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Friday, April 02, 2021

Godzilla vs. Kong


I'm sure there are many people who will call Godzilla vs. Kong a smashing success, because it gives the audience exactly what the title promises, and does so with the finest special effects available.  Both titular Titans are animated and rendered beautifully, to the point that it's kind of astonishing just to watch the CG water running off of Kong's fur, or Godzilla's scaly backside.  And when they do go at each other, the battles are cleanly edited, and pretty involving for a fight that was done entirely on a computer.  It creates a sense of realism, which is saying something when you consider who the two combatants are.  

Of the two giant monsters, Kong is the star.  Godzilla has been placed in a supporting role here, and mostly shows up to battle the giant ape, or crush a couple cities. (Pensacola, Florida and Hong Kong both get to be under the lizard's feet.) Kong is treated as a sympathetic character, as he bonds and even begins to communicate with a little deaf girl via sign language.  This immediately brought to my mind the 1987 movie, Project X.  That was the film where Matthew Broderick bonded with a chimp through sign language, and the two helped to unravel a government plot involving using monkeys as test pilots.  Now that I think about it, Broderick was in that 1998 Godzilla movie also.  Maybe if he were here, he could figure out how the two could resolve their differences.  

He's nowhere to be found, however.  In his place are a large human cast that the movie spends way too much time on, when what we really want to see are the giant monsters duking it out.  I understand that a movie like this needs a human element as well, but why make the characters so forgettable, and the plot so hard to care about?  What it all boils down to is that the human characters are searching for a place within our planet called Hollow Earth, which is believed to be the birthplace of all the giant monsters that are now stomping around our major cities. (Why do you never see Kong or Godzilla threatening a tiny little farm community in Wisconsin?) Godzilla, who was thought to be peaceful before, has suddenly started attacking cities.  Some people believe that he is targeting the mysterious Apex Cybernetics Corporation.  The company is run by a guy played by  Demián Bichir, who spends all of his time in a dark control room downing whiskey like it were water, so you know he's up to something.
Meanwhile, a group of scientists want to help lead Kong back to his home in Hollow Earth.  They are led by Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) and Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), a woman who has studied Kong a lot, and is known as a "Kong Whisperer".  Little does she know, her adopted deaf daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle) has an even bigger bond with Kong, and has learned to communicate with him through sign language.  And in yet another plot, we have one of the few returning characters from the previous Godzilla movie, teenager Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown).  She's the one who thinks Godzilla is targeting the shadowy Apex Corporation, and so she teams up with her dorky friend Josh (Julian Dennison) and conspiracy theory podcast host Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), to uncover what's really going on over at Apex.  

So, Godzilla vs. Kong is constantly cutting to the team of scientists making their way to Hollow Earth, and the group of young heroes solving a mystery like a bargain-basement Scooby Gang, when all we really want to see are the ape and lizard clobbering each other.  When the movie obliges, it works as escapist entertainment, and we do get some memorable moments, like the first encounter between the two monsters built around a convoy of ships that is transporting Kong.  Moments like this are few and far between, however.  Most of the movie's attention is on the multi-character plot that is constantly changing gears from being sentimental creature and kid bonding movie, conspiracy theory thriller, and bad comic relief.  I also get that a lot of people are going to think that the characters and humans don't matter, and that as long as the movie gets the effects right, the movie has done its job.

But is wanting to give a damn about the people inhabiting the story such a bad thing?  The characters in 1993's Jurassic Park were not exactly deep, but they were interesting, quirky, and played by actors who knew how to grab our attention along with the special effects.  The actors here come across as either stiff, or kind of annoying.  There's not a single believable trait or memorable line of dialogue between them, and that kind of kills what the movie is supposed to be.  We're supposed to have some kind of involvement here.  Otherwise, we're just watching two very well done special effects creation wander about a plot that hasn't really been thought through.  When all is said and done, even spectacle movies need something natural for the audience to grab onto.


You might think differently.  If you do, ignore this review, and enjoy Godzilla vs. Kong for what it is - A well made, intentionally dumb movie that is the most fun when it is at its silliest.  As it went on, I kind of wanted more silliness, and less of the stilted acting and plot.  Besides, the two CG monsters show more emotion than the actors do, so focusing on them can only help. 

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