Hollywood seems to be creatively bankrupt as of late. The entire movie landscape primarily consists of remakes, reboots, and sequels – with nary an original idea in sight. Which wouldn’t be too bad if the films themselves had any integrity or passion felt in them, but most of them seem more like shameless phoned-in cash grabs with little to no care put into the story or characters at all.
Crossovers are another fad going around, and a lot of them are hit or miss. Whether it’s Family Guy and The Simpsons, or Batman and Superman, you can increasingly bet on two media franchises consolidating their fanbases and trying to cobble them together to shore up some extra cash.
If I sound overly cynical, I apologize, but that’s just the way I see it. So I wasn’t exactly clamoring to watch the new Godzilla vs. Kong flick. Now to be fair, both Godzilla and King Kong have been churning out decent films lately. Godzilla’s 2014 return under the direction of Gareth Edwards wasn’t a masterpiece, but it brought back some of that old ‘Zilla magic with a few memorable moments shot through a modern lens. It’s not a film I care to revisit as a whole, but I’ll still go back to clips from it.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters in 2019 was arguably more entertaining, giving us a better glimpse at the giant lizard and his opponents, and setting up some of the concepts we see in the Godzilla vs. Kong.
And in between those two releases, we also got Kong: Skull Island in 2017. Skull Island was honestly the most enjoyable out of the three monster films for me. It knew exactly what it was and didn’t make any attempt to be anything more than that, which is respectable. And it also ties into the latest film.
So clearly, looking back at the production of all these movies over the better half of the last decade, there has been some effort made into tying them all together in order for each one to culminate into a sort of Kaiju cinematic universe.
I’ve been skeptical if production company Legendary Pictures could pull it off. Many studios have tried replicating what Marvel did with the MCU that led to the juggernaut Avengers series, and they’ve all pretty much failed. And I was supposed to believe that Godzilla and King Kong of all properties were going to be the ones to get it right? Sure, whatever.
But here we are. And here I am. And I’ve got to hand it to ’em, they did a bang-up job. Godzilla vs Kong is better than it has any right to be. It’s full of genuine surprises. It finally gives us decent views during action sequences and doesn’t tease, shake the camera, cover things up in murky storms, or cut away at pivotal moments. The lore and world-building feel like some actual thought was put into them. Granted, some longtime fans might feel the film is too gratuitous, but I for one appreciate getting my money’s worth and being allowed to actually see these monstrous beasts in all their glory.
The humans in the story are still frequently backseat drivers that take us away from the action, but at least a few of them stand out as actual characters – like the young village girl Jia who is performed well by child actress Kaylee Hottle and the Alex Jones-inspired conspiracy theorist Bernie Hayes played by Brian Tyree Henry. Of course, we also get to see Alexander Skarsgård (not to be confused with Bill Skarsgård who portrayed Pennywise in It: Chapters One and Two) and Millie Bobby Brown of Stranger Things fame show off their acting chops, which is fun.
Quick sidebar on the aforementioned conspiracy theorist character, I have to give props to the writers/director for treating him and his fellow believers with some modicum of respect. Sure they ham it up for comedic effect on occasion, but it was nonetheless refreshing to see a ‘nutjob’ like that finally being somewhat vindicated and given some credit in a major film and not totally written off like a crackpot or dismissed out of hand.
Many conspiracies in real life are taken to extreme levels of ludicrousness that strain credulity, but it is something of a truism that those same conspiracies, when boiled down to their barest essence and at their very core, are based on legitimate foundations. And in fact, ignoring those legitimate roots is often what leads to them snowballing into Godzilla-sized problems down the road. See? Who woulda thunk a CGI-heavy WWE match would lead to such philosophical discussions.
Still, make no mistake, at the end of the day this really is ‘Zilla and Kong’s movie. While it’s fun to philosophize on the ideas introduced by the humans here, it’s even more fun to watch these behemoths treat aircraft carriers and F-35s like Tonka toys, and the film does a commendable job at never losing sight of the reason we’re all here: to watch a big gorilla fight a big lizard against the backdrop of an oldies-laden soundtrack.
Without going into spoiler territory, I felt Godzilla vs. Kong did a better-than-expected job at addressing obvious questions most people would ask about such a battle, and at balancing out the strengths and weaknesses of both characters. Despite some very outlandish moments, the movie still operates on some sort of logic, and by the end of the movie there was a definitive winner. And along the way, it was impressive to see just how much personality the filmmakers convincingly gave both Kong and Godzilla. I never imagined Godzilla could undergo noticeable character development with his own story arc, but apparently he can.
I won’t go into any of the surprises, other than to say I am happy the trailers I watched didn’t spoil any of them. I’m glad they kept the marketing simple and saved the best stuff for the movie itself. If you’re a longtime fan of either series, there are some well-executed easter eggs to enjoy.
There were also a few moments I was afraid the movie was about to go off the rails (and nearly did), but luckily director Adam Wingard managed to keep it on track. It often feels very reminiscent of Transformers, which itself was a series that became over-bloated and went off the rails more than a few times. Luckily, Godzilla vs Kong avoids that fate.
So, kudos to making it work. Kudos to pulling it off. I’m pleasantly surprised. And if I had a full 4K home theater set-up in my home, this would be a film that I’d gladly revisit at least once every year. It’s certainly worth watching at least once in cinemas if you can. It’s better than Batman v Superman, that’s for sure.
But where would I rank it in the MonsterVerse? Well, out of the four films released in the series so far, this one might be my favorite. It’s at least on par with Skull Island and King of the Monsters, but personally I think it combines the best of both worlds and makes for an improved result.
It doesn’t fundamentally change cinema or reinvent the wheel, but oddly enough it’s the best crossover movie since Avengers: Endgame. I don’t know if that speaks more to its strength or to Hollywood’s weakness, but either way I’ll take it.