The primary critical argument against the three previous films in the MonsterVerse franchise — Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island (2017), and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) — has been focused almost exclusively on the human element. Basically, the human characters and storylines in those three films long overstay their welcome, and the issue is exacerbated by idiocy, convoluted details, and more. The counter has always been that you don’t watch a giant monster movie for the humans, but while that’s true, their ubiquitous presence has always been hard to shake. King of the Monsters came close, but it’s the fourth film in the franchise that’s finally gotten the balance right as Godzilla vs. Kong focuses on the big brutes and leaves the people to fight for scraps of attention at their feet.
It’s been five years since Godzilla declared himself king of the monsters, and these days he only pops up periodically to destroy high-tech laboratories. King Kong, meanwhile, is living a far more sheltered life as Monarch — the shadowy organization overseeing titan activity — has erected a dome over Skull Island to keep Kong in and Godzilla out. It can’t last forever, though, so when an ex-scientist named Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) comes asking if Kong can come out to play his keepers say yes. Nathan needs the great ape to help them find an ancient power source in the earth’s hollow core, and Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) needs a new home for the big lug, so it’s a win-win. Well, in theory, as the two titans seem inexorably drawn towards each other, and both have bloodlust in their eyes.
Godzilla vs. Kong succeeds because it understands the very first rule of a giant monster movie is to focus on the damn giant monsters. There are plenty of humans scrambling around including a couple of returning characters — Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) and his daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) — and several new ones, but they’re thankfully and blissfully kept to a relative minimum in favor of Kong and Godzilla. Director Adam Wingard does fine work with his first blockbuster (and you just know he’s to credit for the Lethal Weapon 2 nod), but it’s the CG spectacle, monster mayhem, and epic carnage that rule the screen.
While there are attractive visuals throughout, primarily in the hollow earth and Hong Kong, the film’s not quite the showcase for gorgeous shots that the two previous movies managed to be. It’s still a movie best watched loudly and on the biggest screen at your disposal, though, as both Godzilla and Kong are beautifully rendered — as is the destruction left in their wake. Cybernetic factories in Florida and Hong Kong are leveled, monstrous threats lurk in the hollow earth, and a face-off out at sea plays havoc with a naval fleet. It’s thrilling stuff, and the action remains clear throughout keeping everything in understandable geography.
The one hiccup on that front, though, is an inconsistent scale between the two titans of Godzilla vs. Kong. It’s acknowledged that Kong has grown since we last saw him, but ships and aircraft seem to give a fluctuating sense of size between the two as sometimes the ape looks smaller than Godzilla while they appear evenly matched elsewhere. It’s far from a deal-breaker as the action and spectacle hold focus.
The script, by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein, still manages plenty of the expected human silliness, but either through restraint or post-production editing, it’s never overwhelming or enough to drag down the film’s momentum. Fighter pilots still fly within arm’s reach of the giant beasts, there’s still a weird bond between titans and little girls, and brilliant scientists capable of reaching the earth’s hollow-core inexplicably need Kong to find them a very obvious magic mountain for them, but the monsters take precedence. The desire to ensure human characters play a pivotal role does become laughable once or twice as the writers throw them a bone for a brief heroic moment or feeling of continuity — seriously, remove both Madison and her father and not a single element would have played out differently here — but Godzilla vs. Kong belongs to big guys.
This is the shortest of the four films, and the action and momentum keep things moving at a strong pace. Junkie XL‘s score adds to the adrenalized feeling, and the personable nature of the cast helps ensure an easy watch. The body count is high, like tens of thousands high, but the overwhelming majority are off-screen or as unseen specks within the CG devastation. We get the expected themes — greed and a hunger for power are bad; working together is good; people are endlessly stupid — but we also get an energetic action film featuring big, messy brawls, giant monsters, Kong scratching his bare ass on his way to the shower, and more. Honestly, what more could you want in a MonsterVerse movie? Now go see Godzilla vs. Kong so they’ll make another one and we can finally get Godzilla’s adopted son, Minilla, back on the big screen where he belongs.