Tanner Sherlock
Staff Writer

Minor Spoilers for Godzilla vs. Kong ahead!

I like giant monsters. I like giant monsters beating each other up. I like giant monsters destroying cities and blowing up vehicles and tanking missiles. I like giant monsters in my video games; I like giant monsters in my movies. Here’s something that’ll blow your mind: I love Godzilla.

I’ve loved Godzilla since I was seven years old and found out that movies about a giant radioactive dinosaur existed and were really fun to watch. I’ve seen most of the Hensai-era and Millenium-era films, my favorite period being the ‘89 to ‘95 streak of Godzilla vs Biollante to Godzilla vs Destroyah. My first movie in the franchise was Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, a deconstruction of the series directed by Shusuke Kaneko, who was brought on board after having reinvented the Gamera series (a giant Atlantean turtle who can fly by spewing fire out of the holes in his shell. I know right?) in the mid-90’s. GMK: GMAOA (the abbreviation just makes this easier) was definitely an odd film to start with, being a direct deconstruction of the previous films with wildly different themes and a starkly darker tone, but still featured the awesome monster battles that are what made the franchise popular outside of Japan.

That last paragraph had two points: first, to show how much I love Godzilla and kaiju (giant monster) movies in general. The second was to illustrate that I try to know a good amount about these movies, too. I wouldn’t call myself quite as hardcore as some get about the franchise (though I hope to get there one day), but I’m certainly not the average viewer either; I have a history with Godzilla that attracts me to anything with him in it.

I’ve now seen Godzilla vs Kong twice, both times at home on a television screen (though you can see it in theaters if you’re willing to), and, dudes, it’s awesome. Mild spoilers, but I got to see a giant gorilla’s morning routine, which included a butt scratch and a shower under a waterfall. I got to see Godzilla destroy some brightly-lit neon cities, and I got to see Kong and Godzilla beat the crap out of each other for extended fight scenes that were some of the most joy-inducing moments of cinema I’ve experienced in a long, long time. Watching this movie brought me back to my childhood; it was an exercise in pure, unabashed destruction of the most juvenile kind, and I don’t mean that as a bad thing. To be clear: this movie isn’t thematically deep or narratively complex; most of the story scenes are there to either worldbuild or to set up reasons for a giant monkey to fight a radioactive dinosaur. The characters are two-dimensional and their arcs are barely there, if they are at all.

I will say that the acting is decent for what the movie is; the line delivery is never particularly bland, but, again, pretty much all of the characters are stock archetypes. Kaylee Hottle’s Jia character is probably the standout of the humans, though. Her character is a bit one-note like the others, but her bond with Kong is a nice change of pace from the stereotype of Kong bonding with blonde, white women (as seen in pretty much every film that he’s been in). Actual, real spoilers now: her use of sign language to communicate with Kong is also a neat touch to their relationship and adds to her character and the film itself; it’s the first time Kong has signed in a film, and I think it’s a solid addition to Kong himself. Spoilers done! Brian Tyree Henry has a fun turn as a kaiju conspiracy theorist, too; it’s a fun character type that isn’t seen a lot in films in this genre.

There are two characters, though, that I think do have some solid writing and emotion behind them: Godzilla and Kong themselves.

This movie, like the previous entry in the franchise Godzilla: King of the Monsters, does a lot to give character to its kaiju, and it pays off well. We see their facial expressions, their reactions to certain events, and both Godzilla and Kong are given motivations behind their actions that are totally understandable and even sympathetic in some ways. Kong, especially, has a lot of scenes that really outline his personality and lay out how he views the events occurring around him. Kong is curious but tired, ferocious, but with a gentle side that really shines during his interactions with Jia. He seems to be getting older, but he has a sense of pride that prevents him from giving in. Although I prefer Godzilla in general, this is definitely Kong’s film, and, as such, he’s given a solid hero’s journey to go through, which is something you don’t often see applied to a giant gorilla.

Godzilla’s characterization is good, too; he’s largely a foil to Kong and, as such, reflects his personality in some ways. He’s equally prideful, but, unlike the ever-curious Kong, Godzilla always seems to know what’s going on. Everyone else in the plot keeps guessing as to what’s happening or why certain events are happening, but Godzilla is always doing his own thing, pursuing his own goals for reasons that only he knows. He’s weathered but ageless in disposition with an almost arrogant-level of confidence that is largely earned due to, you know, the dozens of giant monsters he’s killed. His personality is well-defined and aided greatly through the close-up shots he gets in a few scenes, but he’s still a much more static character than his ape counterpart. Godzilla doesn’t really get an arc like Kong either, but, again, Kong is this film’s protagonist through and through.

On that note, the movie does a good job of balancing the two’s presence and the milieu of their respective franchises. Godzilla retains his ‘force of nature’ characterization while still proving to have personality, while Kong’s ‘I’m a person, too’ archetype and subtext is kept in and helps the audience to sympathize with his journey. This movie probably isn’t what Martin Scorsese would call ‘cinema,’ but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.

Movies have different purposes; some mean to excite, some mean to make people laugh, and so forth. Godzilla vs Kong follows the route of summer blockbusters like Independence Day and Star Wars: A New Hope; it’s a blockbuster meant to entertain rather than to challenge. Many kaiju films are of a similar disposition; 2013’s Pacific Rim (another favorite of mine) is a perfect example. In cases like this, the film’s ability to entertain largely comes down to the spectacle of the proceedings and the choreographing of the fights, and Godzilla vs Kong intelligently focuses almost all of its energy on making these parts of the film as fantastic as possible. Giant monsters get ripped in half, clawed, and burned by lizard laser breath. Skyscrapers are toppled and destroyed; at one point, Kong swings around a giant snake-like thing and hits another giant monster with the first giant monster. It’s all a tad silly, but the movie seems aware of that; it strikes a solid balance of being self-aware of its ridiculousness while also being completely genuine in its tone and narrative. It’s important to note that self-awareness doesn’t absolve a film of its problems, and Godzilla vs Kong has a few.

First of all, and this is a criticism that’s haunted this franchise since the first film, the human characters are bland and feel like a waste of time. They’re needed to give the story context, structure, etc., but none of them have much interesting to say, save, again, for Jia’s relationship with Kong. Everyone else doesn’t feel needed or particularly important, and it’s something that the franchise really needs to work on if it wants to continue.

Second, the villains feel similarly bland and underdeveloped. The movie obviously isn’t trying to do anything special with its antagonists, but (no spoilers) the tropes that they use are even more dull and boring than the other human characters.

Lastly, the plot itself feels too simple. The settings and backdrops are cool, and there are several moments that are amazing to watch, but the actual story itself (save for some really out-there Kong stuff, which is my new favorite thing ever) is barely tolerable. It’s saved from being outright boring only by the aforementioned settings and set dressing, but, otherwise, it’s just one trope after another until we get to the action scenes (which are, again, so awesome).

Is Godzilla vs Kong for everyone? No, not by a long shot. It’s a great action movie with a lot of cool scenes that do some interesting characterization work for the giant monsters, but it has problems that will probably turn a lot of people off. The human characters aren’t interesting, the plot itself is bog-standard and a little tedious at times, and some of the actions that various characters make don’t make a lot of sense when you think about it (why would you shoot him? He’s a giant, bulletproof gorilla).

But, Godzilla vs Kong made me smile more than pretty much any movie I’ve seen in the past few years. Obviously it appeals to me as a massive Godzilla fanboy, but the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. It plays around, makes jokes, and shows the audience what they came to see: giant monsters fighting other giant monsters. It’s probably my new favorite of the MonsterVerse films, definitely up there among my favorite Godzilla films, and welcome reprieve from the utter lack of fun films that have been released since the pandemic has started.

Featured Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures

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