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- Godzilla vs. Kong
- Directed by Adam Wingard
- Written by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein
- Starring Godzilla, King Kong, and a bunch of humans who don’t matter
- Classification PG; 113 minutes
Don’t let its title fool you: Godzilla vs. Kong is not strictly a one-on-one affair. While the giant lizard thingy and the giant ape thingy do indeed get down and dirty with each other – on land, at sea and briefly in the anti-gravity airspace of the Earth’s hollow core – there are several other, more pressing head-to-head battles being waged in Adam Wingard’s monster mash. Directorial Ambitions vs. Franchise Obligations, for starters. But also Allegory vs. Escapism, Kaiju Adventure vs. Conspiracy Thriller, CGI vs. Even More CGI and Knowingly Stupid vs. Just Plain Stupid.
Who wins each one of those melees? Eh, who cares. If you are heading to Godzilla vs. Kong looking for some refined, purposeful artistic experience, you are just as foolish as anyone who decides to own oceanfront property in a world where a giant radioactive lizard is swimming around the Pacific, footloose and Ghidorah-free. In more blunt terms: Godzilla vs. Kong is a ridiculous movie made even more ridiculous by a distinct lack of care in its conception and execution. But it is also the kind of cinematic assault that delivers just the right jolt to the most base sensibilities hiding within our lizard brains. You walk away dazed but bemused.
If you haven’t seen the three “monsterverse” films preceding Godzilla vs. Kong, don’t worry. The thin narrative thread uniting Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla, Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s Kong: Skull Island and Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters – three movies that completely diverge in tone, style and world-building continuity – is largely retconned in Wingard’s semi-sequel. All you need to know is that King Kong is a giant ape with a good heart, Godzilla is a giant lizard with bad breath and Monarch is a giant scientific organization that studies both beasts but is also apparently not as important as any of the previous three movies suggested.
When the film opens, the titans of the title are at peace: Kong in a simulacrum of Skull Island playing hide-and-seek with a cute little deaf girl; Godzilla charting the depths of the world’s oceans, sans cute little deaf girl. But then a corporation led by a moustache-twirling Demian Bechir makes some noise about how the Earth’s core is hiding a mysteriously unlimited power supply, and it is decided, rather quickly, that the only way to retrieve it is to have Kong lead a group of scientists (including Rebecca Hall and Alexander Skarsgard) toward it. This somehow sets up a showdown between the two behemoths, and away we go into the land of the lost.
Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein’s screenplay is a blockbuster built from spare parts. There is sci-fi adventure in the style of Journey to the Centre of the Earth, cute-kid Amblin-y drama akin to E.T. and a decent chunk of Alex Jones-esque conspiracy blather. (Brian Tyree Henry’s comic-relief podcaster also inadvertently, I hope, channels Trump in his conviction that bleach can cure just about anything.) Weld all the junk together, and the thing runs fine enough. You just might be choking back fumes and shaving off your IQ at every turn.
Perhaps it is just the recent phenomenon of Zack Snyder’s four-hour Justice League rattling around my head, but I couldn’t help feel/fear that there is a much longer, slightly more coherent version of Godzilla vs. Kong occupying space in Wingard’s personal hard drive.
Save for the final half-hour, in which our two big beefy boys tear apart a neon-lit Hong Kong, the film is choppy as hell. Scenes begin and end arbitrarily, with characters spitting out dialogue faster than the audience can process, lending the film a careening sense of unintentional chaos. Maybe I’m being overly charitable to Wingard’s vision, but tiny bits of evidence that indicate corporately mandated trims abound: Monarch’s diminished presence, for one, but also the basic mechanics of getting Kong from Point A to Point G(odzilla). And why cast noted character actor (and Wingard’s collaborator on 2014′s kick-butt thriller The Guest) Lance Reddick but only give him one measly line of dialogue? Something stinks here, and it’s not only the sweatpants I wore while watching this in my living room, instead of inside an Imax theatre like nature intended.
Still, you can safely stop asking questions once that final battle begins – a turn-off-your-brain extravaganza for the ages. Kong, Godzilla and one very special guest rampage through Hong Kong with a sense of spectacular, gleeful mayhem. Hundreds of thousands of people are likely killed in the chaos, but the film is careful to not give one slight hoot. We want colourful carnage. We want mindless destruction. We want one giant thing hitting another giant thing, and maybe one of those things could also be holding a giant glowing radioactive axe, maybe? Sure! Give the people what they want. Give the people Godzilla vs. Kong.
Godzilla vs. Kong opens March 31 in Canadian theatres, dependent on local health restrictions, and is also available on-demand, including Apple TV/iTunes, the Cineplex Store and Google Play
In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, recommended works will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.