Though it’s not their first rodeo – that honour goes to Toho’s mental 1962 monster mash-up King Kong vs Godzilla – the 2021 film is the first time these two Titans have come face to face in Legendary’s Monsterverse. Launched in 2014 with Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, continuing with the 70s set Kong: Skull Island and Titan battle royale Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the Monsterverse has thus far been met with a mixed reception, though – perhaps 2014 Godzilla aside – there’s been no shortage of full on, in your face monster smackdowns in the series. The long-awaited Godzilla vs Kong certainly doesn’t disappoint on this front either.
Five years after Godzilla is crowned King of the Monsters, he suddenly turns heel and starts attacking research facilities run by Apex Cybernetics. A conspiracy theory podcast – produced covertly by Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), a low level employee of Apex – attracts the attention of Millie Bobby Brown’s returning character Madison Russell, and together with Josh (Julian Dennison), a friend of Madison’s, they investigate the shady goings-on behind the scenes at Apex. Meanwhile, Kong is being securely held on Skull Island so as to ensure that he and the other King don’t clash. Apex recruit a scientist – and Hollow Earth theorist – played by Alexander Skarsgård to lure Kong ‘home’ to the centre of the Earth, in order to retrieve a power source. It’s not long before Kong’s presence in the wider world attracts the attention of the rampaging Godzilla – and the two are soon at loggerheads.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: in a movie with a title that feels like it’s advertising a boxing match, there’d better damn well be a clash of the TItans. And there really are several huge, well choreographed, satisfyingly crunchy clashes where the two characters come to blows. Each of them gets time to shine and great use is made of their various strengths, abilities and fighting styles. Their fights are worth the price of admission alone.
Which is fortunate, because the human-led stuff rarely gels and so many characters feel completely extraneous to proceedings. Millie Bobby Brown’s character feels like she’s there just because she appeared before, as does her on-screen dad Kyle Chandler (if you look up ‘I know that guy from somewhere’ on Google, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s Chandler’s face that comes up). It’s not entirely without merit – after all, there has to be some contrivance to get our monsters to fight – and, in particular, Kong’s relationship with young Skull Island native Jia (played beautifully by deaf actress Kayleigh Hottle) is a genuinely touching highlight. There’s some surprises in terms of some of the bigger characters that make an appearance and a nice twist featuring a plot element from King of the Monsters, but on the whole the human-centric stuff just feels like needless, unsatisfying filler.
The same can’t be said of the soundtrack or the visuals, however. Though the actual writing may be lacking, Adam Wingard’s production design and direction is absolutely fantastic, with some superb creature work and excellent tech that has a nicely retro-futuristic feel at times – for example, there’s awesome shots of glowing purple devices that give proceedings a wonderfully synthwave-esque ambience. Which leads us into Tom Holkenborg’s soundtrack; he artist mostly known as Junkie XL provides a characteristically stunning backdrop to the on-screen carnage, with a bass and synth heavy collection of music that is absolutely superb. There’s some odd use of 70s tracks to help ‘narrate’ Kong’s mood that are a little too on the nose, but Junkie XL’s contribution is flawless.
So, it currently looks like this is the final entry in the Monsterverse – which is a shame. It’s an awful lot of fun – it’s daft, but very well crafted from an audiovisual point of view and it pulls absolutely no punches in delivering the monster carnage we’ve been after for a long time. Each of the title characters gets their deserved time in the spotlight and we’re left wanting to see more from both of them. Despite some unengaging nonsense with the puny humans, Godzilla vs Kong absolutely delivers where it counts.
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