Analysis of ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’: Let You and Him Fight.
Ape and lizard square off, with a cast of talented humans providing commentary.
I watched “Godzilla vs. Kong” alone in my darkened living room a few nights ago. This was far from perfect, but it did leave me acutely longing for a particular pleasure I had been missing for 13 months. There are many reasons I miss going to the movies, but one that I hadn’t considered is the unique pleasure of watching a bad film on a large screen.
I do not say “evil” in a negative context. This is a summary, not a judgement. The fourth installment of the MonsterVerse franchise, directed by Adam Wingard, is “Godzilla vs. Kong.” As such, it assembles an incredible human cast to run around describing fictional science and drawing attention to what is occurring in plain view. “Did the monkey just speak?” inquires somebody. He did, sort of, but that is not the point of this visit. We paid to see him fight the lizard.
I didn’t, but had circumstances been different, I might have. To be sure, this is not always included in the monthly HBO Max subscription fee. (The film grossed $123 million in overseas theaters last weekend.) The spectacle of the titular titans engaging in mano a mano combat was intended to be experienced in the company of restless members of your own race, whose action causes you to groan at the nonsensical bits, laugh too loudly at the secondhand jokes, and rejoice when a simian fist connects with a saurian jaw.
Without such business, it’s possible to enjoy “Godzilla vs. Kong” for what it is: a lavishly grandiose action film with little pretension and not a lot of originality. The opening sequence nods to previous MonsterVerse entries (“Godzilla,” “Kong: Skull Island,” and “Godzilla King of the Monsters”) while also evoking the energy-drink rhythms of playoff sports broadcasting. Along with genetics and geophysics, myths and legends are invoked, but bracketology is the relevant intellectual discipline.
And the Kaiju and the ape are the primary artistic accomplishments. They fight on the high seas and in Hong Kong’s streets, and their bodies are made in loving, preposterous detail. Kong’s height seems to fluctuate slightly, as if he were a boxer straddling weight classes. His fingernails are lovely, his teeth are straight, and his fur is immaculately groomed.
The film, written by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein, will err on the side of Kong. He develops a sweet friendship with a young girl named Jia (Kaylee Hottle), whose guardian is Rebecca Hall’s Ilene Andrews, a sensitive scientist. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) is less sensitive, and his ethical integrity is jeopardized by his relationship with Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir), a business executive who expounds on technical goals while wearing a brocade smoking jacket and brandishing a tumbler of Scotch.
You are aware of the form. You may also be familiar with the misfit characters who tell Godzilla’s story: Brian Tyree Henry’s obsessive podcaster; Julian Dennison’s anxious nerd; and the independent-minded adolescent girl (Millie Bobby Brown). Brown appeared in “Godzilla: King of Monsters,” as did Kyle Chandler, who reprised his role as her nervous father, the bureaucrat. The film, along with the previous MonsterVerse installments, was a little more concerned with people than this one, which reduces motivations and relationships to visual simplification and indifferently written banter.
As I previously said, the poetry resides with the beasts. Kong is the more enthusiastic and moody of the two, being a warm-blooded beast. He also learns how to interact with humans and how to use weapons, or at least a glowing ax he discovers deep beneath the earth’s crust. (In case you didn’t know, the earth is hollow.) Godzilla is more direct, but yet more mysterious — a small-brained killer whose scaly face conveys an almost intellectual weariness in addition to instinctive belligerence.
Which team will you back? I’m not going to give anything away. Despite Godzilla’s pale-blue death rays, it’s a traditional donnybrook, a brawl that feels more physical than interactive. Although Kong has wide shoulders and the power to clench his fist, Godzilla has claws, a low center of gravity, and a sledgehammer tail.
It isn’t pretty, and it doesn’t mean much, but “Godzilla vs. Kong” transforms its flaws into virtues and turns insanity into a kind of imagination in and of itself. The original “Gojira” was an allegory for human irresponsibility, just as the original “King Kong” was a catastrophe precipitated by human brutality. They were pop fables, which this slick spectacle makes no effort to imitate. However, it does celebrate the nobility of the brutes on screen by catering to their appetites on the sofa.