“GODZILLA VS. KONG”

Published On March 31, 2021 | By Matt Neufeld | FILM REVIEWS

“GODZILLA VS. KONG”
​Starring Kaylee Hottle, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Eiza Gonzalez, Julian Dennison, Alexander Skarsgard, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bichir
Screenplay by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein
Story by Terry Rossio, Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields
Based on Godzilla by Toho, and King Kong by Edgar Wallace and Merian C. Cooper
Directed by Adam Wingard
Produced by Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Brian Rogers, Mary Parent, Alex Garcia, Eric McLeod
Cinematography by Ben Seresin
Edited by Josh Schaeffer
Music by Tom Holkenborg
Visual Effects Supervisor John DesJardin
Production Designers Owen Patterson and Tom Hammock
Costume Designer Ann Foley

By Matt Neufeld

“Godzilla vs. Kong” is an average big movie, or a big average movie–it’s not great, but it’s not horrible, either–but the movie is still generally a big, dumb, special-effects-filled, loud, crashing, banging, exploding, city-destroying, overly-fast-paced rainy-Saturday-afternoon, B-minus-movie and not much more.

There’s a nice, likeable cast of real people–not CGIed, special effects people–who you can actually care about and who manage to somehow convey some aspects of real-people emotion amid the monster mashes and bashes and clashes; there’s a workable villain, although he is cliched; and, yes, those often-amazing special effects, which seem to have accounted for about 98 percent of the movie’s budget. Yes, in fact, most of the movie is special effects. Special Effects is not a character in the cast credits–but it could have been.

Notably–and this is not a good thing–“Godzilla vs. Kong” is at least the 48th–that’s forty-eighth–movie featuring either the Godzilla creature or the King Kong creature. Forty-eight. 48. Did the world need another Godzille movie in 2021? No. Did the world need another King Kong movie in 2021? No.

Alas–and it’s a big alas–the tired, cliched, unoriginal and overly-familiar “Godzilla vs. Kong” just shows yet again that too much of Hollywood is lazy, unoriginal, derivative, and, too much of the time, simply unable to take the time, work, research, resources and ingenuity to seek out and access the literally thousands of available new movie sources and make a continual slate of smart, new, original, inventive and intelligent films that do not lazily rely on previous and overly-familiar characters, creatures, stories, franchises and source materials.

One more notable aspect of “Godzilla vs. Kong” stands out: If you do decided to spend the money and time to go see this movie–and remember that it’s a gamble if you do–the movie needs to be seen only up on the big screen. That can be said for every movie, of course–movies are made to be seen up on the big screen in a movie theater–but this warning especially applies to special effects-laden monster movies such as this. Even if the movie isn’t that great, the hard work, time, detail, technology, creativity and artistry–and it is art–displayed by the hundreds of special effects workers in this movie, and other similar movies, needs to be seen up on the big screen. Not on a television, not on a flat-screen television, not on any television, not at home, certainly definitely not on a computer, laptop, desktop, tablet or phone, but in a real movie theater, surrounded by real people, up on the real big screen. That is the only way that a special effects popcorn movie like this should be seen.

And, thus, fortunately, “Godzilla vs. Kong” is scheduled to be released in a virus pandemic era record number of movie theaters. At the same time–that does not mean to relax virus pandemic health, medical and public safety guidelines when going out to the real movie theaters. Everyone should continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, wash your hands regularly, and order pre-prepared concessions. If you go out to movie theaters–be careful.

According to Variety, “Godzilla vs. Kong” “is screening in more than 3,000 North American locations. That surpasses the benchmark previously held by Christopher Nolan’s time-bending sci-fi thriller ‘Tenet,’ having played in 2,810 locations. On average, new releases like ‘Tom and Jerry,’ Disney’s ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ and Bob Odenkirk’s ‘Nobody’ have been made available in approximately 1,500 to 2,500 locations.”

“Godzilla vs. Kong” attempts to tell a story–attempts is a key word–about some competing high-technology corporations who are tracking Godzilla, still a very cranky, unpredictable and flat-out ugly sea creature/dinosaur/lizard/reptile type of thing that still resembles the Godzilla from the very first film in the franchise from 1954, and who are also tracking King Kong, still a mammoth, imposing, chest-pounding, gargantuan gorilla/ape beast with incredible strength, an underlying emotional reserve, an actual heart, humanesque qualities and, when he’s not fighting, smashing, running, screaming and tearing everything apart, somewhat regal in stature and standing. These companies, classic sci-fi evil high-tech corporations where everything they do seems wrong, seems just about ready to destroy the world in a moment, is highly questionable, is crazy, and completely goes against common sense, rationality, intelligence, human and animal rights–and the legal system–always seem to be doing something flat-out stupid even in the confines of trying to sustain a willing suspension of disbelief. Even in the wildest scenarios in literally thousands and thousands of monster movies, even under the most crazy contexts of science fiction, fantasy, horror and the supernatural, often, amid all of that, sometimes even the most diehard fan watching monster movies just sits up, slaps their head and says, correctly, “Why would that evil corporation do that? That’s just stupid.”

Moviegoers will have the same reaction watching the evil corporations–Apex and Monarch– in “G v K,” even though, technically, Monarch isn’t necessarily supposed to be evil in the storytelling. But despite its best intentions, Monarch does come across as evil–and stupid. The problem is, Apex and Monarch have mixed up scientific research and caring for species on a truly caring, humane level. Believe it or not, in the movie, the Monarch corporation bizarrely and strangely keeps King Kong captive under some type of dome in some type of controlled environment–which is crazy. Naturally, and of course, this angers Kong, who knows this is wrong. Meanwhile, the good-hearted Monarch guys run around labs watching Kong and speculating about his general crankiness and unhappiness while living in a basically false, manufactured, enclosed, closed-in, captive environment. The basic establishing story premise of a bunch of so-called scientists keeping this massive, regal animal captive is one of numerous story and plot red-flag warnings that pop up early in the movie.

One would think that perhaps one smart Monarch scientist would turn to someone else and say, “Do you think we should let Kong go free and get him back to his natural environment so he’ll be happy, and because that’s the creature’s right and it’s the right thing to do?” That would have been interesting, but that never happens in the movie.

Next, the filmmaker devise another shaky premise that has Godzilla freaking out and attacking for no clear reason–or so they say. But it’s clear that the monster is attacking one particular Apex facility for a reason–and it’s clear that not all is well with Apex. And if it’s clear to any viewer over the age of five who’s watching just one monster movie and if it’s clear to everyone watching the movie that there’s obviously some reason why Godzilla attacks an Apex facility–it should be clear to at least several hundred people that something is amiss at the Apex plant. And, yes, three stalwart, young rogue rebels do have suspicions, do suspect that something is wrong at Apex, and do undertake a renegade investigation into what’s under Godzilla’s scaly skin, or skins.

After Godzilla’s attack on Apex, there is ensuing science fiction mumbo jumbo talk about a secret power source lurking in the secretive area inside the Earth known as Hollow Earth–really!–that could be affecting the creature, and how, possibly, King Kong can help uncover this power source and unlock the secrets of Hollow Earth and something else and somewhat else, and, soon, Apex, Monarch, the renegade investigators and a few soldiers and scientists all head to Hollow Earth to try and figure out just what’s going on. The audience will be joining them on that quest to find out what’s going on, too, because it’s never quite clear who is doing what and why–and not because the story, plot, characterizations and dialogue are meant to be mysterious. There’s no real mystery; it’s just that the story isn’t generally told particularly well. Dialogue, explanations, insight and meaningful conversations about the meaning of life, science, creatures and everyone’s relation to everyone else on Earth are not filmic factors that rated high in the movie’s construction. Most of the story, plot, dialogue and exposition seem to exist merely to move this monster-fest to the next big monster mash-up.

Thus, everything and everyone soon arrive at the expected–it was expected before the movie even started–climatic creature confrontation confab in Hollow Earth and in Hong Kong, which is conveniently accessed and located straight up some portal several miles above Hollow Earth. If one’s mind wasn’t already numb, glazed and induced into the type of comatose half-dead existence that people often devolve into during monster movies (and the lesser superhero, comic book, fantasy and sci-fi movies) like this, then the brain will hyper-drive into an even deeper level of comatose half-deadness during the big, crazy, over-done, over-loud, over-long fight scenes between Godzilla, King Kong and a scary robot-cyborg/machine thing called Mechagodzilla that appears somehow somewhere during some of the previous aspects of the story. Godzilla fights King Kong, Godzilla and King Kong fight Mechagodzilla, and, seemingly, the entirety of Hong Kong is completely, horrendously and nightmarishly leveled to the ground. It’s all loud, explosive, fast-moving, well-done in terms of technical special effects artistry and creativity–and wholly, wildly, mind-numbingly predictable, unoriginal, overly-familiar and cliched.

Really–just how many cities and buildings need to be completely destroyed–like a little kid knocking over his Lego towers or Erector set cities in the living room–and how many monsters need to fight each other amid these buildings until people get tired of the same old thing in the same old monster movie? What, you say, how dare you ask that question?! No, how dare anyone not be brave enough to answer that question honestly. Because it’s all been done before, and despite the literally $160 million to $200 million estimated budget for “Godzilla vs. Kong” and despite the work of those hundreds of talent visual effects artists, in the end, visual effects and the same-old, same-old, whether it’s 1954 technology or 2021 technology, nothing can hide the plain ol’ fact that we have seen this before, we have seen this before too many times, and there is indeed a limit to how many times we need to see this.

According to several sources, “Godzilla vs. Kong” is the 36th–that’s thirty-sixth–Godzilla movie since 1954. According to several sources, “Godzilla vs. Kong” is the 12th–that’s twelfth–film to feature King Kong since 1933. Good, bad or ugly, and both series have featured good, bad and average–and ugly–movies, in general, considering everything: not much has changed in the Godzilla and Kong worlds and universes. There was, amazingly, one true stand-out in both franchises, and that was Peter Jackson’s excellent re-telling of “King Kong” released in 2005. Here, truly, and finally, we had a monster movie that somehow ended up being smart, inventive, original, gripping, exciting, chilling, scary, insightful, well-produced, well-directed, well-written, well-acted and well-imagined, with all sorts of Jacksonesque creatures, monsters, bugs, spider-things, apes, dinosaurs, lizards and things slithering, sliming, crawling, running and creeping all over the screen in one big entertaining classic. Jackson’s 2005 “King Kong” is the very best movie of all of the King Kong and Godzilla movies, and, truly, it stands as one of the best monster/creature movies in general. However, “Godzilla vs. Kong” has just about none of the entertainment value of Jackson’s masterpiece.

Except for one area, besides the impressive special effects.

If there is one stand-out aspect and performance and quality of “Godzilla vs. Kong,” it’s a beautifully written, touchingly rendered and sympathetically told story in the film about one of the characters, a smart, tough, beautiful, caring and completely lovable girl named Jia. Jia, wonderfully played by breakout actress Kaylee Hottle, who was all of 9 years old when she filmed the film, steals the movie as a character and subplot, and little Kaylee effortlessly and wonderfully steals this entire movie from everyone else, including veteran actors Alexander Skarsgard, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza Gonzalez, Julian Dennison, Kyle Chandler and Demian Bichir, and everything else.

That’s right, through normal, regular, down-to-earth, genuinely emotive acting–real acting–9-year-old Kaylee steals this movie. It’s not just because she exudes cuteness and beauty, it’s because she actually takes the time to truly act. And Kaylee’s achievement is astonishing on another level: Kaylee, in real life and in the movie, is deaf. Jia never speaks in the movie. So a 9-year-old who never speaks but always acts on a higher level than anyone else in the film smoothly and smartly becomes the centerpiece and foundation of this sprawling, noisy creature feature. And the reason for this still goes beyond real acting and screen charisma: Jia’s storyline is actually inventive. Jia has a special ability to connect with, communicate with and bond with King Kong. She approaches the massive beast with no fear, and he responds lovingly caringly to her. Kong even learns to communicate through sign language with Jia–and, no, these scenes are not corny or overly sentimental. They are beautiful, human, humane, and caring. Kaylee presents Jia not as some supernatural, mystical being, but simply as a kind, caring and loving little girl who cuts through all of the politics and all of the evil-doing and all of the warfare and simply communicates with Kong on a kind, caring and loving level. It’s all written and handled very well. The only problem is–this storyline is not explored fully or completely enough.

​Actually, the interactions and communications between Jia and King Kong should have been the main story of this movie. If the screenwriters and director had been smart, inventive and insightful enough to make this storyline the main story and the center of the movie, the could have had a real movie to actually provoke thought, compassion, insight and intelligence. But the Jia-Kong storyline keeps getting pushed aside for the next big special effects scene, the next big fight scene, the next big monster and creature scene, and the next big standard same-old sci-fi something. This is where the filmmakers failed to consult their Spielberg-Lucas-Zemeckis-Roddenberry textbook, which teaches that any good, quality and memorable sci-fi, horror, fantasy and supernatural film needs to be fully, firmly and continuously grounded in….people, and humanity, and caring, and life and love and their concurrent connection to, caring about and love of the creature, beast, thing, monster or alien. Think Elliott and E.T.; Richard Dreyfus and the aliens; Brody, Quint and Hooper against the shark; Marty McFly and time travel; Indiana Jones and whatever he was up against, Han and Luke and Leia and Darth Vader, Kirk, Spock and McCoy and whatever they were up against; and a ten-thousand other examples. It’s the people who ultimately interact with the creatures who overcome everything else to make a film, well, human.

Hopefully, Kaylee is off to a great acting career after this movie. That would indeed be one of the best aspects to come out of “Godzilla vs. Kong.”

Meanwhile, for everyone else in the Godzilla and Kong monsterverse: let these sleeping creatures lie. In the realms of imagination and in terms of not making any more films for a very long time with either King Kong or Godzilla or anything like them, please, stop, think, and take these creatures back to their natural habitats, tear down any walls and domes and enclosures and cages around them, and let them live the lives they’re supposed to live–free, alive and in their natural homes. And, for a very long time into the future for all of us, just let them live on for now only in our imaginations.

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