Title Image: Kong vs Godzilla in Hong Kong in Godzilla vs Kong
I liked Kong: Skull Island quite a bit, although apparently that didn’t come through clearly enough in my post about it. A few years ago, I was applying for a job on a licensed video game that I would’ve hated working on, so I’m very fortunate I wasn’t offered the job. At the interview, though, the interviewer mentioned reading that post and seemed skeptical I’d be happy working on a project that was part of a major franchise subject to scrutiny from tons of invested parties.
I was reminded of that while watching Godzilla vs Kong, because it’s very much the culmination of a movie franchise. But it also doesn’t betray a hint of pretense that it’s anything else, or that there’s anything wrong with being the culmination of a movie franchise.
And I really enjoyed the hell out of it. It was big, gleefully dumb fun, on a scale that I don’t think I’ve seen since The Mummy. The aspect of it I love the most is that it knows exactly what it wants to do, and exactly what people want to see when they watch a movie titled Godzilla vs Kong. Which is perfectly illustrated by this scene:
(The rest of this post has spoilers, which I really suggest you avoid reading because there are some fun surprises in the movie, even if you, as I did, go in thinking you’d already been spoiled for all of it).
Demián Bichir seemed to understand exactly what this movie’s about and exactly what was his part in it. It’s not as simple or easy as it might look, either: he had to play it broad enough to be immediately readable, but never so broad that it veered into camp, and never so realistic that it assumed the movie was about the people.
This movie is not about people, and this scene was not about the villain’s master plan. It was about setting up the next big monster battle. The reason this scene in particular worked so well for me was because it more or less explicitly said, “Shut up, this isn’t about you.”
Godzilla vs Kong helped clarify why I liked Kong: Skull Island but didn’t really love it: the latter movie had such a great aesthetic and such a fantastic cast that it was frustrating it wasn’t more fun. That movie was chock full of outstanding comedic actors who, apart from John C Reilly, were never quite allowed to cut loose. So there was a tension throughout between too serious and too silly, as if no one was quite clear whether the audience was supposed to be invested in their characters or not.
I didn’t see Godzilla: King of the Monsters — and apparently I did see the 2014 Godzilla, although I can’t remember a single thing about it — so I spent the entire run of Godzilla vs Kong wondering how much story and how many characters were new to this movie. As far as I can tell, apart from the title characters, only Millie Bobby Brown and Kyle Chandler’s characters were returning characters. And it showed; they seemed out of place in a movie that was full of one-line character synopses made human.
I really appreciated that Rebecca Hall as Sympathetic Scientist Mom, Alexander Skarsgård as Hapless Fringe Scientist Hero, and Eiza González as Evil Billionaire Villain’s Daughter could all coexist in the same scenes, each of them playing at a different point on the spectrum of “relatable character” to “campy caricature,” and it all fit. It’s the kind of thing that can only happen in a movie where the heroes fly a futuristic helicopter — sorry, H.E.A.V. — straight out of the center of the Earth and scream as they almost fly directly into Kong’s mouth.
In retrospect, Kong: Skull Island is a more original and “sincere” movie, and it’s technically “better” than Godzilla vs Kong, but the latter was a lot more fun. It seems like too many people are embarrassed to be making good old-fashioned monster movies. They don’t have to be parables or metaphors or anything; sometimes you just want to see giant monsters smashing up a ludicrously neon-filled Hong Kong.