Monster movies are usually bigger, louder, and more gloriously absurd than almost anything a viewer could hope to see on the big screen. They have a prevailing charm—and, to its credit, Godzilla vs. Kong is a film that often lets loose and revels in its genre's absurdity.
The story here is familiar to Godzilla fans: the big-ass whale-gorilla has suddenly begun attacking cities, seemingly unprovoked. Humanity must bring in an equally big-ass gorilla, Kong, to fight back against him. There are twists and revelations, including a finale where a new opponent enters the ring for a fitting conclusion, though the story itself is window dressing.
The central hook remains seeing the two beings fight, and those scenes are, thankfully, mostly well-executed. The film can adequately convey the scale and scope of the monsters as they battle. You're coming for these battles, and you'll get enough to latch on to.
When else would you get to see a giant ape throw a roundhouse punch at a spiky monster in a battle at sea atop a boat? In what other possible circumstance would you see the same ape later jump off of a building like a pro wrestler floating through the air to bring all his energy down on the intended target? Even with many flaws, these moments are appropriately over the top.
With all that in mind, I should say there is quite a lot that is unshakably wrong with Godzilla vs. Kong, the now fourth entry in the American "MonsterVerse" series that may just be its last.
It manages to be narratively busy—with far too many plot threads that go nowhere—and simultaneously shallow, with large portions of time passing that lack any emotional investment. Of course, the humans and their worries are not usually the primary reasons anyone would seek out a movie called Godzilla vs. Kong. So why are we spending so much time on them???
The key example is the series' new addition, actor Brian Tyree Henry as Bernie, whose defining characteristic can best be described as "has a podcast" that he talks a lot about. While certainly meant to play for laughs, the story underutilizes Henry's talents. From the series Atlanta to the underseen Widows, he has more than shown that he can seamlessly execute drama and comedy. That never gets to shine through here.
The same is true for all the cast, new and old. Despite their best efforts, Godzilla vs. Kong never settles on what to do with them. Either spend more time developing the characters or just give us the monsters—don't get stuck in a narrative no man's land!
Director Adam Wingard has done some good work with previous films like You're Next and The Guest. Even the ill-fated 2016 Blair Witch sequel is not without redeeming qualities. (There is no defense of his live action 2017 Death Note adaptation.) Wingard coming on as director instilled the film with intrigue, though his direction can't overcome the film's own story.
When watching this particular movie about a battle between the two titans, one thing becomes clear: we are destined to be the losers.
By "we," I don't just refer to the people who are unlucky enough to find themselves living at the foot of the next conflict. I also refer to us, the audience, as we watch a movie trapped between wanting to focus on the monsters while we get dragged into a drab story with characters plodding through narrative sludge.
Sure, that sludge gets wiped away during the film's final battle, and it gets wiped away with great force and fanfare. It almost makes you forget all of the moments of tediousness before it. But just almost.
You can see Godzilla vs. Kong via HBO Max and in theaters starting March 31.