‘Godzilla Vs. Kong’ Finally Brings the Pain

An epic clash of the Titans

Yes, kaiju fans, after a slew of underwhelming MonsterVerse movies larded with American pomposity and desperate to jump-start Toho’s storied Nipponese franchise, Godzilla vs. Kong finally brings the pain. And it’s such sweet suffering. Let’s get ready to rum-blllllle…!

In this corner: Titanus Gojira, a 393-ft ancient dinosaur with atomic breath and lizard-brain reflexes who’s fighting to keep his reigning title as King of the Monsters. Challenging his crown: Titanus Kong, 158 tons of simian savvy, resident of lost-in-time Skull Island, last of his species, a perpetually sad-but-angry ape constantly fighting just to be left alone.

★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Directed by: Adam Wingard
Written by: Eric Pearson, Max Borenstein
Starring:  Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bishir
Running time: 113 min

Their tenacious tussles—one on land, one at sea—do not disappoint. Why are they facing off? Don’t ask too many questions, just gaze in wonder at majestic CGI battle royales that rattle and hum with kinetic, atavistic, prehistoric glory. And Wingard, along with his army of eye-popping visual-effects coders and wizardly sound designers, orchestrate these rampaging rumbles in teeth-rattling, chest-throbbing, bone-shaking wide-angle widescreen vistas.

Acrobatic camera angles, one whirling in a preposterous 360-degree vertical somersault, keep the fight scenes exhilarating, as do the underwater wrestling matches and skyscraper body slams. Godzilla’s the relentless reptile, Kong’s the all-too-human underdog, and we’ve got a ringside seat to all the seismic blows. Punching, gouging, pounding, grinding—it’s a down-and-dirty dog fight. Wait, did Kong just pop his dislocated shoulder back into its socket? Fuck yeah, he did.

Godzilla Vs. Kong

Wingard’s facility for inventive excitement isn’t surprising, since he cut his teeth on nasty little genre thrill rides like You’re Next and The Guest. Maybe that’s the reason this latest Godzilla installment is the shortest of the series, bringing on the lizard attacks early and often. No coy shots of Godzilla’s foot or Kong’s furrowed brow. This is full-frontal mayhem, up, down, and sideways, in lingering shots that make the melees even more thrilling.

What’s new to this film is the B-movie wonderment pulsing through its moneyed veins. Monster Zero’s Hummer-sized skull spiked with scores of glowing tubes and bathed in blue-and-pink neon? A subterranean world where the mountainous terrain is both above and below, with equal gravitational pulls that allow for dancing-on-the-ceiling topographical reversals? A reimagined Hong Kong skyline that supercharges all the buildings’ signature day-glo color schemes, like a lost city from Tron? A 600-mph underground bullet train from Pensacola, Florida to the Pacific Rim? Kong wielding a goddamned rechargeable radioactive tomahawk? This is a Brobdingnagian Hollywood tentpole with a psychotronic heart.

Also, there are actors. They busy themselves with some sort of plot. It doesn’t make much sense, but here goes: Godzilla senses a mortal threat from Apex Cybernetics, a secretive global tech conglomerate with eccentric billionaire Walter Simmons (Demián Bishir) as its CEO. Simmons needs more power to fuel his covert creations, so he enlists Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) to help him discover the theoretical energy-rich world of Hollow Earth—a hypothetical orb within our planet housing an ecosystem “as vast as any ocean.”

They postulate for no good reason that King Kong’s ancestors came from Hollow Earth, and they figure he can therefore lead them there even though he’s never been. So they rope in renowned scientist and frankly misnomered “Kong Whisperer” Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), who doesn’t seem to have much of a rapport with the big ape. Her adopted daughter does, though: Jia (Kaylee Hottle), a deaf orphan child who taught Kong how to understand sign language. They both agree to drug Kong and drag him to the mouth of a huge Hollow Earth launch station in Antarctica. Because that definitely won’t freak out the tropical behemoth at all.

Millie Bobby Brown reprises her role as Madison Russell, daughter of scientist Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler). He works for the sprawling government agency Monarch, a profligate military-industrial money pit which is responsible for keeping track of the world’s Titans. Neither character effects the story in any significant way, but they do gape in awe a lot and constantly worry about each other. She joins forces with Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), paranoid host of a conspiracy theory podcast who showers with bleach and waltzes blithely into high-security sites with names like Sublevel 33.

The human actors don’t have much purpose, aside from witnessing all the carnage, tossing off neuropsychiatric terms like “genetic memory,” and reacting to insane plot twists with a well-timed “Bitch, whaaaaat….?” Godzilla vs. Kong logs its tedious time with this obligatory exposition, but only really comes alive when there’s a bona-fide brawl. Witness Kong’s victory over yet another adversary: ripping off its head and pulling out its spine, Mortal Kombat style. Who wins? Everybody.

Godzilla vs. Kong
KONG BOWS TO NO ONE: King Kong stars in ‘Godzilla Vs. Kong.’

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Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer, Garrett is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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