By Jason Delgado
Godzilla vs. Kong is the kaiju heavyweight rematch that the fans have been patiently waiting for since the pair’s first on-screen tussle in 1962. In one corner is Godzilla: the gigantic reptilian-like creature with nuclear breath, hailing from Tokyo, Japan. In the original Toho Studios films, Godzilla was usually the villain, or heel, in wrestling terms. However, the recent Legendary Pictures films have made him the hero, until this movie, where Godzilla starts off on a warpath of destruction, and no one knows why. In the other corner is King Kong, the big gorilla, with a penchant for having a soft spot towards women, and an affinity, like Godzilla, for wanting to be the only alpha male monster in town.
The real life origin stories for these two characters is interesting to say the least. Godzilla was born as a result of the devastatingly real atomic bomb droppings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At the end of World War 2, the U.S. occupied Japan, and surprisingly (for us at least, the self-proclaimed Land of the Free) censored any content in Japanese media that had to do with nuclear fallout. Godzilla was a way around the censorship by being both a symbol of the destructive weapons, as well as a victim. This was a conscious decision made by the director of the original film, Ishiro Honda. Honda, a former soldier during the war, and first-hand witness to the fallout, took the characteristics of the horrors he witnessed, and applied them to Godzilla. “Its skin texture was modeled to closely resemble the keloid scars of the Hiroshima-bombing survivors, and its signature weapon, an atomic heat beam, was generated by the nuclear energy inside the creature and unleashed through its jaw to bring destruction to the cities of Japan.” Some of the most impactful horror stories come from fears founded in reality (for example, zombies start as a viral outbreak, but they also play on the fear of dementia, or losing one’s humanity), and Godzilla is certainly one of those cases.
King Kong was created by a globetrotting adventurer (a real life Indiana Jones) named Merian C. Cooper. On one of his expeditions, Cooper was fascinated by a family of baboons, which in turn got him interested in apes. His big idea was to film a drama about an ape that fights a komodo dragon. Cooper eventually decided on gorillas over baboons, because he thought that they had more personality. Gorillas at that time (pre-1933, when the first Kong film was released) were like mythical creatures, because people just hadn’t seen them in the West. Cooper figured that he could mold Kong into whatever he wanted, because no one in the audience would be the wiser. By this day and age, we’ve all seen a gorilla at the zoo, and may have pondered how frightening it would be to actually get into a scrap with one.
As far as the plot for Godzilla vs. Kong goes, in a movie like this, the storyline is secondary to the epic battles. I will say that the plot was fine; it didn’t detract from the film as it did in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, but it wasn’t mind-blowing either. The story in Godzilla vs. Kong is mostly predictable, yet there are a couple of pleasant surprises.
Director Adam Wingard (Death Note) describes the actors in the movie as being broken up into either Team Godzilla, or Team Kong. Team Godzilla consists of Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things), Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta), and Julian Dennison (Deadpool 2) as a ragtag group who are trying to figure out why Godzilla has turned heel. It’s good to see Brown in a lighter role that accentuates her playful side, while Dennison brings some light laughs, and Henry plays a conspiracy theory podcaster to a delightful T (not too silly that it’s farcical, nor too serious). Team Kong is made up of Rebecca Hall (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood), and newcomer Kaylee Hottle. Young Hottle is a standout in her first role, as a calm to Kong’s storm, Skarsgard does his usual fine work as a man seeking redemption, and Hall is the glue who holds them together with a steady performance.
The style of the film is closest to that of Kong: Skull Island, which is my personal favorite of the previous three “monsterverse” movies (which also include Godzilla – 2014, and Godzilla: King of the Monsters), because of the intense monster battle action, plot, and actors that support it rather than get in the way. Additionally, Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla vs. Kong don’t take themselves too seriously in tone. These are giant monsters slugging it out after all, it should be fun.
Like the glory days of boxing, people have been clamoring for this big heavyweight matchup, and the action in Godzilla vs. Kong does not disappoint. Certain moves and attacks from previous Godzilla and Kong films are incorporated here, as well as other nostalgic nods, such as Kong being strapped down on a boat. This is the kind of big action film that demands to be seen on the largest possible screen (IMAX) that you can find. Godzilla vs. Kong made a pandemic-best debut of $48.5 million in its first five days, giving hope to nervous Hollywood studios and theater owners that movie-going could return to pre-pandemic levels.
Godzilla vs. Kong is in theaters, and available to stream on HBO Max for a limited time.