Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri. Directed by Adam Wingard.
Legendary Studios’ burgeoning MonsterVerse is an odd franchise. 2014’s Godzilla was a super-serious meditation on man’s hubris and the way nature will inevitably fight back – in the form of a giant lizard. 2017’s Kong: Skull Island was an Apocalypse Now riff through the filter of video games and anime, while 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters was a headache-causing CGI mess with bursts of people talking about the environment.
Pitched as the sort of Avengers of the MonsterVerse, Godzilla vs Kong pits the giant lizard against the giant ape in a brawl that should show once and for all who the real alpha is. For some reason, Godzilla is attacking humans in a far cry from his bringer of peace role, and only Kong — protected from Skull Island’s apocalyptic storms by Monarch — can stop him.
Like the previous films in the series, Godzilla vs Kong offers an A-list cast around the CGI beasties. Alexander Skarsgard, Rebecca Hall, Eiza Gonzalez, Brian Tyree Henry, Julian Dennison and Demian Bichir join returning cast members Kyle Chandler and Millie Bobby Brown to stare at green screens as two CGI animals punch each other.
Director Adam Wingard, best known for horror-thrillers You’re Next, The Guest and Blair Witch, proves a dab hand as providing the necessary heft to Kong — the creature he’s clearly more interested in — and the scale of the monsters, but can’t provide the same level of care to the humans. It’s an easy complaint to say the human roles aren’t interesting, but none of them have the joy of the previous films.
No human gets the “Let them fight” moment, or Bryan Cranston’s “stone age” speech, nor the unfiltered joy of seeing John C. Reilly bumble around with a big beard. Only newcomer Kaylee Hottle as deaf Skull Island native Jia really has anything of note to do as the little girl that connects with Kong.
There seems to be a large amount of the film missing, and for a film that feels so short on plot it also drags terribly much of the time. Too much time is spent exploring the Hollow Earth, a fantastical monster paradise where hover cars are needed to jet through and Kong leaps like a kid on a trampoline to a video-game upgrade sequence. Many characters appear at the beginning or the end with little in between. You wonder what appealed to Lance Reddick (one scene), Eiza Gonzalez (two) or convinced a wasted Chandler to come back in the fray. Money is one thing but such insubstantial roles can’t even be called cameos.
The first fight between the monsters gives hope that the film can mix scale with stakes, but very quickly it turns into loud bangs and noises interspersed with humans looking scared. The final showdown, which Wingard promised would have a clear winner, does to an extent, but much like Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman it cops out of really giving us a true champion.
The final fight also raises questions: are we supposed to enjoy seeing Hong Kong reduced to nothing? Buildings are torn down as monsters duke it out, but it’s hard to enjoy it when Godzilla and even King of the Monsters made a point of showing the human cost of these titan battles. Moreover, the inclusion of what is clearly a Jaeger from Pacific Rim boasts the tantalising but unlikely prospect of Pacific Rim in the MonsterVerse.
It’s unlikely to win many converts to the series and feels like a full stop to the franchise, but considering the remit of the series was to introduce monsters old and new, maybe post-showdown the best thing the series can do is offer the world a smaller scale monster, something new and not get lost in the computers.