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Review: ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ makes big promises it has trouble keeping (Includes first-hand account)

Godzilla battles Kong on an aircraft carrier
A scene from 'Godzilla vs. Kong' courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
A scene from 'Godzilla vs. Kong' courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

As Hollywood once again sets its sights on rebooting a foreign property, the focus turns to the special effects and applies American idealism to gigantic, living destroyers. They’ve rebranded the Toho universe as a “Monsterverse” and Japanese Kaiju are now “Titans.” Having exhausted and extinguished most of Godzilla’s enemies in his second outing, it would seem this battle was inevitable — though the original creators only felt the need to see them square off once before in Gojira’s long cinematic history. Godzilla vs. Kong pits the two mighty icons against each other in a battle that may determine the future of humanity.

His isolation disturbed and the serenity of his home lost, Kong is less than happy with his current accommodations. Monarch knows they’ll need to find a solution soon, but they’re currently without options so Jia (Kaylee Hottle) and Ilene (Rebecca Hall) do their best to keep him pacified. In the meantime, Godzilla emerges from his multi-year slumber to wage a targeted attack against an Apex Cybernetics facility, but no one knows why — except maybe Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), a conspiracy theory podcaster, Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) and her best friend, Josh (Julian Dennison). With Godzilla’s return, Kong is no longer safe as the reptilic titan demands to be the alpha giant. However, scientist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) may have an out-of-the-box solution.

There’s a major shift in audience loyalty in this film versus Godzilla: King of the Monsters, where Godzilla was humanity’s saviour against the invading Titans. Now, he emerges as an unstoppable force recklessly destroying cities and killing hundreds of innocent people. Thus, Kong becomes the world’s new champion, as his connection to Jia, his ability to convey his emotions and his longing for home humanize him. Audiences sympathize with their new hero and instinctively root for him in the first battle. There are also warm feelings when the possibility of a new home for the big ape arises.

Though both creatures have significant destructive power, it’s not really a fair fight when you factor in Godzilla’s ability to swim and breathe hot blue fire. Therefore, as audiences take sides, so does the military presence that steps in with some extra firepower when Kong seems outmatched. A battle in the middle of the ocean is highly skewed in Godzilla’s favour, but Kong manages to keep it interesting by luring the giant lizard onto floating surfaces, which tips the scale back in the ape’s favour to some extent and allows him to deliver some significant blows. Nonetheless, Kong’s inability to breathe underwater is a key disadvantage in this arena. The inevitable battle in a major city is more balanced as Kong wields a large, glowing axe reminiscent of Stormbreaker. This leads to mass destruction and loss of life as the two monsters take out every skyscraper in the vicinity. However, part of watching these films is ignoring the tragedy and enjoying the mayhem.

There are actually two narratives unfolding over the course of the film. The big eye-catching one about feuding monsters and a smaller tale that brings back more characters from Godzilla’s last picture. Slightly older now, Madison is still obsessed with the reptilic titan and ropes in Josh and insider Bernie to help her investigate why humanity’s former hero returned with such a vengeance. Yet, their adventure is somehow less fathomable than the existence of giant monsters, though it eventually pays off at the end.

While the visuals are incredible and the Titans ever-impressive, there is something lacking from the giant monster movie. The need to weave an emotional thread throughout the narrative somewhat undermines the blockbuster battles and reduces the anticipated fun. By endearing audiences to Kong, it’s more distressing than amusing to watch him take on Godzilla. It also seems like there’s one too many stories unfolding, causing the potentially more engaging tale to unfold superficially because it’s allotted less screen time. In the end, this movie doesn’t deliver the thrills of its predecessors, but does expand the world of the Monsterverse in an interesting manner with future potential.

Director: Adam Wingard
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Alexander Skarsgård and Millie Bobby Brown

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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