Image copyright Legendary Entertainment, Warner Bros.
Godzilla vs Kong is the exact type of big, ridiculous action movie that’s ideal on the big screen surrounded by friends. It’s best enjoyed with a crowd, and it’s a spectacle fit for the biggest, loudest screen you can find. That made it the perfect blockbuster to really bring people back to the cinema, and it’s been exploding over the past week. So, how does it shape up to those larger-than-life headlines?
— Spoilers for the plot (yes, there is one) of Godzilla vs Kong follow. —
Godzilla vs Kong’s titular action is surprisingly refreshing. The big splashy fights are more than just two titans punching back and forth, the film really works with clever environments and mixing up both classic and new weapons and powers to keep things interesting.
Their first showdown—which thankfully comes not too long into the movie, so we don’t have to wade through the human plots—takes place in the middle of the ocean.
I went into Godzilla vs Kong thinking King Kong was at a huge disadvantage. Sure, he’s a giant, strong, intelligent ape, but Godzilla can shoot atomic lasers from his mouth.
That first fistfight amps up Kong’s disadvantaged position by putting him on a rocking, uneven boat while Godzilla tears apart an entire fleet around him. The opening bout decisively to Godzilla, with Kong and the humans having to play dead just to be left alone.
It’s a fantastic and devastating reintroduction to Godzilla, and it sets him up as this incredible destructive force of nature. And because the film’s narrative in centred on Kong this time, it works excellently. Godzilla gets to take a back seat for much of the time as the terrifying threat he originally was.
Not long after that first battle, the film dives off the deep end. We visit Hollow Earth, which provides great spectacle setpieces and brief mini-battles to keep us entertained, and the first point of contention form some.
Big, bold, and ultimately nonsensical.
Hollow Earth pretty much falls apart if you think about it for more than about a minute, and for a fair few people I spoke to, it—and a later, bigger leap into the ridiculous—ruined the movie for them.
But you’re not supposed to think about anything for more than a minute in a movie like this. Hollow Earth was certainly a weird experience, but it’s not unwelcome in a big monster fight movie. The locale is all spectacle; floating continents, reversing gravity, volcanoes and crystals, ancient statues of apes’ hands and faces, giant winged lizards for Kong to kill . . . it’s the MonsterVerse’s appeal condensed down into a single environment. Big, bold, and ultimately nonsensical.
Of course, they do try to have things make sense. All the while, the kaiju are accompanied by human-scale plots and protagonists. The humans of Godzilla vs Kong range from largely forgettable to completely forgettable, but there’s one brilliant little star among them that makes the movie really sing.
If Kong and Godzilla are the muscle of the movie, Kaylee Hottle as Jia is its heart. This one brave little girl is Kong’s only friend, the only one who tries to speak with him. Through her, and Kong’s few signed lines of communication, Jia humanises King Kong more than any forgotten previous movies could. She makes us empathise with him; he’s lonely, he wants to go home, but we see these motivations through Jia.
When his new home in Hollow Earth gets destroyed by an atomic laser—which highlights the explosive ridiculousness of the film pretty well—I don’t think I would have cared were it not for seeing Jia’s anguish at watching him hurt because of it.
It’s the same towards the end of the movie, when Kong is dying. No matter how hard they try to tug the audience’s heartstrings, they’re not going to make it particularly heart-wrenching in the middle of a movie about big titans punching each other. But when there’s a little girl who became your first friend, and who was the only one who listened to you in the whole movie, starts crying and asking you to get back up, you get back up and punch a giant robot lizard.
In a movie full of giant monsters, it’s the smallest character who looms largest in the end. Godzilla and Kong provide all the spectacle, but Kaylee Hottle is the one who gives the movie its heart.
The Kaiju in the Room
Speaking of the giant robot lizard, Mechagodzilla’s emergence for the final act is, as far as I can tell, the make or break point for a lot of viewers. I’ve heard a few cite it as the part that ruined the movie for them, while others saw it as the natural progression of the movie—after all, Godzilla and Kong had to put aside their differences and fight together at some point. The whole movie was pointing towards that.
In the end I think it really came down to the way people watched the movie. It’s not an at-home flick.
Godzilla vs Kong is the kind of movie that becomes good when you’re watching it alongside people. When you can cheer at the big punches and laugh at the stupid moments together, it becomes something else, and something we haven’t had in a long time. Without it, the film would be bogged down by its own weird plot decisions, but with it, it just becomes pure, stupid fun.
And whether that’s your cup of tea or not, that’s what the movie was always supposed to be.
In the end, one thing is undeniable: Godzilla vs Kong is a movie to see with people. It’s a movie for the big screen.