‘I’ ON CULTURE
The year of the pandemic has brought some surprising things, one of the biggest being my watching a movie like Godzilla vs. Kong. Not that there is anything wrong with those kinds of films, but I generally prefer humans as the leads. In this film, the people are just interchangeable parts while the two CGI monsters do most of the work. But, for its kind of film, it’s not half bad.
The story, of course, breaks all kinds of scientific laws. At times, gravity disappears (an impossibility on a planet, according to Einstein), geology is turned upside down and, of course, biology is ridiculous. But that doesn’t count in monster movies.
The plot begins with Godzilla attacking a facility belonging to Apex (a name that turns out to be important) for no apparent reason. Since in previous films (which I have studiously avoided), Godzilla had sort of avoided hurting people, focusing on killing other monsters (called titans here), it set off major alarms. The head of Apex, Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir) visited scientist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) to discuss the possibility that both creatures came from “hidden earth” and that Kong might lead them to that place. Of course, Kong is imprisoned on Skull Island (shown to be inside a huge building… he has been a prisoner for years), working with Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), a linguist and expert on apes, and a young native girl Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who is deaf and mute but has a special relationship with Kong. There is a bit of a subplot where Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), daughter of characters from Monarch Corporation from an earlier Godzilla movie, along with rebel/muckraker/podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) and nerd tagalong Josh (Julian Dennison) wind up in Hong Kong as well and provide a key bit of assistance.
That leads to a confrontation at sea, and then a whole bit of a mess at hollow earth, as Simmons’ spoiled daughter Maia (Eliza Gonzalez) and a group of private soldiers betray the science heroes. For some reason, the action moves to Hong Kong featuring a battle between Godzilla, Kong and a mechanized version of Godzilla.
The story reminds me a bit of Batman vs. Superman that had two normal leads trying to kill each other. Now, Godzilla is not nearly as good an actor as either Ben Affleck or Henry Cavill, but Cavill might have been better than the ape. On the other hand, Kong was not as good as Caesar in Planet of the Apes.
The special effects, of course, are the key feature. The sets are spectacular; they manage to be both cool and seemingly of some use. Hong Kong is the city that is set for disposal. The damage is appropriately fun, but the CGI really winds up messing up the scale. At times, Kong seems about 30 feet high when he deals with Jia and Ilene, but is taller than skyscrapers during the battle. Biological note: if he was as tall as a skyscraper, he would probably not even be able to see those little humans, but if he were merely the 18,000-pound gorilla, he wouldn’t be big enough to smash his fist down at the top of buildings.
The human acting was pretty good although hardly challenging. We seem expected to know a lot of the characters from earlier films, something impossible for me because I always avoided them. Hottle is the best of them. Actually deaf, her sign language is good, but her charm is ongoing. I could understand Kong’s fondness. Most of the rest of the cast do their lines, but the parts are mere cardboard cutouts. Henry is a bit different. His crazed podcaster brings a nice comic touch, and a couple of his scenes with Dennison are actually laugh out loud funny.
But the movie is all about the monsters and, ironically, it is quite likely that humans are far more monstrous than anyone else. Director Adam Wingard clearly created a film with massive scenes of destruction between titanic characters. Seeing buildings crash as Godzilla’s tail swings, watching Kong swing a gigantic hatchet into buildings; that is the reason people flock to these movies. Older versions used stop-action figures, not nearly as smooth and life-like, but somehow they seemed more believable. If you like this kind of movie, it is showing all month on HBO Max. And who knows, soon we may get our real movies back.