The MonsterVerse Reaches Its Peak With ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ – Review
Godzilla vs. Kong is the first certified blockbuster hit of 2021. An achievement that many wouldn’t expect from Warner Bros. and Legendary’s MonsterVerse. The road to this epic face-off has been 7 years in the making, and it hasn’t been smooth sailing to get here. The previous three entries in the MonsterVerse have faced their fair share of hurdles, whether it be mixed critical reception or mellow box office turnouts. After the less-than-desired response to 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, fans and casual moviegoers alike were starting to believe that Hollywood probably just isn’t the place to shine for Kaiju. Godzilla vs. Kong, unapologetically, proves this wrong.
The beef between these two cinematic titans is one with a complex history, and it’s evident that the studio and director Adam Wingard understood this/ They set out to create something more than just “another sequel.” Following Godzilla’s established dominance in KOTM, society is in a far more advanced state, almost at the best it can be when co-existing with kaiju. There’s only one issue: all have bowed down to the great lizard but one, Kong.
The scientific peacekeepers appear throughout the entire MonsterVerse, Monarch has been doing their best to keep Kong isolated from the world on Skull Island. The Monkey isn’t looking for trouble at all, but if given free rein, they know Godzilla will come and try to settle an ancient rivalry. A tale of two Kings and only one throne. Time is running out before the monster hierarchy is lost, opening the door for a whole new era of threats, both human and natural.
Godzilla vs Kong feels just like the event it should be. Again, many started to lose faith after the franchise failed to make much out of Godzilla facing his absolute archrival, Ghidorah. But this is different, the feud with Kong translates far better on screen. Given their high status, and the fact that they haven’t shared the screen in roughly 60 years, this match has already garnered just the right kind of hype. Team Kong and Team Godzilla make themselves loud and heard on social media–resorting to trash talk and all the kinds of disses one would expect from a PPV fight. It’s entertaining and hilarious in a way that signals this meetup as something of this moment; one has to be there, actually present and engaged, to see it and more importantly, feel it.
Without a doubt, Godzilla vs Kong is the most visually stunning entry in the series. The work shown by Gareth Edwards in Godzilla (2014) has aged like fine wine (particularly his sense of scale and intensity), but Wingard’s film is the most steeped in far-out science fiction. Maybe a little unfair to compare it to the previous films since they laid the groundwork for what finally gets paid off here, but Wingard’s truly imaginative visuals often evoke such awe that has been sorely absent from the MonsterVerse for some time. This goes hand in hand with the kaiju chaos and action, which is again, the best it’s ever been.
Kaiju action hasn’t felt this creative or fluid in mainstream cinema since Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim. Granted, a lot of this has to do with the inclusion of Kong, who can swing around buildings and actually grab weapons (thanks to thumbs), unlike Godzilla’s previous foes. The story gives both titans enough stake in the fight, making the tension between the two palpable. When they do throw hands, the action is always distinguishable thanks to clever framing–an area other kaiju flicks lack in. Even though it doesn’t always feel as weighted as it could be, all can be forgiven just by how deliciously absurd it gets. Wingard knows what the people want to see from both of them and delivers while leaving plenty of room for some killer surprises.
As outstanding as this all may be, the film is still imperfect. One of the most criticized aspects of the MonsterVerse has been the human leads. This is where certain fans will tune out, firmly believing that human characters aren’t necessary when dealing with kaiju movies. A notion that quite literally doesn’t make sense, unless people want Godzilla and Kong to start talking out their beef. Many will also say that it’s acceptable for human parts to be lacking since that isn’t what moviegoers are “paying for.” Whatever it may be, it comes as a surprise that Godzilla vs. Kong is a bit more successful with its human leads than expected.
Seeing as this is the culmination of everything the series has been leading up to, the human plot is essentially driven by two teams: supporting characters familiar with Godzilla and supporting characters familiar with Kong. When taking a few steps back, this structure makes sense, but it could have easily fallen apart if not for the charisma of its jam-packed cast. Millie Bobby Brown returns and leads a whimsical investigation into Godzilla’s side of things with the help of Brian Tyree Henry and Julian Dennison. On the other side, Rebecca Hall, Kaylee Hottle, Alexander Skarsgård, and Eiza González guide Kong on his journey to freedom.
There’s almost too much going on within these subplots, leading to what often feels like a juggling act of recognizable faces. Everyone is great, some getting more chances to enjoy themselves in the schlock of it all, but there can only be so much time dedicated before others start to feel bare-bones or just unnecessary–especially in the less than two-hour run time.
Perhaps this structure would have benefited if the characters on both sides were present in previous films, sans Millie Bobby Brown. Or better utilization of characters with connections to previous leads, such as Shun Oguri’s Ren Serizawa, the son of Ken Watanabe’s Ishirō Serizawa from Godzilla and KOTM. With the cast and all-encompassing framework, one does get the sense that much got left on the cutting room floor. Though it’s still at least enjoyable to see all of these people together and makes for stronger entertainment than the previous human plots.
The attempt to do something more on the human front and utilize the genre is admirable, which may not be saying much since a lot more work can be done. Still, it honestly does feel like the series has got into more of a groove here, which is bittersweet since the future of the MonsterVerse is uncertain. Even if this is the last entry, it doesn’t lessen the heights the film does manage to reach.
Godzilla vs Kong is meticulously crafted for a theater experience, and its few imperfections don’t get in the way of making it the perfect choice to welcome anyone back to cinemas after so long (if it’s safe of course). The fact that audiences will be getting something on this scale and level of effort on a streaming service like HBO Max at no additional cost is a modern milestone. These two characters probably won’t meet again for another lifetime, but thankfully Godzilla vs Kong is good enough to make anyone want to savor every bit of this moment. Whether that’s in a theater or on HBO Max, the film’s sheer enjoyability still stands true.