“Kong bows to no one.” – Actual for-real line of dialogue from “Godzilla vs. Kong.”
When it comes to good old-fashioned movie monsters, even in this CGI world, King Kong and Godzilla would have to be No. 1 seeds in everyone’s brackets, right? Who are you going to counter with — some Creature from the Black Lagoon, or a Mothra or a Rodan or a Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster?
Come on. Don’t play.
In the incredibly loud and admittedly stupid and keenly self-aware and fantastically mindless “Godzilla vs. Kong,” you’ve got your classic matchup between the two perennial powerhouses, who first faced off in the 1962 Japanese kaiju film “King Kong v. Godzilla.” (And who knows, there might even be an upstart contender trying to muscle its way into the competition, and we’ll just leave it at that.) This is the first movie I’ve screened in a theater since last summer — under COVID-19 precautions and with just a handful of other folks spaced about the auditorium — and in a way it was the perfect B-movie vehicle for a return to the multiplex. “Godzilla vs. Kong” arrives in theaters and streams on HBO Max on March 31, and though I completely understand and respect why many moviegoers aren’t quite ready to actually GO to the movies, if the conditions are right and you’re up for it, this is definitely the kind of wonderfully escapist spectacle fare that plays best in theaters with oversized screens and teeth-rattling sound systems.
“Godzilla vs. Kong” takes place nearly 50 years after the 1970s Monsterverse epic “Kong: Skull Island” (2017) and just a few years after the events of “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (2019), and it’s more fun if you’ve seen those two films. But we’re not exactly talking the Dark Knight trilogy or even the first three “Lethal Weapon” films here, so you’ll be just fine if you come into this one cold.
Godzilla has been chilling in the waterways the last few years, but suddenly ol’ Atomic Breath attacks the Florida base of the globally influential Apex Cybernetics (I guess Acme Corp. was already taken), seemingly without reason — though we know if a monster movie features a giant tech company, said company is probably up to something nefarious.
“Godzilla is out there and he’s hurting people and we don’t know why!” exclaims Kyle Chandler’s Dr. Mark Russell, a holdover from the 2019 film, as is Millie Bobby Brown as Mark’s daughter Madison, who is convinced there’s something amiss at Apex and teams up with her nerdy best friend Josh (Julian Dennison) and a seemingly wacko conspiracy theorist podcaster named Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) to expose the dark secrets of Apex and its megalomaniacal CEO Walter Simmons (Demian Bichir, basically playing a Bond villain in a monster movie). Meanwhile, on Skull Island — and they should have had a voice-over narrator saying, “Meanwhile, on Skull Island” — controversial scientist Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) pleads with Rebecca Hall’s anthropologist Dr. Ilene Andrews, a.k.a. the Kong Whisperer, to go along with a plan by which they’ll sedate Kong and transport him out to the deep sea where he can defeat Godzilla and save the planet.
Movie Law: The moment when a gigantic monster is sedated and shackled is the moment we know the sedative will wear off and the shackles will be broken as if they’re made of paper.
Kong makes for a more sympathetic creature than Godzilla, given he’s a much more anthropomorphic entity, with a vast array of facial expressions and even the ability to communicate via sign language with a young girl named Jia (Kaylee Hottle) who is hearing and speech impaired. Godzilla is more powerful, what with the atomic breath and all, but seems dumber and definitely less cuddly. Screenwriters Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein come up with a pretty clever way to deal with that issue, while director Adam Wingard wisely peppers in one gigantic battle scene after another, with bombs bursting in air and monsters squaring off as if they’re in a heavyweight title bout. The exposition scenes are increasingly ludicrous, but credit must be given to accomplished actors such as Hall, Skarskgard, Chandler and Bichir for delivering their lines with all the seriousness they’d bring to a prestige character-driven drama. (Well, most of the seriousness.)
“Godzilla vs. Kong” is the kind of movie you can pretty much forget about almost instantly after you’ve seen it — but it’s also the kind of movie that makes you forget about everything else in your life while you’re watching it.