Godzilla vs. Kong

Godzilla vs. Kong had its work cut out for it. The “Titans” franchise got off to a strong start with Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island. Then it stumbled badly with the dull, repetitive Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Despite being saddled with a plot that's sometimes laughably absurd, this new movie manages to get things back on course, delivering on the promise of its title. And hey, it's definitely a lot better than 1963's King Kong vs. Godzilla.

There are a lot of moving parts in Godzilla vs. Kong. So many, in fact, that summarizing the plot is a Herculean effort. The basic gist is that Godzilla, who had previously decided to leave humans alone, has inexplicably begun attacking again. Kong is removed from his containment center in an effort to stop him. But to do that, he has to lead a team of humans, lead by geologist Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard), into the “Hollow Earth” – an ecosystem within the earth's core – to find a powerful energy source. If none of this makes sense, don't worry. It leads to plenty of fighting, which is all that really matters in a picture like this.

Aside from the titular creatures, there are human characters. Millie Bobby Brown reprises her King of the Monsters role of Madison Russell. She teams up with a conspiracy theory podcaster named Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) to find out what Apex Cybernetics corporation head Walter Simmons (Demian Bichir) intends to do with a mysterious piece of equipment that's been spotted in its headquarters. Rebecca Hall, in a particularly good performance, plays Ilene Andrews, a sort-of Diane Fossey to Kong. She's nervous, knowing that taking Kong out of his habitat will draw Godzilla to him.

Certain elements of Godzilla vs. Kong are downright dopey. Madison and Bernie, for example, are able to walk right into Apex and access the most sensitive information either through blind luck or a few quick strokes on a computer keyboard. Later on, they're jettisoned to Hong Kong within a matter of minutes. I'm still trying to figure that one out. There's also some nonsense about the development of a special vessel that will allow Lind, Andrews, and others to fly into the Hollow Earth without blowing up. You won't find any shortage of preposterousness here.

While a stronger, more coherent story certainly would have been welcome, it isn't essential. Anyone going to a movie called Godzilla vs. Kong presumably cares about one thing and one thing only: watching the two monsters fight. On that count, the picture doesn't disappoint. There are a couple small skirmishes in the first two acts, followed by a nearly twenty-minute no-holds-barred battle toward the end, set in a beautiful neon-lit city. The titans cause significant amounts of destruction in the process, all of it gorgeously rendered.

Director Adam Wingard (You're Next) devises unique angles for the CGI fighting. You can feel the influence of the classic Godzilla films, but modern technology allows him to take them steps further. At times, the viewer is made to feel as though they're practically clinging to the monsters as they clash. And rather than editing everything to death, Wingard often stages longer shots that allow us to closely observe each creature's combat strategy. There is real visual invention in the film.

It's also worth noting that Godzilla vs. Kong doesn't take itself too seriously, which helps the goofball parts go down easier. After all, it is about a giant lizard fighting a giant ape. An excess of self-seriousness is one of the things that tanked King of the Monsters. Approaching the concept with a self-knowing wink at the audience allows us to sit back and just enjoy the spectacle of two beloved big-screen beasts beating the stuffing out of each other.

For my reviews of Godzilla Dominion and Kingdom Kong, the graphic novel prequels to Godzilla vs. Kong, click here.

out of four

Godzilla vs. Kong is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of creature violence/destruction and brief language. The running time is 1 hour and 53 minutes.