of central casting, and as a result their particular branches of the conflict were similarly hackneyed. In fact the Jackson conceit, that of a military fanatic bent on destroying Kong, struck me as unrealistic and at times stupid.
Hiddleston and Larson were good despite the flat script, and Mann, as always, finds a way to inject life into his roles. John C. Reilly was excellent as World War II vet Hank Marlow, and his character provides the only watery-eye potential in the entire movie. Stay to the very end for that.
Many movies these days throw in an Easter egg after the credits, and you’ll need to sit through the entire run-through of credits for “Skull Island” to see which giant monster may figure into the sequel.
Overall I would grade “Skull Island” with a C+. I’ll give it high marks for a decent fight scene and monster mayhem, but low marks for clichéd characters, skimpy characterization, a threadbare script and hurried pacing.
Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.