Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Film Review: Monster Mash

Godzilla vs. Kong on HBO Max


Another one of Warner Bros.' major 2021 movie releases arrives "day and date" in movie theaters and on HBO Max. And although the Japanese/American monster match-up Godzilla vs. Kong is the exact sort of big ticket item we'd love to see on the big screen, not all of us have the luxury. Although our country seems to be in the waning days of the COVID epidemic (fingers crossed), many indoor movie theaters remain shuttered, and not everyone is comfortable sharing space with strangers gobbling popcorn until a majority of folks have the COVID vaccine comfortably coursing through in their veins. But unlike last year, when the summer movie season failed to materialize, at least we now have the option of watching movies like Godzilla vs. Kong in the safety of our own homes.

This long-anticipated clash of titans combines the kaiju kings from two American reboots: 2014's Godzilla and 2017's Kong: Skull Island. It's a follow-up to 2019's Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which left the slow-and-tense 2014 G flick in the dust, accelerating from zero to 60 in no time flat and introducing just about every monster in Godzilla's pantheon. (Mothra, Rodan and Ghidorah all showed up for that royal rumble.) That left American producers scratching their heads for a noteworthy follow-up. They decided on the cross-cultural route chosen by Japanese studio Toho back in 1962 when Godzilla was pitted against an amped-up version of the American monster icon King Kong.

Adam Wingard takes over for Gareth Edwards as the director of this epic go-around. Wingard has established a solid rep in the movie biz over the last decade, helming low-budget horror thrillers (Pop Skull, V/H/S, You're Next, The Guest and the 2016 reboot of Blair Witch). With Godzilla vs. Kong, he steps up to the big leagues and proves himself adept at wrangling a big-budget, effects filled spectacle. (Can a Marvel movie be far behind?)

Picking up where Godzilla: King of the Monsters left off, this third outing starts off with Godzilla making an appearance in Pensacola, Fla., and promptly stomping it to the ground. What gives, Big G? Last time around it was revealed you were a "Titan," a timeless, elemental juggernaut protecting the Earth from prehistoric alien monsters and the like. Why the sudden pivot from babyface to heel? Well, turns out that Apex Cybernetics, a multinational company with a major factory in Pensacola, is engaged in some shady, monster-based shenanigans. In his off time, low-level Apex engineer Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry from "Atlanta") secretly records his own conspiracy theory-filled podcast, investigating and exposing the evil machinations of his employer. What is Apex building, and what does it have to do with Godzilla? Well, when Apex CEO Walter Simons (Mexican zaddy Demián Bichir) contacts disgraced geologist and "Hollow Earth" theorist Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) to hunt down a mysterious energy source buried deep inside the planet, we get some idea.

Meanwhile, halfway across the planet, Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) is raising a deaf orphan girl on Skull Island and studying the island's most famous resident/captive, the giant ape known as Kong. Double meanwhile, back on the other side of the planet, Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown from "Stanger Things") makes a return appearance from King of Monsters. Her dad (Kyle Chandler) still works for Monarch, the governmental agency tasked with monitoring Godzilla and his fellow Titans. Unwilling to sit on the sidelines while Godzilla goes on a rampage, she teams up with conspiracy-minded Bernie to investigate Apex and its plans. Plans which, of course, eventually involve Kong. And Godzilla. And anti-gravity ships. And a prehistoric land hidden under the Earth's crust. And another Toho favorite who shall remain nameless. And ...

Like a never-ending Thanksgiving dinner, Godzilla vs. Kong doesn't run short on anything. It's overstuffed to bursting with just about everything this sort of film could offer. This means the much-anticipated battles between headliners are serious knock-down, drag-out affairs. You don't have to wait long for the first battle, and it's a waterborne doozy! At its WWE Wrestlemania best, Godzilla vs. Kong will have you cheering for your favorite monster, appreciating every gorilla arm slapdown and each city-leveling atomic breath blast. As in the 1962 version, Kong gets a major power upgrade in order to go toe-to-toe with the OP modern Godzilla. Other winking callbacks to the original film include Kong shackled to a boat and Kong airlifted by helicopter on a giant sling. (Sadly, no Kong drunk on red berry juice here.)

Keeping track of GvK's multitudinous main characters and pileup of parallel storylines requires a bit more work than giant monster movies generally demand. In all honesty the screenwriters probably had way too many ideas for a single movie. As a result the human characters don't get much development. As the chief villain of this whole affair, for example, Damián Bichir is a mustache twirl away from complete cartoon caricature. But honestly, we didn't come for the narrative—we came for the kaiju. The digital effects are fittingly incredible, and Wingard composes plenty of striking, monster-filled vistas for audiences to ooh and ahh over. Kong ends up with more screen time and comes off as the more "three dimensional" of the giants. Godzilla, in keeping with his most recent Japanese roots, is portrayed as an emotionless force of nature—which makes sense, but short-changes him on audience sympathy. Still, if you're in the mood to just hoot and holler as a giant ape and a giant lizard fight, Godzilla vs. Kong delivers. Is it a good movie? Probably not. But it's definitely a fun movie.

BOX: Godzilla vs. Kong is available now for streaming on HBO Max and in select movie theaters.


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