02nd Apr2021

‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza González, Julian Dennison, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir | Written by Eric Pearson, Max Borenstein | Directed by Adam Wingard

Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse franchise reaches its apex with this titanic battle between two classic movie monsters. Directed by Adam Wingard (The Guest, You’re Next), Godzilla vs. Kong delivers mightily on the epic title bout whose groundwork was laid in the three previous MonsterVerse movies: Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island (2017) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019).

The plot is essentially just the title of the film, but there are a number of human characters milling about too. Chief amongst these are “Kong Whisperer” Dr Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and discredited geologist Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård), who mount an expedition deep underground to Hollow Earth, hoping to provide Kong with a safe haven after he’s targeted by a newly-resurfaced Godzilla (who doesn’t like any challenges to his alpha titan status).

Funding the Hollow Earth mission is Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir), the unscrupulous CEO of cybernetics corporation Apex, who, wouldn’t you know it, has an ulterior motive and plans to use a mythical power source to create a man-made (and fan-pleasing) challenge to Godzilla. Meanwhile, following an initial stomping of the Apex facility, Godzilla-loving teenager Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) realises that the radioactive lizard wouldn’t just attack for no reason, so she decides to investigate what Simmons is up to, aided by her understandably nervous school friend Josh (Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s Julian Dennison) and Titan conspiracy theorist podcaster Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry)

Given the title of the film, audiences would have a right to feel let down if Wingard didn’t deliver as much monster-bashing mayhem as possible. Thankfully, that’s exactly what you get, beginning with an ocean-bound battle that occurs relatively early on, in which both behemoths get to show off some tasty fight moves (Kong’s stock-in-trade: a good old-fashioned punch to the face; Godzilla’s special skill: sneak attack with tail). The subsequent fights, if anything, are even better, culminating in the mother of all finale sequences where the two titular titans team up against what can only be described as a special guest star.

The effects work throughout is simply spectacular, not least because of the sheer amount of detail that has gone into Kong, from his grey-tinged fur (he’s getting on a bit, after all) to his world-weary expression when he realises what he’s up against. In fact, the film contrives to give Kong a great deal of personality, largely thanks to the inclusion of Kaylee Hottle as Andrews’ adopted, deaf, young islander daughter Jia, who’s secretly taught the big ape a bit of sign language. As a result, their connection is extremely moving, with a nod to E.T. that will likely provoke nostalgic tears in viewers of a certain age.

The production design is equally impressive. The Hollow Earth sequences alone are a sci-fi nerd’s dream, riffing on everything from Jules Verne to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, but Wingard saves the best for last, staging the climactic battle in a gorgeously rendered Hong Kong, festooned with neon-lit skyscrapers.

Wingard’s direction is thrillingly assured throughout, maintaining a strong sense of pace and keeping tight control of the tone, while the CGI fight choreography couldn’t have been better if they were actual men in suits. It’s also a testament to Wingard’s efficiency that he’s managed to bring the whole thing in at a mere 113 minutes, a rarity in blockbuster cinema these days.

It’s a common complaint with Godzilla movies that the human characters are often surplus to requirements, and that’s more or less still the case here, though at least there’s a bit more humour this time round, thanks to the inclusion of Henry and a scene-stealing Dennison. In fairness, the rest of the cast do a solid job, but it’s fair to say that only some of the supposedly emotional material works – you’ll be hard pressed to shed a tear at the reunion between Madison and her father (an under-used Kyle Chandler), for example.

In short, Godzilla vs. Kong is a terrifically entertaining action blockbuster that will have you champing at the bit for cinemas to reopen, so the film can have the IMAX outing it so richly deserves. In the meantime, make sure you see it on the biggest television you can find, with a sound system to match. Let’s get ready to rumble!

**** 4/5

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