Big brawls crackle with imagination in otherwise incomprehensible Godzilla vs. Kong

Kong and Godzilla go head to head here in Godzilla vs. Kong, the sequel to Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Kong: Skull Island. While their brawls crackle with imagination, other signs point to a shoddily cobbled-together franchise, writes Tony Stamp. 

Several lifetimes ago in 2014, critic David Ehrlich dubbed Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla remake ‘the first post-human blockbuster’, arguing that its non-kaiju characters were basically just there as window dressing. It’s an ethos that carried through the remainder of Legendary’s ‘MonsterVerse’. Kong: Skull Island prized its cast inasmuch as they were there to be creatively murdered, and Godzilla: King of the Monsters hand-waved any attempt at characterisation in favour of packing in a bunch more Kaiju.

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Those new monstrous additions are completely absent from Godzilla vs. Kong, one of several clues that this franchise has perhaps been cobbled together a bit shoddily. The latest entry plunges into a whole new mythology surrounding its titular Titans, featuring hidden worlds, a magical MacGuffin, future-tech and so on. It’s basically incomprehensible, and in the end, largely beside the point.

Director Adam Wingard knows that people are here to see an ape fight a lizard, and their big brawls do crackle with imagination. In fact they smack of someone who finally has a behemoth of a budget to play with and gets to pull out every cool virtual-camera move he had written in his notebook. At least one city is entirely levelled, an aspect which still gives me pause, but at least Wingard stops short of certain other blockbuster’s near-pornographic fixation on rubble.

But boy do the humans come up short. Not one but two villains are snuffed out before they have a chance to be particularly villainous, Rebecca Hall and Alexander Skarsgård barely register, and poor, sweet Brian Tyree Henry and our own Julian Dennison are left to yell ad-libbed insults at each other, stranded in a completely useless plotline.

The best moments are when you feel Wingard’s presence as a fan of the franchise, sneaking in a bit of Gyorgy Ligeti’s Requiem and Gojira Tai Mosura from 1992’s Godzilla vs. Mothra (I kept expecting Pharoahe Monch’s Simon Says to kick in but no joy). He fails to match the majesty of Edwards’ version (the monsters are often framed next to even bigger objects and so feel weirdly small), but his background in horror does carry over in some of the pricklier moments of carnage.

Maybe the best summation of Legendary’s approach to this franchise is Kong’s size, which has quadrupled since we last saw him. I don’t think it’s ever addressed on screen, but in interviews it was explained as “time has passed”. It’s all a bit flimsy, and doesn’t really matter: one bit of IP had to be as big as the other bit of IP so they could punch each other. Anything else is beside the point.