Godzilla vs. Kong (in theaters, and also currently streaming on HBO Max) is the quintessential popcorn movie, one that almost demands mindless consumption. “It makes sense if you think about it,” the conspiracy-theorizing podcaster Bernie says at one point, straightly delivering the film’s most laughably untrue line.
This is a movie that spotlights wonky science–Hollow Earth theory in particular (I’m still trying to figure out why there would be “sunlight” shining in the center of our planet). It’s a movie that keeps Godzilla remarkably abreast of global affairs (somehow he’s aware of exactly what’s going on in secret, hi-tech facilities). And it’s a movie where the powers that be seem to think it is a good idea to include a cute little deaf-mute girl on a series of ultra-dangerous missions.
Admittedly, Godzilla vs. Kong is a tricky cinematic feat to pull off, as the human players have to take a big backseat to the real stars of the MonsterVerse. The people are basically there to run scared and otherwise react to the city-stomping chaos (and also to supply a series of infodumps–encapsulating explanations that attempt to make wild ideas graspable if not plausible). All that being said, the characterization and acting prove particularly lackluster here. Granted, this isn’t Shakespeare that Alexander Skarsgard (woefully miscast as an academic) is being given to work with, but if he were any more wooden he could be left behind as a totem on Skull Island. Meanwhile, Millie Bobby Brown forms a pale clone of her Stranger Things character (think Eleven without the nosebleeds), infiltrating the evil-multinational equivalent of Hawkins Lab.
Ultimately, though, it’s the saurian-simian showdown that the audience has come for, the spectacular clashing of the Titans of the title. Godzilla and Kong square off on multiple occasions, and their civilization-destroying grappling is Wrestlemania-main-event worthy (each gets the chance to take the upper claw/paw during the fight sequences, whereas in the overall film Kong’s character gets much broader development). Like a grand WWE dramatization, there’s also a major swerve orchestrated in the climax.
The film features some enjoyable incidental creatures (my favorite: the giant turkey-bat) and a few surprise appearances that fans of this series–and the long history of kaiju movies–will no doubt appreciate. Still, the MonsterVerse mythos gets extended to a ridiculous extreme (here’s hoping that this is the last rodeo for Godzilla and Kong). The battle scenes are eye-poppingly epic, but on every other front Godzilla vs. Kong is a resounding dud.