Large scale spectacle often serves as a primary reason moviegoers head to the theaters, whether it be epic battles between rival medieval armies or spies preventing world destruction or comic book heroes saving the universe.
In hopes for a big screen surge, Warner Brothers has put its faith in another tried and true blockbuster genre – the monster movie – with a gigantic showdown long in the making.
Director Adam Wingard’s Godzilla vs. Kong is exactly what it sounds like, a faceoff between the two most well-known movie monsters, each with a storied cinematic history and primed for a fight expected to draw viewers out of their homes for old school thrills.
A decision to move King Kong from his remote refuge in search of his native home puts Kong and his protectors in the path of an enraged Godzilla, back on land after three quiet years for unknown reasons.
At its best, Godzilla vs. Kong lives up to the promise shown in earlier installments like 2014’s Godzilla and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island. At its worst, it devolves into a Pacific Rim-esque mess.
Godzilla vs. Kong puts the wrong giant at the front as it’s the king of the jungle who truly takes center stage in Wingard’s film.
Uprooted from his home in Skull Island and forced into a journey of self-discovery, Kong has the most dramatic character development of the entire film while Godzilla slithers in occasionally from underwater to wreak havoc. Both creatures are shown in all their glory from a visual standpoint and the action sequences have a good amount of energy to them.
Most notably, this third Godzilla entry is perhaps the first this century to showcase the monster in bright daylight for extended periods of time, allowing audiences to truly get the most out of what they came to see: giant creatures beating each other to a pulp and destroying major cities.
The battles are the focal point for the entire film, receiving the best treatment from Wingard and intricate, thoughtful examinations of how a sea lizard and land-bound monkey might duke it out. An early sequence with Kong transported by boat only to come face to face with Godzilla in the middle of the ocean is especially engaging and creative in this regard.
The human characters in Godzilla vs. Kong, however, continuously fight an uphill battle for relevance as pretty much all the actors are saddled with outlandish plot devices and laughably subpar dialogue that drags most of the emotional weight out of the film.
While it’s great to see talents like Rebecca Hall, Julian Dennison, Millie Bobby Brown and especially the underutilized Brian Tyree Henry earn sizable screen time, viewers can easily tell that the material is holding actors back.
The one exception to this is Kaylee Hottle’s Jia, the one character besides the monsters actually written with purpose and care.
A deaf character played by a deaf actress, Jia comes across as the most genuine character in the film with a wide open heart and a connection to Kong through sign language that makes sense and helps propel the story forward both logically and emotionally, a rare feat in this action-adventure.
Wingard and his team take great care to muffle or outright mute the sound at times to put viewers in Jia’s shoes during her interactions with Kong and the ways they inventively craft the relationship between a young girl and a massive giant is perhaps the best human-titan interaction in the entire series.
It’s impossible to fully divorce a review of Godzilla vs. Kong from a debate about how to watch the film as it is currently playing both in theaters and streaming on HBO Max for the next several weeks.
If Warner Brothers was intent on releasing one of their tentpole intellectual property features in order to revitalize theaters coming out of the coronavirus pandemic, they would have put their four-hour odyssey Zach Snyder’s Justice League on the big screen rather than making it an exclusive selling point for their affiliated streamer.
In a normal year, Godzilla vs. Kong would have been a run-of-the-mill, turn-your-brain-off action blockbuster that came and went just as unimpressively as prior Godzilla entry King of the Monsters did in 2019. Wingard’s film feels more important now because, by in large, there is no real competition.
Truly, the CGI battle sequences and renderings of the titular iconic titans are worthy of the big screen where their grandiose majesty can be fully taken in by the audience. However, these scenes are not transcendent enough nor make up enough of the film’s running time to justify skipping a home viewing experience where Godzilla vs. Kong is certainly worth a shot.