Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for the main event of the evening! A rematch that is fifty-nine years in the making. In one corner, the tragically doomed and constant emotional center of giant-monster movies. The people’s champion, who is endearingly known to his online followers as “monke”… Kong: The Eighth Wonder of the World! His opponent in the opposite corner is the reigning, defending, superheavyultraweight champion of this hollow world. He is the giant, nuclear lizard aka the King of the Monsters aka the chonky boy… Godzilla! If you are reading this and wondering why I’m being so theatrical, it’s because this is the movie that calls for it. It’s WrestleMania for filmgoers.
Over the last month and a half, I have personally seen over forty of these giant monster movies or Kaiju flicks. It’s been a lot to take in but has its own form of rewards, sort of like eating a gallon of ice cream right after an entire batch of brownies. It was during this journey that I was let in on a little secret about this genre, they live or die based on the integration of the human storyline. Unfortunately, more than a few of these movies in this subgenre screw up this concept. It doesn’t take much; they’re not making Casablanca (1942) or Network (1976). When it comes to these specific types of monster mash flicks, they quite frankly don’t have to make Gojira (1954) or Shin Godzilla (2016) either. The bottom-line goal should be to drive the plot without diverting attention away from the centerpiece of the show. Legendary Entertainment has had a rough time nailing this concept in the previous MonsterVerse installments. They mistakenly gave crucial running time towards thin plots with thinner characters, usually while cutting away from what audiences bought a ticket for in the first place.
Which is why Godzilla vs. Kong is basically a miracle for this universe. There are two leads in this movie: King Kong and Godzilla. The supporting characters act as hype men for the two iconic monsters. All their actions go towards serving either character. Now, before anyone grabs a stopwatch and attempts to prove me wrong by showing how Millie Bobby Brown’s Madison has more screen time than Godzilla, allow me to remind you that this is a common storytelling technique that’s been used in countless films such as Silence of the Lambs (1991) or The Wizard of Oz (1939). Besides, it’s not as if Godzilla is the type of character that’s going to stop and describe to the viewer what his motivations are at that moment. Ultimately, he’s just looking for a good scrap. Which is why the writers wisely chose to push Kong to the forefront ahead of the big lizard. The only area where Godzilla is thin is with his characterization, there’s not much you can do with his personally to make the viewer emotionally invested in him when he’s not destroying Japan.
Kong, on the contrary, has always been more colorful as a character. He wears his emotions on his fur, constantly gets hit hard by life, and is easy to root for. This story is put into motion by the promise of finding a better life for the big guy, and it’s an easy hook. Of course, they need to do so without the King of the Monsters catching wind of it, because Kong will get smashed. To add to that, Godzilla is attacking major cities and causing deaths (although I’d personally call Godzilla walking through a major populated city and only killing eight people a good day). To combat Godzilla’s newfound approach to human relations, this major robotics company needs to secure a power source from the Hollow Earth. This Hollow Earth could serve as a great home for Kong, so why not kill two birds with one stone? Team Kong is dedicated to this approach, and they wisely include an orphaned girl who befriends Kong to give the story a bit of pathos. Team Godzilla, on the other hand, are the weaker of this batch of supporting characters. They are trying to figure out why Godzilla has broken bad all a sudden, and they believe it has something to do with the totally not evil corporation that is looking for the new energy source for their “mysterious” answer to the Godzilla problem. Instead of pathos, these scenes mostly use comedy, to somewhat better results than Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) was able to do. Instead of “dad” jokes, the film uses a more sarcastic brand of humor leaning on an absurdist, meta brand with a hint of Big Trouble in Little China (1986). This will be divisive for many, fans and non-fans alike.
Both plots do their job in bringing audiences to the centerpiece scenes of the film, the reason everybody chose to watch this in the first place. Once the big encounter happens between the titular characters, there is an immediate energy that was lacking in recent Godzilla film. Instead of the movie telling the viewer that they should be excited with what they are seeing in these encounters, Kong crossing paths with Godzilla has that energy organically. The moment isn’t rushed or held back in favor of other plots. The fight scenes are creative in their use of environment and well-choreographed, harkening back to the action films of the eighties with Kong in the “hero that gets his ass kicked repeatedly while the audiences cheer him on” type of role. Godzilla is essentially a bully here but doesn’t stray so far that he becomes unlikeable. The blows are impactful, the result of character dynamics in the choreography. Big moments within the fight are built up to instead of keeping the volume at max to force excitement, which also leaves room for nuance, believe it or not. It’s touches like these that enhance the storytelling through the use of visuals. The film doesn’t make any one character a defacto exposition device, and it doesn’t need to. The story of Kong meeting Godzilla is clearly told to the viewer by the action on-screen thanks to its direction, choreography, and special effects. This is the new benchmark for which these films will be compared from now on. It could very possibly end up containing some of the best action in cinema this year.
It doesn’t have to be great, it doesn’t have break new ground; all it must do is be enough. It’s silly as hell, loud, outlandish, and as modern as modern blockbusters get. This doesn’t mean it lacks value per se, but it feels a void that’s means to provide pure entertainment. A big, dumb movie for a big, dumb world. Even the snobbiest of film buffs like to dine on their equivalent to fast food every now and then. Thankfully, as the Monsterverse possibly closes, Legendary Entertainment have found the formula to engage the wider viewing audience. It’s the perfect dose of action, spectacle, and joy as the world stands on the brink of another new normal; a brand of escapism that transports audiences away from a reality that was starved of that joy.