Mild spoilers ahead. (Also, I watched this movie right after Minari. So, fair warning.)
All I wanted to witness was a walking, living nuclear power plant topping a humongous ape, and Godzilla vs. Kong delivered. That’s all it delivered, really.
The fourth film of the barely afloat MonsterVerse franchise, Godzilla vs. Kong is essentially a buildup to a final showdown between the two titans. For unknown reasons, Godzilla turns against humankind and attacks a Pensacola, Florida facility belonging to shady corporation Apex Cybernetics. Meanwhile, an agitated King Kong, held in captivity under Monarch scientists led by Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), is enlisted to stop Godzilla with the help of deaf indigenous child Jia (Kaylee Hottle) of Skull Island’s Iwi people and hardly competent geologist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård). This setup, should I offer the benefit of the doubt, could be promising: After all, kaiju/monster cinema exposes the darkest crevices of humanity through these apocalyptic, rampaging beasts. Shin Gojira, for one, metaphorically criticizes the Japanese government’s slow response to the Fukushima nuclear accident.
Worry not—Godzilla vs. Kong relieves you from any need for that level of brainpower. Rather, in a desperate attempt to engage the audience in its half-assed narrative, it flings at us mere shells of every signature trope of contemporary cinema blockbusters and hopes something sticks. It forces itself to bear semblance to something—anything—we signify as “likeable” or “deep” and in that process mutates into a spineless monster unworthy of the $300 million of attention it has earned so far.
Let’s put it another way. The film opens with a close-up of Kong, and we see every strand of CGI hair as he scratches his ass and bumbles around a jungle-like simulacrum he cannot escape—his personal Westview (WandaVision). The Hollow Earth Aerial Vehicle (HEAV) helicopters, or aerial shuttles capable of withstanding Earth’s “reverse gravitational effect,” transport Kong and his accompanying human crew into the Hollow Earth, the birthplace of titans near the planet’s core (don’t question it, please), through a journey not unlike the trek in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. Not to mention, a wide shot of light bending around the HEAVs is reminiscent of Star Wars’s hyperspace jumps. As if this totally fleshed-out, coherent premise hadn’t already pulverized any last shreds of logic, Kong embodies King Arthur pulling out the Excalibur when he discovers a wirelessly chargeable magic axe (again, don’t question it) he can use to slay Godzilla. From then on, the film’s lack of creative vision just gets worse, as the final showdown between the two titans features Pacific Rim’s neon and chrome visual effects—cool, but unoriginal. In fact, take the homoerotic tinges of Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman, substitute Doomsday with another Big Bad Guy, rush the pacing, and you have Godzilla vs. Kong.
Not that the shameless splicing stops there—Godzilla vs. Kong also attempted to replicate A Quiet Place’s deaf heroine through Jia, who communicates with Kong through sign language (and inexplicably “feels his heartbeat” later). Personally, this is the prime example of how Godzilla vs. Kong borrows well-liked (and well-executed) aspects of other franchises for the sake of audience appeal, then poorly backfires on itself. At face value, Godzilla vs. Kong tries to champion disability as humanity’s strength, as the post-apocalyptic premise of A Quiet Place successfully does. However, it massively fails in favor of endorsing colonial sentiments instead. Through sign language, Jia serves as the sole contact and translator between a primal, prehistoric ape and the modern scientists who have enslaved him. Jia’s attempt to warn her adoptive mother, Andrews, that Kong fears Godzilla’s viciousness falls flat, reducing Jia to nothing more than a postcolonial fantasy. And when Jia does succeed (like when she tells Kong that Godzilla is not his true enemy), Kong must serve once more as humanity’s soldier. Shoving in empty disability activism to ultimately bolster a celebration of imperialism was easily avoidable in a film on this tier of stupid—Warner Bros.’s disappointing decision to slot it in only enforces the sloppiness of its execution.
There is another subplot, of course, following the ragtag team of Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison), and conspiracy theorist-turned-podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), who together investigate Apex Cybernetics’s sinister scientific experiments and eventually uncover a secret weapon. But who cares about the human characters? Certainly not the movie itself—the cookie-cutter, dimensionless depictions of people living in an apocalyptic scenario fall horribly flat, even with the formidable talent like Brown and Skarsgård behind each character. Even the diegetic destruction of Hong Kong architecture left the death of its residents unaddressed. I couldn’t help but feel disappointed, albeit unsurprised, at the negligent attitude toward human characters that plagues the MonsterVerse. Sure, we watch these films expecting most attention to veer toward the beasts smacking each other, but Godzilla vs. Kong had the chance to break that mold, to paint the doomsday context of colossal battling monsters through the anxiety of humans stuck in the crossfire. The refusal to nuance Western kaiju franchises with human resilience is by no means the responsibility of solely Godzilla vs. Kong…but it may have been the very message that we currently need but never received.
I’d recommend simply watching this movie with your brain turned off. That way, partial redemption in the CGI spectacle comes when director Adam Wingard makes abundantly clear that Godzilla curb-stomps Kong. Like, curb-stomps. Godzilla easily destroys Monarch sea fleets with his tail before launching himself at the gorilla and hitting him square in the jaw. I could sense real panic at the sight of a chained Kong, a sitting duck, unable to fight Godzilla toe to toe and forcing the observing humans to play dead, praying Godzilla leaves them alone. There’s a rematch, of course, with that magic axe. Kong lands a satisfying punch or two on the King of the Monsters, but the audience spectates the one-sided duel from a distance, giddily gulping down the image of Godzilla pinning Kong to the floor. But all that CGI awesomeness didn’t matter to my fried, reeling mind. Apparently, you can prevent the AI takeover through a conspiracy theory podcast; some booze; and Kong, God of Thunder.
If you simply seek escapism, I by no means will stop you from wasting just under two hours of your life watching this Bowser x Donkey Kong fanfiction. In fact, I salute you for selecting the stupidest film of 2021 as your weapon of choice, because that’s exactly what I did. That’s what thousands of audience members did. But it’s not even good escapism. In its endeavor to make the MonsterVerse relevant again in the cinemascape, Godzilla vs. Kong transformed into a hideous, confused, and hybridized beast of its own accord and ended up being dismissible garbage.