One Will Fall
Following a storm which wiped out all but one [Hottle] of the Skull Island’s indigenous population, King Kong has been moved to a facility, monitored by Dr Ilene Andrews [Hall] for preservation but also to avert an all out fight between two alpha titans. After an Apex Cybernetics plant in Florida is attacked by Godzilla, a conspiracy podcast host (and Apex engineer) begrudgingly teams up with Madison Russell [Bobby Brown] and her friend Josh [Dennison] to uncover why Godzilla attacked without provocation. Meanwhile the head of Apex, Walter Simmons [Bichir] contracts geologist Dr Nathan Lind [Skarsgård] to charter an expedition to the centre of the earth to prove his theory of a hollow earth. Lind explains it will only be possible to breach the barrier if led by a titan and thus Kong is unwillingly conscripted but taking him out of his enclosure alerts Godzilla to his existence.
Since their first release in 2014, Legendary have been trying to get traction with their giant monster franchise and for the most part they have. Critical reviews have been decent and the box office has been a fairly solid half-a-billion dollars; admittedly this was not mirrored with the most recent instalment (Godzilla: King Of The Monsters) but this pitched universe has ultimately, at least at this stage, been building toward this fight. And if this is where this experiment ends, I’d be ok with this as a send off.
The film whips along at breakneck pace for the shortest runtime of the four features thus far (a fraction over two hours) and leans more on Kong than Godzilla. While one could argue that Godzilla had a sequel so Kong should get more attention, these aren’t people, it’s not about contract disputes, it ultimately comes down to Kong being a huge ape and therefore easier for writers to humanise and interact with. Having said this, the split makes sense to me and I take little umbrage with who gets more or less screen time; the problem I have is the opening credits. Far too much heavy lifting is given to a few blink-and-you’ll-miss-it images that cover the last five years of world building. Frankly there isn’t nearly enough cohesion from the end of King Of The Monsters, which ended on the climactic image of several giant titans making their way from all over the world to bow to Godzilla. Surely a world in which multiple titanic creatures exist is going to have major implications for how we progress as a species but seemingly very little changes for humans other than our technology advances a good five or six decades.
In terms of its construction, the film is actually a real treat. The action is clear and well directed – I think it’s fair to say the fight choreography could mostly be described as “What?” “You gonna step to me?” and “Stay down!” – the cinematography is rich and flooded with bright neon lights – something that will no doubt irritate some but with so many washed out, desaturated films, it’s a nice change of pace – and the CGI is incredibly impressive with very few problematic shots. While the sound design is decent, if a little busy, the score by Warner Bros’ current go-to composer, Tom Holkenborg is pretty dry. I absolutely loved the themes by Alexandre Desplat in 2014’s Godzilla and Henry Jackman’s score for Kong: Skull Island is genuinely the best thing about that movie for me. But Holkenborg’s offering here is mostly simplistic droning with little nuance, elevation or range. Listening back to it, there are so many really strong elements and the possibility of something memorable but at the end of the day, it felt a little smothered.
Oddly enough, no matter how many decades have passed since the eponymous character’s first respective outings, the main criticism hasn’t changed: more monster stuff, less human stuff. While the human/kaiju ratio has always been a point of contention, I think there’s a certain Mandela effect, a misremembering of how these films have always been structured. The problem isn’t too many human plot lines, it’s that that the human angle is rarely well written and fails to engage the audience, it should be just as engaging and entertaining as the monster fights and that is admittedly a very difficult balance. For a prime example of where it works well, you need only look at something like Jurassic Park or to stick with the kaiju genre specifically, Shin Godzilla or Gamera 3: Revenge Of Iris. There has to be a good harmony between the titan punch-up and the human plight and in an effort to counter this criticism the humans are woven into Kong’s story with reasonable ease but the elements carried over from King Of The Monsters don’t fare as well as there has never been a true connection between Godzilla and someone like Madison. But the boring truth is, it’s a cost factor, always has been. The budget can’t stretch to two hours of constant CGI monster fights and in a way this leaves Godzilla Vs Kong feeling very reminiscent of old 90s and early 00s blockbusters but now with the budget and technical ability to really sell the visuals.
Speaking of the human component, I’ll admit I didn’t find any of them particularly offensive. I thought the team of Drs Lind and Andrews with Jia was perfectly compelling and while they could have been severely grating, Madison, Josh and Bernie were perfectly serviceable and I’m sure if I were 12, they would have been a nice precocious audience surrogate for me. There’s very little illusion who the villains are, from the moment they are introduced, but again, if you’re pitching this to kids as your primary demographic, that’s not the weakness it could have been. I do wonder, however, if there were significant amounts of this film discarded to keep it under two hours as you have someone like Lance Reddick in a glorified cameo, despite being named in the title sequence and Kyle Chandler being whittled down to the point of useless in this film.
I feel like a Godzilla film is released and it’s a serious allegory about war, death, climate control or just the idea of mankind being punished for its hubris. Then we get a follow-up and sticking with the established formula, we need to see a bunch of monsters punching each other in the face, the grandiose themes are stripped away and there is an element of fun to the general carnage and chaos. Time and time again we see this slide from grounded in reality to full-blown fantasy science fiction with aliens, psychic signals, secret realms and magic weapons. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that but I certainly enjoy them less. As stated earlier, this film’s world building seems to go a little Pacific Rim and imply since the discovery of these creatures we have developed the sort of technology that will allow us to create our own robotic kaiju and vehicles that can pass through the earth’s core. I will say this much, it was a bold gamble but it actually paid off well. Initially setup in Kong: Skull Island, getting to see this inverted gravity world that exists at the planet’s centre (like a scotch egg) was pretty bombastic and largely pleasing for the sheer Journey To The Centre Of The Earth ambition. While we’re talking about the hollow earth, it was interesting to see this film actually pick a winner. We weren’t given an entirely stalemate situation, Kong got whomped, had to upgrade, got whomped again. But this brings us to Mechagodzilla – arguably one of the worst kept secrets due to the toy companies being too keen – I was expecting the sort of pitch from 1974’s Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla wherein the Godzilla wreaking havoc on the world is an imposter with a robotic endoskeleton but what we got here made sense, I didn’t hate the design of the creature, I’m glad it was linked into the Ghidorah head from the previous film and using this new adversary as a common enemy will feel a little Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice for some but I can’t complain too much.
In summation, I think this film pretty much delivers what it has advertised. Here is a film wherein the titular characters fight each other, a few times, in a few different locations. There are additional mini fights and a lot of great set pieces. Yes the human element could be stronger but the connection between Kong and Jia alone was passable enough for me. In truth, this could be an example of the right film at the right time. After a year (in the UK at least) of cinemas being shutdown bar a handful of limited screenings, many are starved for big blockbuster films and this feels cinematic. It feels like an event film and the novelty of that might light a fire under tired critics and weary audiences. Naturally I would prefer to have seen this in the cinema but all films end up on home media (physical or streaming) so we can’t argue that point too much. But to circle back to how I opened this review, if this is the last instalment of this particular iteration of these characters, I’d say they’re going out on a high.
31 March 2021
The Scene To Look Out For:
So many audience members will be itching to get to the fight. A couple of teases and various human-based plot threads won’t suffice, they’ll want an all out, no holds barred brawl and I think the neon-lit nighttime showdown in Hong Kong absolutely delivers. The shots are clear, the camera work is clever, I literally didn’t care if anyone lived or died on the streets below (which should be worrying) because my attention was solely focused on the big lizard and the big monkey clobbering one another. What more can you ask for?
Another character that felt utterly undercooked but could have served as a very interesting individual was Ren Serizawa, played by Shun Oguri. I’ve seen Oguri in a few Japanese features and he’s a solid choice but he is so very wasted here. When introduced I immediately recognised the name and expected some sort of exploration of this but as little came out of it, I wrote off the link as something I projected onto the film. Only to later discover that Ren Serizawa is indeed supposed to be the son of Ken Watanabe’s character from the previous Godzilla films. So we had a character playing the son of the man who obsessed over and gave up his life for Godzilla but the justification for his transition to working for the company looking to effectively replace the titans is non existent. And a small addition, In a movie littered with subtitles due to sign language, why not just have him speak Japanese? You’d see fragments of sentences being said by Oguri but I feel the majority is reactionary footage from others around him, which reeks of ADR and is unfortunate.
“We need to go, the woman with the villain hair do is getting goons”
In A Few Words:
“Godzilla vs Kong: does what it says on the tin, at the expense of everything else”