Five years after saving the world from Ghidorah, Godzilla launches a mysterious attack on the headquarters of Apex Cybernetics. Theorizing humanity’s former saviour has turned evil, Apex CEO Walter Simmons (Damián Bichir) recruits disgraced scientist Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) to guide a search inside the hollow Earth for a legendary power source capable of destroying Godzilla. Roped into this quest is none other than the mighty Kong, unleashed from a closely-monitored facility at Skull Island under the supervision of Monarch scientist Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) where the legendary giant ape has formed an empathic bond with mysterious deaf-mute native girl Jia (Kaylee Hottle). Meanwhile teenager Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), whose life was saved by Godzilla, sets off with friends on her own mission to prove his innocence. Inevitably a chain of fantastic events set the stage for an epic showdown between the two baddest monsters to ever stomp the planet: Godzilla vs. Kong!
Given the original King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) remains the most widely seen Godzilla film of all time this rematch has been a surprisingly long time coming. Theorists and kaiju eiga (Japanese monster movie) fans alike often interpret the 1962 film as an allegory for the struggle between Japan and the USA as embodied by their respective iconic monsters. Even though, on close inspection, the film holds up far better as a satire of consumerism and the societal changes wrought by the consumerist mentality in Japan. Admittedly there is none of that in the CG-amped up monster slugfest that seemingly serves as the climax to Warner Brothers' Monsterverse. Yet what Godzilla vs. Kong lacks in depth and, to a certain extent, human interest (though not entirely true), it makes up for with thundering spectacle.
Moving even further away from the pseudo-realism of Gareth Edwards' laudable, sober-minded Godzilla (2014), Godzilla vs. Kong delivers wild comic book thrills closer in tone to the zanier Showa era Godzilla films. Kong forges a giant magical Godzilla-slaying axe, for crying out loud. Weaving together multiple plot threads the script, co-written by Marvel stalwart Eric Pearson with series veteran Max Borenstein and input from Zach Shields, Godzilla: King of Monsters (2019) director Michael Dougherty and Terry Rossio (who among others penned the aborted Jan De Bont Godzilla movie back in the Nineties), centres on two sets of characters that never actually interact except tangentially via their respective monster avatars. While undeniably hectic and messy it somehow holds together thanks to Adam Wingard's steadfast, lightning paced direction. Wingard’s approach serves the film’s true protagonists, the titular duo, especially well capturing that quirky apocalyptic sense of wonder that characterized the Showa era Godzilla films. Despite Godzilla's prominence in the title, Kong emerges the film’s true protagonist and underdog hero with the former seemingly relegated to villain duties. As things play out however fans of both monsters will likely emerge satisfied.
For all the inevitable criticisms levelled at the film’s lack of human interest, Godzilla vs. Kong arguably makes better use of its eclectic cast than past entries. Brian Tyree Henry brings his energetic A-game to an admittedly limited role; the film wisely gives fan favourite Millie Bobby Brown a more active role in proceedings in the genre regulation role of teen girl with an empathic connection to Godzilla; while Alexander Skarsgård essays an interesting, atypically quirky and vulnerable male lead. However the film's standout M.V.P. is talented newcomer Kaylee Hottle who, despite nary a line of spoken dialogue, imbues heroine Jia with such striking personality. What heart the film has stems from Jia's lyrical relationship with Kong. On the flip side while any appearance from Eiza González is worth savouring her role here is superfluous. Regrettably missing in action are Zhang Zhiyi and Jessica Fenwick whose roles were cut from the final film.
Sporting certainly the finest production design of any Monstervers movie along with a very cool looking retro-Eighties neon colour palette, the film serves up vivid pulp manga imagery: a trippy stargate like sequence; a lively visit to a monster ridden realm at the centre of the earth; Kong drinking from a slain enemy’s skull; yet another ancient underground temple; Godzilla finding creative new uses for his radioactive breath and duking it out with Kong atop aircraft carriers; a super-computer fashioned around Ghidorah's giant skull; a fun homage to Universal Studio's much loved Kongfrontation ride. All of which serve as build up to the spectacular return of one of Godzilla's oldest foes, looking very different from their last appearance in Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One (2019), which funnily enough also had Kong!