The films of the Monsterverse all perform a strange balancing act between monster slug-fest and serious sci-fi. We’re here for some kaiju mayhem, but that in and of itself doesn’t make a film. There needs to be a narrative framework attached to justify said mayhem featuring all the puny humans who get in Godzilla’s way. For the most part up to now, the Monsterverse has mostly succeeded in delivering an entertaining mix of destruction and drama. But somewhere in the development of Godzilla Vs. Kong, the latest and fourth Monsterverse film, the equation got a bit scrambled.
Kong is still on Skull Island, but under observation by the mysterious Monarch group. Godzilla has been dormant for five years, but he resurfaces to make a seemingly unprovoked attack on a facility run by Apex Cybernetics in Florida. Apex then mounts an expedition to discover Hollow Earth, the legendary home of the Titans, to harness a new form of energy. They use Kong to lead them there, but Godzilla rises to challenge him, leading to the inevitable Vs. of the title.
You might have noticed that I haven’t yet discussed any of the human characters involved in the plot. And you might have guessed it’s because in the end, very few of them are important, well-developed, or memorable. Aside from Kyle Chandler and Millie Bobbie Brown, none of the characters from any of the previous films make an appearance. Even then, Chandler’s role is a glorified cameo, and Brown’s character is so radically different from her appearance in Godzilla: King of the Monsters that she might as well be playing someone else entirely.
Whereas the previous films had a mostly top-tier cast that took the material with a surprising seriousness, what we have here is a cast largely full of blanks that makes the times in-between the monkey-on-lizard action feel extremely tedious. On the other hand, it does help to highlight that same action, giving it a sense of excitement and tension that’s distinct if not always elevated from what the series has given us in the past. They might not be quite as creative as the set pieces in Kong: Skull Island, but it’s clear a lot of planning went into them. And unlike the monster battles in both Godzilla films, it’s not shrouded in darkness to hide some sub-par CGI.
Also unlike the Godzilla films, there is a high degree of emotional energy in the fights between Kong and Mr. Zilla. Kong has always been a more sympathetic creature, owing to his more human-like appearance and demeanor, while Godzilla has always been more of an alien horror that sometimes does humanity a solid. This works well in the film’s favor, causing us to be more invested in the outcome of the battles. For lack of better terms, Kong has always clearly been positioned as a Good Guy, while Godzilla is an anti-hero at best. There’s much more personality to the fights here than there has been in previous installments.
It’s getting to the fights that’s the hard part. The plot of the film is, even for a Monsterverse entry, ridiculous and flimsy. While previous films hinted at the development of a deep and rich internal mythology, here we have something more akin to an empty-headed Roland Emmerich blockbuster. Very few plot threads from the previous films are continued, and absolutely nothing from Kong: Skull Island is referenced. New organizations and theories previously barely hinted at if at all emerge as major narrative forces, and most of the characters have nothing to do with anyone from the rest of the franchise. If anything, this feels like a spin-off more than a continuation, sure to leave most people who’ve been following this shared universe for the story feeling a little disappointed.
But even given that, there is some solid enjoyment and entertainment to be had here. The film itself looks pristine, with well-developed CGI and vivid environments. The second act takes place largely in Hollow Earth, and the design and intriguing disorientation of everything makes you wish the whole film had been set there. The score by Junkie XL / Tom Holkenborg is appropriately epic and propulsive, with moments of grandiose beauty and heart-pounding menace. Plus, even though the script is only passable, the pacing of the film is quick and efficient, rarely lingering on any beats too long that don’t involve titanic fisticuffs. The story might be weak, but at least it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
And those fisticuffs. Mama. This film does exactly what it says on the tin. It promises Godzilla vs. Kong, and boy do we get it. Their first encounter, set at sea while Kong is being transported from Skull Island, is remarkably intense. It feels immediate and appropriately chaotic, beautifully staged and calibrated. Their climactic battle, where both titans are fighting in the middle of and slowly destroying a massive city, feels less interesting because it feels like a remix of a battle we’ve seen countless times before. It’s still exciting, and the adrenaline is there, but the staging feels a bit lazier. There’s a twist to this battle half-way through that redeems it, but going any further into that would lead to massive spoilers.
Bottom line, if you’re here for the kaiju kombat, you’ll probably love most of the film. If you’re here for the Monsterverse mythology, your response might be a bit more mixed. If you’re here for some decent acting and an intriguing story, you’re probably in the wrong place. Turn the mind off, turn the music up, and bring on the rampage.
FBOTU Score: 6 out of 10 / C+
Godzilla Vs. Kong can be streaming exclusively through HBO Max.