How do I begin to explain how much I disliked Godzilla vs. King Kong? Looking back, I should not be surprised that I hated this movie because of how annoyed I was by one of its predecessors, Kong: Skull Island, in which a bunch of scientists and soldiers just out of the Vietnam War show up on Kong’s island and start destroying things. Just leave King Kong alone!
Godzilla vs. King Kong is a sequel to both Skull Island (2017) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). I would like to explain the plot to you, but it was so convoluted that I am not sure I followed it. Just know that it stars Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, and Rebecca Hall. Kyle Chandler is back for about three minutes of reaction shots. There is also a little girl who can talk to King Kong, played by Kaylee Hottle. Things explode. King Kong and Godzilla have a couple of fight scenes which are fine. For some reason, they are trying to return Godzilla to “hollow earth.” It’s a mess.
This movie is a good case study for examining how much backstory a monster really needs. I would argue that a monster needs much less than what the writers try to give him here. I am previously on the record as being very sympathetic to King Kong, but I have to wonder if we are even supposed to consider favoring Godzilla in this movie? How is a lizard without much personality supposed to compete for human hearts against a giant primate?
Furthermore, this historic rivalry is treated as a fact but is so thinly developed that when they do battle it feels pretty insignificant in terms of the mythology. It was much too much exposition for very little payoff, contributing to how overstuffed and also boring the plot of the movie was.
Then there’s the acting, which is pretty bad. I get that the actors were probably responding to a green screen most of the time, but the movie is so heavy on reaction shots and those are pretty awkward and overdone. The best actor in the movie is the giant CGI gorilla. There is something uncomfortably colonial about the little girl, Jia, and her relationship with the scientists and King Kong, but I would much rather watch an entire movie about her teaching him sign language than whatever this movie was supposed to be about.
To me, it all begs the question: do we need monster movies to be about anything? There is actually a subfield of cultural studies that examines monsters and what they tell us about our cultural moment. Generally, I think, yes, monsters are at their best when they tell us something about fear. For example, haunted house stories are really all about the dangers we face in our own homes. The way vampires cross thresholds can be read to symbolize immigration or sexual predation. The mythology behind the titans in this haphazard series of movies is trying to make comments on the relationship between humans and nature, but it is doing so very badly.
In the absence of anything passing for a cohesive narrative, a monster movie should at least deliver on scares or action. Still, this movie fails. There is one fairly interesting fight scene in the middle of the ocean, but otherwise, the effects and the action are pretty dull. I am tempted to give the movie some leeway because it was clearly meant to be watched on a big screen, not a television at home, but I am not sure that a Titanic-sized movie screen would have improved the experience and the snacks would have been much more expensive.
Can we please just leave King Kong happily on his island? Please?
Godzilla vs King Kong is out in theaters and streaming on HBO Max. It was written by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein and directed by Adam Wingard. It runs 1 hour 53 minutes and is rated PG-13.
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