Hopefully the climactic instalment of the Monsterverse hastily cobbled together by Warners in the gap created by a lack of any Harry Potter-style tentpole franchises, Adam Wingard’s has been hailed as an industry saviour for pulling in roughly a quarter of what it might have been expected to generate at the US box-office. In a pandemic, that’s a lot more than other films have made, although the morality of inviting audiences out in the current circumstances is up for debate; at least Warners give you the choice. What is clear, however, is that in today’s blockbuster-free climate, Godzilla vs Kong is something of a breath of fresh air, and easily the best of the Monsterverse films.
That’s not to say that Godzilla vs Kong is a good film; it’s something of a frustrating mess, but it manages a few tricks that makes it watchable where the predecessors tried and failed. Wingard opens with a bold trope; Kong chilling on his backside, scratching himself and listening to Bobby Vinton’s Over the Mountain, Across the Sea. A large part of a monster movie is the beating drums and tribal dances of anticipation; a cold open like this is a big gamble. Kong has a moment of communion with a native child before tossing a sharpened caber at his bio-dome, revealing his captivity. Kong gets shipped to Antarctica to help humankind explore the entrance of Hollow Earth, an anti-gravitational netherworld that seems to also be his home. Meanwhile Godzilla has been inexplicably on the radge for a bit, appearing to be evil and killing people who work for the sinister Apex corporation, and he turns up to block Kong on his way to his scratcher, leading to a big smackdown rammy on an aircraft carrier. Shrugging this off, Kong leads a human expedition to Hollow Earth that follows the usual At The Earths Core/ The Land the Time Forgot paradigm, finds a big axe in a loot box, then fights guest artist Mechagodzilla in some neon-city (Hong Kong?) before Godzilla turns up to make it a three-way punch-up. There’s also a whole side-mission with Millie Bobby Brown doing a Stranger-Things–lite conspiracy-theory adventure that leads to some kind of revelations, but that doesn’t connect up to the main bill-of-fare until the end.
So, the usual rubbish then, but not quite. Wingard makes Kong the protagonist here, and that just about works; the human stories all grate in the most tiresome way imaginable. But instead of the fog, gloom and darkness that ruined the last two Godzilla movies, everything looks clear and easy to understand here, a first for the franchise. The fights, and there are several, look great; this works better than any Transformers or Pacific Rim movie, as well as outclassing the other Monsterverse entries. Padded or not, Godzilla vs Kong has got the “Wow!” factor that hasn’t been around since Peter Jackson’s reboot.
Godzilla vs Kong is the kind of big blockbuster which may well become an endangered species in a post pandemic world; it’s going to be hard to justify this kind of outlay when a blockbuster like this doesn’t find a quarter of a million viewers in a UK still under lockdown. So for now, let’s enjoy the extravagance, and the excess; with some well chosen songs (Elvis! Judas Priest! The Hollies!) , Godzilla vs Kong at least offers an ass-kicking good time, something that’s a first in the dreary Monsterverse sequence so far.