If you’ve existed on earth for the past year and a half, a reminder of nature’s unstoppable force most likely isn’t something you look for in your late-night media escape. But when “nature” is represented as a bipedal reptile and an overgrown (and over-humanized) gorilla, the existentialism may just be curtailed. Godzilla vs. Kong succeeds when it bombastically delivers exactly what I expect, but falls short every time it attempts to escape the monster vs. monster genre.
Unlike other movies that rely on intrigue to sell tickets (or HBO Max subscriptions), there is only one overt reason that Godzilla vs. Kong will overtake the dozens of other shows and movies in your watchlist that you just “haven’t been in the mood for”: the primal urge to watch big croc fight big monkey. On this front, the movie delivers all your greatest kaiju fantasies—even the fantasies you most likely never imagined. I didn’t know that I wanted to watch Kong leapfrog from warship to warship while Godzilla’s atomic breath cut through an aircraft carrier from beneath the waves, but it definitely scratched an itch that rewatching Friends couldn’t reach.
With the exception of a few close-up shots that make Kong’s fur look half-rendered, the special effects are a far cry from the rubber suits and miniatures that defined the original 1962 King Kong vs. Godzilla. Without giving too much away, the nighttime brawl in Hong Kong is the greatest display of Godzilla vs. Kong’s visual excellence. While nighttime darkness is traditionally used as “cinematic concealer” for rushed cinematic effects (looking at you, Whedon’s Justice League), the nocturnal scenes of Godzilla vs. Kong are used to tastefully contrast Hong Kong’s neon illumination. The contrast works well to accentuate the titans’ texture on my six-inch device. This movie, for the first time during the entire pandemic, made me yearn for the nearest IMAX screen and ill-fitting 3D glasses (I didn’t pay an extra five dollars to be reminded of my low nose bridge) currently inaccessible to my not-yet-vaccinated self.
But all this grandeur can’t save the movie from its weakest element: the humans. The fact that at least two-thirds of the movie is spent with beings that cannot singlehandedly decapitate pterodactyls or scale the Hong Kong skyline proves that the writers of Legendary Entertainment’s monsterverse are still in denial about why moviegoers choose to watch their blockbusters. They want to believe that we watch these movies for the deep, human connections portrayed by their poetically bejeweled writing. The writers have been getting incrementally better about suppressing their dialogue-egos and allowing the monsters to shine (the Legendary’s 2014 Godzilla showed the titular character for less than ten minutes), but something tells me that we are still a dozen movies out until they realize that cutting out the annoying teen with daddy issues will not affect box office earnings.
While she doesn’t justify the inclusion of the rest of the cast, Jia—portrayed by Kaylee Hottle—is the sole exception to my anti-human stance in a monsterverse movie. Jia, a deaf and orphaned child, is the only human character that genuinely adds value to the movie. Her special connection with Kong feels natural and adds heart to a movie mostly dominated by human characters only motivated by self-interest. Watching at least one character demonstrate a genuine desire for Kong’s well-being is as close as the movie ever got to suppressing my desire to see a building being thrown. Even without a single line of dialogue, Hottle portrays the character perfectly through her expressive, but unexaggerated, facial expressions—a perfect complement to Kong’s tendency to express emotions through projectile motions.
If you’re someone who’s massive, substantial, Kaiju-sized intellect forbids you from watching a “pointless movie,” don’t worry! This movie was made for snobs like you too! With metaphors about giant creatures and beasts of nature clashing climatically with an abominable, man-created transhumanist robot,” Godzilla vs. Kong possesses a sophisticated message on environmentalism and climate change that will leave critics deciphering its message for years to come. Sarcasm aside, while the movie was most likely—and thankfully—never envisioned as a rallying cry for environmentalism, the lack of politicized conversation surrounding the movie is an indirect gauge for the heightened degree of modern polarization. It’s unfortunate that a movie needs to advertise itself as “monkey vs. robot” to attract audiences and steer clear of accusations of bias.
If all this still hasn’t convinced you to bump Godzilla vs. Kong to the top of your queue, let me try one more time: if you’re like me, you’ve probably watched some movies in the past year to escape the monotony and uncertainty surrounding our COVID-centric lives. You might long for the gray-drabbed Office and intergalactic romps with baby Yoda—anywhere but here, you’ve probably thought. But watching Legendary’s latest addition to the monsterverse will allow you to appreciate that risks related to nature don’t include being crushed by King Kong’s hairy posterior.