“It’s just so massive… so stupid…” mulls Brian Tyree Henry’s conspiracy theorist during a rare quiet moment during the latest entry into Legendary’s Monsterverse and you wonder if this more isn’t a barbed statement about the series of city-flattening movies themselves than just a throw away line for comic relief. After all, while not as wobbly-legged as the DC connected universe often seems to be, the Monsterverse has just sort been… there, neither conquering the world Marvel-style or being an outright failure with Godzilla’s last two solo outings splitting the fanbase in two with the ease of the super-sized saurian’s atomic breath. Garth Edward’s 2014 effort was deemed by some to be too serious while alternatively, Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla: King Of The Monsters was just too damn much – but it was Jordan Vogt-Robert’s colourfully deranged Kong: Skull Island that managed to hit upon the tone closest to what the Monsterverse should be: rollicking adventure pictures with eyeball hemorrhaging imagery involving giant monsters exchanging hands while the human characters (and us) gawp in awe. Can this latest (and possibly last) film in the Monsterverse finally get the delicate balance right while offering up the fight of the century between history’s greatest monsters?
After taking a five-year sabbatical after the events of King Of The Monsters, Godzilla returns to unleash a seemingly unprovoked attack upon the Florida branch of Apex Cybernetics causing as much damage as your average Florida resident. While the world reels from the revelation that this alpha super predator has become a massive prick, the Apex CEO convinces hollow earth theorist Nathan Lind to mount an expedition to find a new power source in this mythical underground birthplace of the Titans. To do do will mean that Lind will have to persuade old colleague Ilene Andrews to ship a fully grown Kong to an entry point to lead them to their goal, but getting the massive monkey to leave his enclosed dome on a storm ravaged Skull Island leaves him exposed to an attack by Godzilla who won’t much like the idea of another alpha running around the globe. Sure enough, the lethal lizard eventually comes-a knocking and the world becomes a stage to the biggest show down the world has ever seen, but what’s actually behind Godzilla’s titan-sized mood swings and what secret shit is Apex actually up too? As Madison Russell, the heroine from the previous movie, and a small band of conspiracy theorists rush to expose the secret that the corporation is hiding, the Kong expedition breaches the Hollow Earth to discover the forgotten history of Kong’s people – but there’s no time to do a spot of sightseeing… Godzilla has rocked up to Hong Kong and is calling Kong out for a duel to the finish and one must fall…
So lets get the basics out to the way first, Godzilla Vs. Kong is exactly as dumb as you’d expect a movie called Godzilla Vs. Kong would be and every single member of it’s starry cast is primarily there to explain things and then get the fuck out of the way when hairy fists and spikey tails start flying. It’s no great suprise and anyone who honestly thought we would get oscar worthy dialogue while Rebecca Hall and Alexander Skarsgård discuss how to get a giant monkey into a lost underground world beneath the earth’s crust needs a quite the sizable reality check. The stars here, undoubtedly, are Godzilla and Kong and literally everything in the brutally lean script is about them and them alone with all the all-human bits cut mercilessly to the bone. It’s like the filmmakers have finally realised something the Japanese have known all along – keep your actors on the outskirts and let the damn monsters do the work; it’s not like anyone’s coming to this film to solely see the dude from True Blood.
With that understanding in place, it’s somewhat of a relief to say that after all the delays and restrictions thanks to COVID-19 Godzilla Vs. Kong finally get the tone of the Monsterverse balanced just enough to counter-act the dopey dialogue and questionable science (even in a film as preposterous as this, are we really supposed to believe Godzilla can nuke his way to the Hollow Earth from China in a couple of minutes?) with some of the greatest Kaiju action seen in American cinema – sorry Pacific Rim – with the gargantuan brawls tweaked to perfection by neon addicted, 80’s aficionado Adam (The Guest, You’re Next) Wingard. Casting Godzilla as the unbeatable champion of dubious morals, the movie therefore treats Kong as an underdog in the vein of Rocky Balboa (does that make Godzilla Atomic Creed?), a plucky but washed up contender who never got his chance to challenge for the alpha crown due to the humans sheltering him from all challengers.
It’s suprisingly affecting, especially when you throw in Kong’s relationship with a deaf girl that seems like it’s come straight out of The Champ and regardless who you’re rooting for, you can’t help rooting a little for the monkey to pull an upset especially considering that during the legitimately intriguing Hollow Earth stuff where Kong gets a legitimate Conan moment complete with a bitchin’ throne and an axe made from a Zilla dorsal plate and a MUTO leg bone. In comparison to Kong’s Kong’s suprisingly involved journey Godzilla is more of a cold-blooded yet honorable bully, but during the climatic fight in a neon drenched Hong Kong, the two legends have never looked better or been more limber. Watch as Kong bounds from building to building like a hairy, skyscraper sized Super Mario while his scaley opponent attempts to shoot him down with his weapons grade halitosis as geek hysteria comes off you in waves. Wingard wisely laces in some cool, 80’s action shit as the mega monsters go through unimaginable lengths to rearrange each other’s faces – watch for Kong performing some Kethal Weapon 2-style self surgery to a dislocated shoulder – and is amusingly as uninterested in collating the human tragedy from the massive action as Godzilla himself, but a final reel appearance of a revamped classic Toho villain (we all know who – let’s just say it Rhymes with Wechagodzilla) actually does the plot twist of a unifying enemy far better than Doomsday’s appearance in Batman Vs Superman.
By the time the credits roll, Godzilla Vs. Kong has done exactly what it promised to do – we have an undisputed winner pulled off in a way that the loser doesn’t lose face if the Monsterverse manages to continue, we have some of the best Kaiju battles we’ve ever seen and we finally have a big dumb blockbuster that succeeds in chasing away those pandemic blues – and surely that’s the monster that needed vanquishing all along.
If there was an Oscar for best scene involving a giant gorilla driving a giant lizard’s head through a building like a humongous Wrestlemania event you could see from space, then Godzilla Vs. Kong would be a shoo-in, but as it stands, this particular clash of the Titans finally gets it’s franchise on the right track.
Now if we could get them in a Falcon And The Winter Soldier style show, that would really be a feat of masterful monstering…