Sunday, April 4, 2021

Movie Review: Godzilla vs. Kong

I think I've said some version of this every time I've reviewed an installment in this franchise: when the biggest complaint people have about a monster movie is the human characters or the plot or the logic or literally anything other than the monsters... take a bow - you did your job. I hope this won't be read as being synonymous with "turn off your brain" or some kind of attack against people who aren't satisfied with a big, silly adventure movie about a giant ape and a radioactive dragon punching each other - that's not it at all. It's simply an acknowledgement that these movies first and foremost exist to spotlight the monsters, and if they fail to do so, every review in existence is going to harp on that fact.

And, once again, Legendary knocked this out of the park, at least as far as those monsters are concerned. Kong and Godzilla are awesome, as is the "Hollow Earth" we finally get to see. And that other thing they kept secret (but that was kind of in the trailer, anyway)... yeah, that's awesome, too. The movie is visually inventive, exciting, and - above all - about as fun as they come.

But, yes, if you care, the plot is about as dumb as a rock.

I'm honestly not sure that's fair. A more accurate statement might be the film sacrifices story and logic for pace, and if anything I'd say that's a smart decision in this case. But if you want to pick apart the logic of who manages to go where and when, you'll have an easy time doing so. Even suspending disbelief around things like Hollow Earth leave you scratching your head around geography and geometry. It's pretty obvious when the movie just skips over explanations or causality to get back to fights and destruction. I know that's deal-breaker for some people... and that's fine. By now, you probably know whether spectacle and action are enough for you. If not, this probably isn't a genre you enjoy, and Godzilla vs. Kong won't change your mind.

For the rest of us... my God, this thing is great. It's absurd fantasy/adventure pitted against sci-fi destruction. It's silly and awesome and crazy. Like its predecessors, it's an absolute joy to watch. But you probably figured all that from the trailer. If you want to nitpick, there are some moments (particularly in the third act) where the movie starts looking more like a really expensive cartoon than live-action. Even then, it's still a *good* cartoon, so that's at most a minor criticism.

I don't want to go into too much detail about which visuals work best, because... well... the joy of watching a movie like this is discovering those moments for yourself. But I also don't want to cut the review off this soon, so I guess I have to talk about the human characters.

I'd argue the MonsterVerse is getting better in that department. The least interesting character from King of the Monsters is relegated to a minor role this time, and we're instead largely following kid adventurers who are invested in the outcome. This still doesn't quite gel into anything I'd call compelling, but it's not tedious, either, which is quite a bit better than par.

I feel for the writers of these movies. The stars are the monsters, not the people, but if you tried putting the monsters on camera for two hours straight, there wouldn't be any suspense or anticipation (also, it would almost certainly be cost-prohibitive). You need people in there to take up time, serve as the audience POV, and maybe (just maybe) add more than they detract. I don't think the humans in Godzilla vs. Kong quite get there, but they come close. Essentially, their presence is a wash, neither enhancing nor hurting the experience.

You can see them drawing from Stranger Things (hell, that was evident in King of the Monsters), which is probably the best path forward. Lean into it and have the human stuff just following a group of absurdly competent kids on an adventure in the middle of a kaiju attack. Make the kids likable enough, and you've got an interesting B-story to go along with the A-list monsters tearing up cities.

I want to stress that, in my opinion at least, these movies don't need to fix anything. The MonsterVerse films are great as is, and this one ranks in the top half. I have no idea if this franchise can keep going, but I really hope it will. These are delightful, fun films that deliver everything they promise and maybe a little more.

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