Review: Godzilla vs. Kong

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)

I tell people I’ve been waiting my entire life for Hollywood to make a decent Godzilla movie, but the truth is that I gave up hope on that front years ago. The 1998 farce starring Matthew Broderick, I think, speaks for itself. There’s nothing redeemable about it. Gareth Edwards’ stab at the mythology in 2014 almost worked, in that it understood the need to make the human drama the driving force of the story; but Edwards simply proved himself incapable of directing actors well enough to make the human dimension work. 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters fared better in that respect, but dropped the ball 

with a convoluted and messy screenplay that violated its own internal logic at every turn and didn’t recognize when it had worn out its welcome. At 132 minutes, it felt more like four hours. It also committed the biggest sin you could commit with a movie like this—it was absolutely joyless.

 

Godzilla vs. Kong, the fourth and presumably final entry in Legendary’s MonsterVerse quadrilogy, is—at the risk of making myself sound like a total dweeb—the Godzilla movie I’ve wanted to see since I was a kid. And interestingly, it turns out the trick to making a good Godzilla flick is to not bother trying to make a Godzilla flick at all.

 

Despite the privileged position given to the King of the Monsters in the title of this lagarto a simio showdown, this is really Kong’s tale, and although it’s the same ape we grew to love in Skull Island, he’s matured a good bit in the 48 years since that movie was set. He’s bigger. He’s smarter. He’s also a lot more civilized. As such, we hairless apes viewing the movie can’t help but relate to him more. So it

GODZILLA VS. KONG AT A GLANCE

There’s finally a decent American-made Godzilla movie to enjoy—even if it’s not really a Godzilla movie.

 

PICTURE
The Dolby Vision presentation is practically reference quality, with stunning peak brightness, a vibrant color palette, and oodles of detail—but there’s almost too much detail at times.

 

SOUND     

If you like your height-channel effects aggressive and distracting, you’ll find a lot to love in the Dolby Atmos mix here.

was a wise decision to make it his story first and foremost and relegate Godzilla to the force-of-nature role, which he plays so well.

 

But that’s not the only wise decision made in constructing the script. Screenwriters Eric Pearson (Thor: Ragnarok) and Max Borenstein (screenwriter on Godzilla and co-writer on Skull Island) have figured out what didn’t work about the first two big-lizard movies and—more importantly—what absolutely did work about this Kong’s screen debut, and they’ve applied all of those lessons to this script.

 

There are primarily two things that make this movie work, the first being its humor. Millie Bobby Brown reprises her role from King of the Monsters, but instead of standing around and crying in the rain and staring at the sky pensively, she’s the centerpiece of a comedic plot that also involves a high-school friend (played by Hunt for the Wilderpeople‘s Julian Dennison) and a popular conspiracy-theory podcaster (played by Brian Tyree Henry of Atlanta fame). Their antics honestly prompted some of the most genuine laughter any movie has pulled out of me in a long time.

 

The other side of that equation is that the human drama also just works. I found myself legitimately caring whether characters lived or died. I was, despite myself, invested. And a lot of that is due to Rebecca Hall (Vicky from Vicky Cristina Barcelona), who absolutely sticks the landing as the movie’s agent of pathos. Don’t get me wrong here—this isn’t high drama or anything. But Hall gives us a glimpse of what could have been if the human storylines in Edwards’ movie had been well-directed. The thing that really makes her character tick is that Hall approaches the role with sincerity.

 

There’s a balancing act here, between the goofball comedy and the heartfelt drama, that shouldn’t work. But it does. And I think a lot of that can be chalked up to the fact that the screenwriters turned to some unlikely inspiration for this story. I’ve seen the trailers. I’ve seen the movies that lead up to this one. But nothing really prepared me for the fact that there’s an undeniable Victorian-era adventure-story vibe about the whole endeavor. Hell, snatch Jules Verne out of the past, pressgang him into writing a movie about a big lizard fighting a big ape, and I kinda think this is exactly the movie he would have come up with.

 

You can’t help but go into something like this wondering, “Wait, why are these big monsters fighting?” In addition to everything else wrong with it, what made King of the Monsters such a slog is that the answer to that question didn’t make a lick of damned sense. In Godzilla vs. Kong, though, their animus builds pretty organically, for pretty logical reasons—well, as logical as you could ask for in a kaiju brawl.

 

The other thing that makes Godzilla vs. Kong work is that everyone involved (except for maybe Hall) seems to have fully and lovingly embraced the fact that they were making a B movie. So, in the end, it all comes off like Journey to the Center of the Earth as directed by Ed Wood, just with a sufficient budget and a lot more intentional humor. Combine that vibe with pretty good editing overall, and you’ve got the makings of a truly solid monster movie.

 

Is it art? No. Was I entertained? Heck, yes. I do have some curmudgeonly gripes, though. Despite the fact that HBO Max’s Dolby Vision presentation is practically reference quality, with stunning peak brightness, a vibrant color palette, and oodles of detail, there’s honestly almost too much detail on the screen at times. The 4K digital intermediate (taken from 6.5K ArriRaw live-action photography) does make the textures of Godzilla’s leathery skin look a little fake at times. But whatever. I’ve spent my entire life watching a dude stomp around in a rubber suit pretending to be a giant radioactive reptile—I can forgive some overly-textured CGI in a shot or two.

 

My real beef with the imagery has nothing to do with the presentation, though—it’s the fact that 90% of the movie is lit with those garish teal-and-orange hues that I thought (hoped) fell out of favor years ago. And the digital color grading pushes this aesthetic to the extremes, making it impossible to ignore.

 

The Dolby Atmos soundtrack, meanwhile, will be popular with home cinema fans who like their object-based audio mixes extreme. It was all just too much for me—so much so that I paused the movie halfway through to disable Atmos processing on my preamp. But if you like your height-channel effects aggressive and distracting, you’ll find a lot to love here. Either way, I think we could agree that the low-frequency sound effects are exactly the right amount of over-the-top you’d expect—nay, demand—for a thrill ride like this. But, come on, you knew that was going to be the case, didn’t you?

 

Unsurprisingly, given that Godzilla vs. Kong is debuting on HBO Max the same day it drops in American cinemas, it sounds like the audio mix was intended for large auditoriums, with no real effort made to remix it for the smaller confines of home cinema systems. The result is that dialogue is ever-so-slightly low in the mix, so you’ll need to turn the volume up to THX reference levels to hear it all—which does mean that the sound effects will be a touch too loud. But that kinda works for this movie, assuming you’ve got a sound system that can handle it.

 

It’s a shame, really, that Legendary couldn’t have taken the time to develop its two standalone Godzilla movies and make them this much fun, this well-balanced. But such is life. I finally have a decent American-made Godzilla movie to enjoy—even if it’s not really a Godzilla movie—and that’s the best I could have hoped for from this one.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

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