Does anyone remember 1986’s silly King Kong Lives? It ranks among my list of worst movies along with Jaws: The Revenge, The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle and The Visit. There’s a point in the story where King Kong and Lady Kong nuzzle and canoodle, and King Kong gooses his new girlfriend. Somebody wrote that into a script! Similarly, at the start of Godzilla vs. Kong, King Kong scratches his ass in a morning ritual that we didn’t need to see. At its heart, the movie should focus on what’s on the poster — two giant creatures fighting and destroying everything in their wake. That’s what you went to see, and all of the rest is fluff that could be tolerable if it wasn’t so dumb. Godzilla vs. Kong layers ridiculous missions and human drama upon three battles that could have been YouTube videos.
Part of the series of movies that includes the 2014 Godzilla reboot, Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the plot picks up not too long after the events of the latter film. Huge company Monarch studies the giant beasts called Titans, and Apex Cybernetics works on tech to eliminate the Titans. Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), daughter of Monarch scientist Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler in a small role), and her friend Josh (Julian Dennison) listen to a podcast by Apex whistleblower Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) and later infiltrate Apex to see what they’re developing. At the same time, Monarch scientists Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) and Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) figure out a way to get King Kong to guide them to the Hollow Earth at the center of the planet to find a power source to help them fight the erratic Godzilla. This all amounts to a lot of nonsense that builds to the realization that Godzilla acts up when he senses King Kong and the two must fight to bring that movie poster to life.
The best acting from the human performers happens when they spew their scientific theories with straight faces. Did this suddenly transform into Journey to the Center of the Earth? If it were so easy to get in and out of the Earth’s core, someone would have done it before in this series. Skarsgård, Hall and Brown hold their own, and only Dennison and Henry stand out because of their comedic performances and wisecracking. Shun Oguri, Eiza González and Demián Bichir sleepwalk through their one-dimensional villainous roles. The titular pair rank as the true stars of this monster movie, and these characters are almost more fully realized than their human counterparts. More monsters and fewer human beings would have resulted in a more entertaining outing.
The fight scenes justify your patience with the other parts. The battles don’t sanitize the process as we’ve seen in the past with giant creatures leaning against buildings or otherwise just missing toppling other structures. Everything must go, and presumably, many people die along with the destruction. This level of damage brings some urgency to stop it as well as audiences marveling at the special effects used to depict it. King Kong and Godzilla trade blows in two scenarios that pit them against each other before a third battle that takes an entirely different twist. I went into the theater to see something similar to the monster battles in the classic films of the ‘50s and ‘60s, and on that level, I got my fill. Hong Kong takes the brunt of the devastation, so they’ve got to rebuild it fast before any future movies.
I can’t list all of the times that I rolled my eyes while watching Godzilla vs. Kong, but I’ll rattle off a few problems. Godzilla doesn’t appear until 40 minutes into the movie, and the focus before and after that is on King Kong. The title should really have the creatures reversed; this is King Kong’s movie. The Hollow Earth stupidity had me shaking my head again and again. In the end, I laughed because it does play off the seashore joke about digging a hole to China. Godzilla has gone back and forth from being a rampaging beast to a friend to humanity over the course of his movie appearances. I wish that they’d just figure it out once and for all. Although the proceedings get sillier and sillier over the course of the two hours, nothing beats how a little girl manages to communicate with King Kong. That’s a gem of a revelation that you have to see to believe.
I don’t know whether the filmmakers plan any more adventures for King Kong and his lizard friend in the future. Only time will tell, and I suspect that it will be a few years before anyone ventures back to Skull Island or Hollow Earth again. The early monster movies were perhaps better because they limited human actors’ involvement to show up to save the rest of us when it was necessary. I’m OK with a more balanced approach. Godzilla: King of the Monsters walked that fine line between camp and believability, and Godzilla vs. Kong should have followed that example.