Six years ago, shortly following the release of Gareth Edwards’ “Godzilla,” the entertainment company Legendary, alongside Warner Bros., announced a slate of upcoming films to launch its own cinematic universe, hoping to achieve success similar to that of Marvel and early DC Extended Universe films. Amongst the early projects were Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ “Kong: Skull Island” and the sequel “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” both of which did fairly well at the box office, despite mixed reviews of the latter. These films, depending on overall success, would culminate in the ultimate battle of “Godzilla vs. Kong.”
Multiple delays later, “Godzilla vs. Kong” debuted not on the big screen, but in our living rooms on HBO Max. This follows an unprecedented decision by Warner and AT&T to release their entire 2021 theatrical slate on the streaming platform, despite pushback from acclaimed directors and production companies like Legendary.
Regardless of the outcome, the film has arrived, and it is available to HBO Max subscribers and those brave enough to sit in a cold, socially-distanced theater. The question now lies in its quality — and, well, it’s not great.
The plot follows a team of explorers, led by Alexander Skarsgård and Rebecca Hall, as they attempt to find the fabled “Hollow Earth,” located in the center of the planet. Kong apparently has to come with them. It’s not really explained why Kong must join, besides potentially finding his true home (which is not Skull Island, I guess), but against his will, he does. Godzilla also wants to kill him, and while this plot point isn’t explained, you can probably chalk it up to apex predatory hierarchies.
Meanwhile, Apex Industries (the writers went creative on this one), a tech conglomerate, is actively focused on creating a new, mysterious project to potentially rival the two massive forces.
From the initial dialogue between Skarsgård and Hall’s characters, the audience can immediately tell the direction of the film. Like the two previous Godzilla films, the inclusion of human characters is largely mindless and continuously detracts from the final product. This time around, the presence of human forces is not only distracting, but horribly developed. The writing is frustratingly rudimentary and often laughable.
For some, the less-than-stellar writing may not matter. After all, what really counts is the clash between the two box office titans. Unfortunately, this action is a sporadic mess. Godzilla and Kong are limited to two set pieces, which are viewable in nearly all marketing pieces for the movie. The fights are weirdly grounded as well. Instead of capitalizing on the unique nature of the “Hollow Earth” developed in the second act, the filmmakers abandon all of its otherworldly potential in favor of destroying a highly digitized, neon-soaked Hong Kong. The final product is thus a tedious and thoroughly disappointing waste.
That being said, the film, which is essentially 3-D animated, contains stunning visuals. Although the action grows tiresome and the acting is lackluster, the attention to detail in the visual effects is mind-blowing, and the result is often quite gorgeous.
My main frustration stems from the fact that the film fails to focus on the two characters that matter most — Kong and Godzilla. Godzilla’s character arc, which was imagined as a somewhat benevolent protector in the first two films, is completely abandoned, making his intentions for fighting Kong seem frivolous. Additionally, Kong, despite being the protagonist of the film, lacks any sentimental or memorable character moments. His relationship with Jia, a young, deaf child (played by Kaylee Hottle), while the highlight of the film, is in large part diminished by the chaotic mess of the third act.
Neither character has established reasons for fighting the other, and while that may not matter to all viewers, it’s important to remember that this is a film, not a WWE match. I am certainly not trying to hold a film called “Godzilla vs. Kong” to the same standard as “The Godfather” or “The Shawshank Redemption,” but the filmmakers should try to maintain some dignity, instead of pushing out a CGI-heavy, substanceless corporate product.
The film is not deep, and if you can get past the baseless dialogue, cringe-inducing performances, and incomprehensible plotline, I am certain you will enjoy (or at least tolerate) “Godzilla vs. Kong.” For the rest of us, I would simply recommend being intoxicated or to avoid at all costs.
Reach writer Jacob Renn at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @jakemrenn
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