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Godzilla vs. Kong Review

March 31, 2021 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Godzilla vs. Kong
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Godzilla vs. Kong Review  

Directed By: Adam Wingard
Written By: Eric Pearson, Max Borenstein, Terry Rossio, Michael Dougherty and Zach Shields; Based on TOHO’s Godzilla
Runtime: 113 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of creature violence/destruction and brief language

Alexander Skarsgård – Nathan Lind
Millie Bobby Brown – Madison Russell
Rebecca Hall – Ilene Andrews
Kaylee Hottle – Jia
Brian Tyree Henry – Bernie Hayes
Julian Dennison – Josh Valentine
Demián Bichir – Walter Simmons
Eiza González – Maya Simmons
Shun Oguri – Ren Serizawa
Kyle Chandler – Mark Russell
Hakeem Kae-Kazim – Admiral Wilcox
Lance Reddick – Guillermin

The giant monster clash, Godzilla vs. Kong, is the long-awaited culmination of Legendary Pictures’ usually middling, if not usually entertaining, Monster-Verse series. It began in 2014 with the live-action cinematic reboot of Godzilla for American audiences. The franchise’s gravest mistake was curbing the momentum of that film and waiting five years to get back to cinema’s favorite King of the Monsters. Regardless, the first onscreen meeting of two of cinema’s most iconic giant monsters, who last faced off with the 1962 TOHO release King Kong vs. Godzilla, is very much worth the wait that brings the bombastic brawling worthy of these two genre stalwarts.

Set a few years after Godzilla defeated Ghidorah in King of the Monsters, the Titan is back. But this time, Godzilla is on a rampage and humanity’s protector appears to have targeted an Apex Cybernetics installation. While the returning Maddison Russell (Bobby Brown) refuses to believe Godzilla would have mindlessly attacked a city, her father Mark Russell (Chandler in a thankless reprisal from the last film) is more focused on cleaning up the aftermath of Godzilla’s wake. However, it appears the eccentric Titan conspiracy enthusiast and podcast host Bernie Hayes (Tyree Henry) has uncovered some ulterior motives by the shadowy cybernetics conglomerate Apex, led by the very persuasive, rich mogul Walter Simmons (Bichir).

Simmons and his cohort, Ren Serisawa (Oguri), recruit disgraced scientist Nathan Lind (Skarsgård) to lead an expedition to find the theorized Hollow Earth, which is believed to contain an ecosystem similar to Skull Island. With Godzilla believed to be on a rampage, humanity is now desperate for a weapon to counteract him, and Hollow Earth may be the only place to find a power source that can neutralize him. However, to get to Hollow Earth, the team will need a Titan for a guide. Enter Kong, who has been living as a restless prisoner on a domed Skull Island in order to keep him isolated from a Godzilla attack. Kong has grown in size since his last cinematic outing, and he’s even formed a bond with a young, deaf girl, Jia (Hottle), with the scientist Ilene Andrews serving as Jia’s guardian. Lind is able to convince Andrews to use Kong on this expedition to find Hollow Earth, but it’s a risky move since leaving the island leaves Kong exposed. Wherever there is another Titan jockeying for person of the alpha, Godzilla is sure to appear.

Obviously, like many kaiju clash films, the human aspect leaves something to be desired. The plot with the human characters, which generally follows Nathan Lind, Ilene Andrews and Jia trying to get Kong to Hollow Earth, is passable. The writing and plotting are rather flimsy at times, but none of the performances are particularly cringe-inducing. Brian Tyree Henry’s Bernie Hayes gets very close. It’s really not believable that a conspiracy nutjob like Hayes would have lasted for five years at Apex without being found out. Plus, the fact that he hosts a Titan podcast and leaks confidential info from his own company right before he reports to work, doesn’t pass the smell test.

Sadly, Kyle Chandler as Mark Russell has next to nothing to do in this film, and he very easily could have been edited out. Even his boss, portrayed here by Lance Reddick, is severely underutilized. His screentime is marginalized to one throwaway line. Reddick, one of the best actors to have a credit in this feature, at least delivers his single line with the impact of Commander Zavala; but it appears his role was mostly left on the assembly floor, along with the other Kyle Chandler scenes. Some additional scenes showcasing the suitably stronger acting talents of Chandler and Reddick might have rounded out the unfunny comic relief scenes involving Bernie, along with the script’s weaker moments.

The script, which has no less than five credited writers, is rather flimsy. Walter Simmons specifically recruits Nathan Lind to lead a mission to Hollow Earth to find a power source to create an anti-Godzilla weapon. Ilene Andrews goes along with this endeavor, but seems to completely forget midway through that Hollow Earth is not an expedition midway.

Additionally, despite the inclusion of Ren Serizawa, the son of Ken Watanabe’s Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, his role is undercut in what could have been a very interesting subplot. A subplot concerning the younger Serizawa wanting revenge on Godzilla for his father’s obsession and eventual demise might have been something interesting to explore. Visually, it’s set up nicely toward the beginning of the film, but it’s subsequently jettisoned in later acts in favor of more humorous scenes with Bernie Hayes and Julian Dennison’s Josh. Unfortunately, Ren Serizawa becomes lost in a group of throwaway human characters rather than leaning into what could have been one of the more interesting arcs.

Director Adam Wingard deserves credit in that he wisely understands that Kong, Godzilla and the other Titans are the stars of this picture. Fortunately, the monsters are not forced into the background and bathed in light and shadow as nothing more than a silhouette. This was a fate that befell Wingard’s last disappointing effort, Death Note.

The buildup and fights to Godzilla and Kong encountering one another are fantastic. The monsters actually possess life and characterization. They express emotions other than just rage and anger. That’s one area where Godzilla vs. Kong shines. The monsters are not merely giant CG blobs. Godzilla and Kong each have a tangible soul.

When the action does ramp up Godzilla vs. Kong, it’s thrilling and dynamic. Wingard lets the camera sit back and absorb the awe and scale of these two giants crashing against the very fabric of creation. The cinematography is impressive, and the dynamic shot selections achieved throughout the fights and the journey to hollow Earth warp and invert the audience’s perspective. There are some breaks in the signature action sequences, but the breaks are akin to a hard-fought round in a prize fight rather than frustratingly cutting the action just as it’s about to take center stage.

Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL) regrettably replaces Bear McCreary, who did an excellent and highly underrated job for King of the Monsters, as composer for Godzilla vs. Kong. Admittedly, Holkenborg does a better job than Alexandre Desplat’s rather serviceable score for 2014’s Godzilla (Godzilla music should never be serviceable), but it’s missing the classic iconography and classic scale of Bear McCreary’s music. McCreary actually utilized the classic Gojira theme created by Akira Ifukube for the original 1954 film as part of his score. He understood that music’s power. He respected Godzilla’s history and where he came from. Holkenborg does a theme that’s somewhat reminiscent of Godzilla music, but it doesn’t measure up to McCreary’s work.

The film’s musical score isn’t a total loss. At times, Holkenborg opts for synth and keyboard-heavy tracks. This gives the score more of an avant-garde, electronic style, which is at least still fairly unique for this type of giant monster film.

Yes, this is a big, action kaiju fest where the big, giant monsters go “punch” and “wham.” That said, there’s nothing wrong to try and at least attempt to build the human subplots in a way that could have been a little more dramatic and thought-provoking. The best films in the Godzilla film series have accomplished this. However, it appears some strong, pertinent scenes were likely cut in order to get to the monster clashes quicker. The monster clashes are unquestionably great, but they appear to have come at a cost.

While Godzilla vs. Kong does not measure up to the previous installment, it’s still a good time for some big, dynamically shot monster action that’s fairly fun, satisfying experience.

The final score: review Good
The 411
Godzilla vs. Kong delivers in terms of getting these two cinematic icons onscreen and making the experience really worth it. At times, the script is rather flimsy. At others, some characters who come very close to grating on the nerves. Regardless, director Adam Wingard knows it's time to put up or shut up when Godzilla and Kong are onscreen together. While the human subplots leave something to be desired, the moments featuring Kong and Godzilla certainly deliver.