In my youth, there was a locally broadcast television show called “Creature Feature,” in which a monster movie would be air every weekend.
This was how I first saw the 1963 “King Kong Vs. Godzilla,” which my childhood buddy John and I watched with giddy delight one afternoon. I still recall our post-viewing conversation, an assessment of the title match that we scrutinized and took as seriously as Hulk Hogan’s match against Andre the Giant in “Wrestlemania III.”
Could King Kong, a mountain-sized ape, credibly beat a fire-breathing reptile? The movie famously had two different endings (if you saw the Japanese version, Godzilla won), so the conclusion was a moot point.
Now, we get the big budget, U.S. remake, called “Godzilla vs. Kong,” and, like the 1963 version, it’s a rousing piece of junk.
Millie Bobby Brown returns as Madison, the girl raised in captivity with her Kaiju-studying mother (Vera Fermiga, who opted out of this entry). Madison and a dozen other exposition-spouting humans oversee Kong’s displacement from Skull Island, in order for him to duke it out with an on-the-prowl and unhappy Godzilla.
When the focus is on King Kong, “Godzilla vs. Kong” induces awe and excitement, but at ground level, it’s atrocious.
The plot, when you really think about it, doesn’t make sense. What is the motivation behind villain Demian Bichir’s evil plans (surely it can’t be as simple as his dopey “alpha” speech)? Wouldn’t it be easier and safer to fly overseas instead of traveling through a gravity-challenged (but undeniably cool) “hollow earth”?
Director Adam Wingard is clearly a graduate from the Michael Bay School of Filmmaking, as dozens of buildings fall, hundreds (if not thousands) of people presumably die, and the film never stops to address that a tragedy has taken place. Wingard (and, most importantly, his team of visual effects artists) can conjure up cool images but he’s not an actor’s director.
His prior two movies were the mediocre 2016 “Blair Witch” (a franchise resuscitation that flatlined) and the all-around bad idea U.S. remake of “Death Note” (2017). Wingard’s intro to the mainstream was his much hyped and awful “You’re Next” (2011).
“Godzilla vs. Kong” is a Kaiju-sized step up for him.
The cast is full of movie and TV stars who, based on the performances they give here, you’d never guess were good actors. I’m a fan of Rebecca Hall, Millie Bobby Brown, Brian Tyree Henry, Kyle Chandler and Alexander Skarsgard, all of whom probably don’t want us to remember they were in this.
Goodwill for these actors and familiarity with their prior work is the only way to tolerate the level of acting on display here. The dialog and acting are so bad, it made me miss the days of Matthew Broderick talking about earth worms.
In the actors’ defense, the dialog is atrocious — just try adding the word “Godzilla” in a long sentence and see if you could make it sound natural.
The dozens of scenes where characters must stare in awe at something off screen or simply travel across the globe, come across as busywork for the ensemble. The hardest scenes to take focus on Julian Dennison (so good in “Hunt for the Wilder People”), Brown and a wildly over the top Henry — seeing these three actors, all great elsewhere, scream and talk over one another, is akin to witnessing acting school improv run amok.
I was grateful every time the movie shifts focus from the people and gives us the less articulate but far more charismatic monsters.
Actually, the performer who gets short-changed the most is Godzilla, who is strictly a ruthless monster and devoid of any real pathos. The movie is clearly on King Kong’s side, which is for the best, as he’s an underdog in the climactic fight.
Although this version of the character lacks the emotional gravity and poetry that the 1933, 1976 and 2005 versions provided, Kong is sympathetic, funny and still a visual marvel (his monster co-star, on the other hand, resembles a stumbling giant lizard).
“Godzilla vs. Kong” steals imagery outright from “Pacific Rim,” “King Kong Escapes,” “Avatar,” “The Lord of the Rings,” Upside Down,” “Transformers” and, most hilariously, “Lethal Weapon 2” (apparently, Kong is a fan of Martin Riggs).
Unlike the fresh, comic book infused “Kong: Skull Island,” this truly feels like a corporate attempt to create a franchise by assembling parts that worked elsewhere.
The editing is too rushed for the first half, with many scenes involving humans feeling clunky and unfinished. Considering how good the all-CGI monster footage is, a better idea would have been to cut all the humans out of the this entirely.
At least it looks great, as nearly every scene has either warm sunsets or the onscreen presence of neon lighting as a light source. The visual effects are beautiful, as is the decision to have the title fight take place in a city with a lush color palette.
Not a smart movie, to say the least, but there are some great moments throughout. When a Kardashian-like villain is crushed by a giant creature, there was some applause that broke out in my theater. Having a deaf girl as Kong’s best friend is a maudlin choice that mostly works (though having her in Skull Island-native gear doesn’t make sense, as we know Kong has always had a weak spot for any female companionship).
Surprisingly affecting are the bits where the deaf child can sense Kong by feeling his vibration, which is as close to heartfelt as this gets.
Gareth Edwards’ 2014 “Godzilla,” which started this U.S. brand of classic Kaiju movie remakes, stubbornly avoided crowd-pleasing, has a distinct vision and looks better every passing year. I also thoroughly enjoyed “Kong: Skull Island” (2017) but loathed the 2019 “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.”
This is the third in the “Monster-verse trilogy” (after “Kong: Skull Island” and “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”), though Edwards’ film still gets a shout-out in the end credits and has a barely visible clip in the overly busy opening credits.
“Godzilla vs. Kong” is a bad movie with so many thrilling parts, it manages to captivate, even when the screenplay is seemingly attempting to sabotage itself.
This is comparable to Peter Berg’s “Battleship” in that it’s better than expected, often exciting and a lot of fun, but don’t trust anyone who insists it’s a great movie.
Two and a Half Stars