Spoiler alert: If you have not yet watched this movie and intend to, come back once you are finished!
In 2021, Legendary Studio released their most recent entry into their ‘Monsterverse’ series, ‘Godzilla vs Kong’.
Before we start it would be remiss of me if I didn’t first mention the awful track record Hollywood has with kaiju movies.
(kaiju = monster in Japanese)
Legendary’s Monsterverse is an attempt at a complete reset.
So far so good on that front, Legendary has been serving us a kaiju feast for the eyes for almost a decade.
Following Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island (2017) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), Godzilla vs Kong is the next step on Legendary Studio’s plan for monster movie domination.
Godzilla vs Kong is the culmination of Legendary’s attempt to bring together the two Monsterverse headliners currently in their stable in a free for all against not only each other but the machinations of the extravagantly evil CEO of Apex Cybernetics.
With a view of the past, it’s time to look at the latest instalment.
The good, the bad, the plot, and a revelation
Kaiju movies live and die by how well their monster movie stars are portrayed on screen.
It has been this way since the Toho days of foam bodysuits and miniaturised cityscapes. Even though giant monster movies are mostly CGI these days, that one fact has not changed.
I am glad to report that Godzilla and Kong look amazing.
There is always going to be an argument that an over-reliance on CGI has a detrimental effect on a movie long-term especially as technology continues to evolve.
Thankfully I forgot to bring my fun police badge to work today, so I’m not going to talk about that point any further.
What I am going to talk about is how well the fights in Godzilla vs Kong were staged, specifically the last one.
Let them fight … and let me watch
The fight scene starts with Godzilla and Kong duking it out in neon-lit Hong Kong only to realise something was amiss.
The pair look to the headquarters of Apex Cybernetics located on the mountain overlooking the city, like the palace of a god overlooking its subjects.
Suddenly the ground erupts and Mechagodzilla bursts out from the hellish labs below Apex Cybernetics like some kind of metallic affront to god.
The subsequent three-way fight is as brilliant in its savagery as it is in it’s intensity.
From the level of anticipation to the suspense, everything is as perfectly calibrated as the evil alien robot our ‘heroes’ are battling against.
The scene where Godzilla and Kong finally defeat Mechagodzilla is the single most brutal way I have ever seen a foe dispatched in an M-rated movie.
It brilliantly conveys the point that even though Godzilla, Kong, and all the other Titans may be revered as gods or contained as test subjects; They are kaiju.
They are as savage as they are wild, and that should be forgotten at your own peril.
I could talk about all my minor grievances with Godzilla vs Kong until the kaiju cows come home, but there is only one issue that has stuck with me long after I turned this movie off.
The comedic relief trio of aspiring conspiracy theorists Maddison Russell (Millie Bobbie Brown) and Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison) alongside veteran conspiracy theorist podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) bombs hard.
The jokes and references were flat, the chemistry was off, and it felt like Julian Dennison ended up as the awkward third wheel in a dream road trip for tinfoil hat wearers allergic to fluoride.
It’s clear Legendary wanted to ride the success both Millie Bobbie Brown (Stranger Things, Enola Holmes) and newbie Julian Dennison (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Deadpool 2) have been enjoying over the last few years.
It’s just a shame Legendary decided to do it in such a ham-fisted way.
The focus on Kong’s ‘humanity’ in this movie is vital because he is the closest thing we as the audience have to a ‘good kaiju’ in this movie.
I use the term ‘good’ reluctantly.
Sure, he’s nice to a few humans but Kong’s ‘benevolence’ does not extend to the multitude of actors relegated to the time-honoured monster movie role of ‘collateral damage’.
But when your co-star is the King of the Monsters, not stomping your human co-stars is more than enough to differentiate you from Mother Nature’s dispassionate arbiter of balance, Godzilla.
Speaking of differences, Legendary deserves credit for how much work they put into making sure the 103-metre tall primate had anything close to a fighting chance against his cranky co-star.
Even if the way it was done was… imaginative.
If you had told me beforehand that Godzilla and Kong belonged to two rival ancient races that have warred since the beginning of time in “Hollow Earth”, I would have laughed in your face and shredded my movie ticket.
I would have been a fool to do so.
The plot is absurd, but giant monster movies have always had some leeway in this department, for good reason.
While incredibly silly, having Kong inherit an ancient monster-monkey-sized magic axe that powers up by absorbing Godzilla’s Atomic Breath fits seamlessly into the ‘kaiju mythology’ Legendary Studio’s Monsterverse has woven.
In an era of superhero movie supremacy, it is ironic that Godzilla vs Kong is the closest thing to a truly old-school comic book cross-over that I have seen on the big screen in years.
Monsterverse chapter 4: revelations
I had a revelation while watching Godzilla vs Kong.
Under all the camp characters and insane plot, kaiju movies and their gargantuan cast provide massive city-destroying canvases to explore issues that many view as too massive to tackle.
It’s been that way since Godzilla’s radiation scarred body first emerged on the silver screen back in 1954.
Godzilla’s very creation was a direct response to the suffering experienced by Japan as a result of the two atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War 2
Legendary Studios first Monsterverse entry, Godzilla (2014) was set in Japan just years after the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster and explored the country’s tragic intertwined history with nuclear technology.
The themes and stories within giant monster movies like Godzilla are sad and at times just as crushing to the viewer as they are to the cars on screen.
But that’s because at their core, giant monster movies are not about giant monsters using cityscapes like Street Fighter stages, they are about us.
They are a reflection of us and the depths and heights we can descend, or rise to as a species.
At its core, Godzilla vs Kong is about how humanity reacts to events that completely change the way we live.
The creation of Mechagodzilla in this film was humanity’s response to the return of the monstrous Titans.
Compare this to the real world where there is no shortage of worldly worries for humanity, but at the top of that food chain is climate change.
It took a clear and present threat to their mutual existence for Godzilla and Kong to join forces to destroy Mechagodzilla.
I’m no climate scientist, but those who are make it clear to me that there is a scientific consensus on the immediate threat climate change poses to our mutual existence.
If Kong and Godzilla can put aside their millennia of baggage for the betterment of the world, why on (hollow) earth can’t we?
Photos by Liam Jennings