The monsters are great, but the humans need work.
Godzilla has been the unquestioned Alpha of the Titans (Kaiju) since his defeat of King Ghidorah, but now he’s starting to become wild and aggressive. Meanwhile, Kong has been in a protective covering on Skull Island to keep him away from Godzilla, as Kong would naturally have to challenge him as an Alpha. Kong is monitored by Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her deaf adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle). Meanwhile, Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), is a Titan conspiracy podcaster who is investigating the APEX corporation and its CEO Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir). Simmons hires geologist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) to convince the team monitoring Kong to take him to the Hollow Earth and, in the process, to allow Simmons’ daughter Maya (Eiza Gonzalez) to harvest a power source for APEX. Bernie is joined by Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), who is the daughter of two Titan scientists (one of whom tried to destroy the world in the last movie), and her friend Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison). The three discover that APEX is behind something that poses a bigger threat than either Kong or Godzilla.
It hurts a little bit to try and determine whether or not this was a good movie because in some ways I worry that my enjoyment of the film was due to extremely low expectations. Not that I’m going to put it up for an Oscar or anything, and I’m pretty sure that the writing for the human characters (aside from Brian Tyree Henry who might have just been improvising) was literally pulled from a screenwriting manual, but I have to say this was pretty much the best kaiju fighting I’ve seen in a long time. If I were to describe what I wanted to see in this film, it would have been “I want to see Godzilla judo-throw a drop-kicking King Kong” and, well, that’s the kind of thing that this movie does right. The problem is there’s no way to do 90 minutes of that.
The best Godzilla movies usually try to treat Godzilla as a force of nature or a metaphor. The original Godzilla was used as a metaphor for the Atomic Bomb and the most recent Toho film, Shin Godzilla, treated the character mostly as a threat for the purpose of establishing how Japan is treated by the Western world. When you treat Godzilla as something beyond humanity or as a consequence of humanity’s hubris, then it gives him an appropriate relationship to the characters as something almost inevitable or that can only be dealt with by sacrifice. While some of the Godzilla movies give him more character and emotion, but in those films he’s usually more isolated from the “real” world, so you don’t have to worry as much about how the humans are reacting to the kaiju. The American movies, so far, haven’t really gotten this right, including this movie, because Godzilla is still treated more like a monster or a wild animal than a force of nature (although they start to give him some emotion when dealing with Kong). However, since Kong usually IS treated like an emotional creature, at least the scenes with the giant ape actually come off pretty well.
The biggest problem with the movie is that the human characters, with the exception of Bernie and the absolutely adorable Jia, are mostly forgettable. There are too many of them and they’re often in completely separate plots throughout the film. Moreover, the plots range from “needless” to “insanely stupid.” At one point, in order to be present for the finale, three characters accidentally travel from Pensacola, Florida, to Hong Kong (it makes sense in context… no, it’s still insane). That said, once the film actually gets to having Godzilla and Kong going at it, it’s a hell of a fight and even has a few moments that were genuinely visually impressive. This film really put a lot of extra effort into lighting and framing shots as well as creative creature design and settings, so when it gets the plot and people out of the way, this is very enjoyable.
Overall, while this movie wasn’t what it could have been, it had enough fun visuals and a solid fight sequence to merit the viewing.
Also, it’s great that they had Godzilla win the fight. Like, there’s no question that Godzilla can kick Kong’s ape ass up and down Skull Island. I was worried they’d just avoid having a real winner by having them fight MechaGodzilla together, but they managed to do both.