Who can deny the beauty of two giant monsters duking it out and destroying a city? The monster mashup has long been a cinematic tradition. In Adam Wingard’s newest entry to the Monsterverse, we finally get an American outing worthy of its iconic predecessors. Godzilla vs. Kong delivers impressively massive fights, gorgeous cinematography, and impossible chemistry between two beautifully rendered CGI beasts. Better yet, it’s all wrapped up in the kind of old school, big-budget sci-fi adventure that feels rare in the superhero-saturated landscape of Hollywood.
The setup is simple. Even if you haven’t seen the previous Monsterverse movies, you can jump right in. Godzilla is on a rampage. The only way to stop him is to enlist the help of Kong for a mysterious—and spoilery—mission. Wingard jumps straight into the action with an impressive Godzilla attack that teases just how much fun he’s going to have with the monster fights. These are true monster masterpieces too. You can see every slap, punch, kick, destroyed building, and terrified citizen. There’s a scope and scale here that is needed, as well as a clarity of vision and visuals, that really make the film stand out in the often grainy and sometimes downright ugly modern action aesthetic.
But Godzilla vs. Kong is a neon-hued delight. Cameras sweep over giant monster shoulders as the pair duke it out around the world. Wingard uses techniques from fight movies and martial arts films as we flip flop around the two very big boys at the center of the flick. It’s an interesting take which makes the fights pack a little more punch as we feel the impact that each of the battles have on the respective monsters. If you think we’re talking a lot about fights it’s because this movie has a lot of them. At least a third of its 110 minute run time centers on incredibly shot monster action including a wicked 20 minute bout in the final act. The entertaining power of those alone can’t be understated, but Godzilla vs. Kong also establishes personalities and motivations for both that make the fights feel like they matter.
Kong: Skull Island did a great job of establishing a new tone for the Monsterverse. It also added a little attitude to its adolescent monkey king. But Wingard crafts a caring and kind elder Kong. Driven by love for his home and those around him, he’s truly a (very cuddly) hero you can root for. Kong’s human companions, Jia (Kaylee Hottle) and Ilene (Rebecca Hall), help build that out well. In classic kaiju movies, having a human heart has always been key. Hottle especially delivers on that with a stirring performance full of sweetness and compassion.
Dr. Nathan Lane (Alexander Skarsgård) and Maia (Eiza González) build out the final parts of what we’ll call “Team Kong,” and they do it with style. Skarsgård is charming as ever as a fringe scientist with a specialty in wild theories about the Hollow Earth. González shines as the capable and cold representative of the mysterious APEX corp. The enigmatic and shady Walter Simmons (played with aplomb by Demián Bichir) plays her father, and the head of APEX . His wicked performance suggests that Bichir probably had the most fun of anyone in the movie.
While Godzilla might seem harder to humanize, we get a solid angle on the radiation-breathing beast here and much of that is thanks to the incredible VFX team. Millie Bobby Brown returns as his human advocate, and she’s joined by the wonderful Julian Dennison as her long suffering friend and reluctant adventurer. The teens soon seek out Brian Tyree Henry’s Bernie, a Titan truther and podcaster who has infiltrated APEX.
Team Godzilla is just as charming as Team Kong and brings a few more laughs than their counterparts. Brown has really come into her own as an actor. She delivers some good angsty teen humor as well as an unswaying loyalty to the giant lizard which I found wholly relatable as someone who loves Godzilla. Dennison gets to play up to his cute comedy strengths here and even gets a big hero moment in the final act. It’s a sterling trio and both teams stand out from what came before with the distinct lack of military members or MCU-style militarization.
That’s where the secret strength of Wingard’s film lies. Many modern sci-fi films rely on militarization to “ground” them. Not only does this film shirk that tradition but it has zero interest being realistic. Instead, it’s very aware of just how much fun you can have in a film about a giant lizard and giant monkey punching each other. At every turn Wingard veers further into the fantastical but never loses sight of why viewers are here: to see the big boys fight. There are two central stories that Godzilla vs. Kong explores as it speeds towards its epic finale and one is nothing short of hardcore SFF. It’s an unexpected narrative choice that’s supported by incredible creature design, settings, and some impossibly cool vehicles too. Along with neon action and gorgeous cinematography, this is a truly great looking sci-fi film.
Viewers looking for an enjoyable sci-fi romp will enjoy this just as much as those who just want to see those big boys fight. Fans of the Monsterverse will be delighted with how this builds out the lore and legend of the Titans. And cinema lovers may just find an unexpected favorite in this great looking and ambitious monster movie. In the words of the late Dr. Serizawa: “Let them fight.”
Godzilla vs. Kong hits HBO Max on March 31.
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