Review by Jonathan W. Hickman
A monster stormed into our community last week. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the creation of Hollywood.
A catastrophic event, a massive tornado, dominated Newnan, the historic City of Homes, last week. It was, therefore, emotionally challenging to watch the latest indiscriminately destructive installment in Legendary Productions’ MonsterVerse. Sure, the idea was to escape the trauma and forget the real world by diving into an immersive imaginary one. Such a thing proved impossible.
In “Godzilla vs. Kong,” the enormous King of the Monsters mercilessly attacks a city. Before Godzilla’s destructive assault, an evacuation takes place in what seems like minutes. In this movie, epic titan battles periodically occur, causing skyscrapers to topple, reducing metropolitan centers to rubble. It’s all very well done, and it’s exciting stuff, but I immediately dwelled on the aftermath.
When the real-life tornado attacked our town on Thursday night, it was as if the titans had visited. Homes were leveled. Families were displaced. Our world forever changed.
The large swath of destruction was as if Godzilla had slithered through the streets, decapitating an iconic high school and flatting residences without concern for the souls tucked away “safely” in their beds. Remarkably, yet none-the-less tragically, there was just one loss of life reported, and physical injuries were minimal. But the psyche of this place has taken a resounding emotional hit.
Around 11:30 or midnight, I awakened to the piercing sound of what I believed to be a grinding turbine. Arrogantly, I refused the impassioned cries of my frightened wife to take shelter. My exaggerated sense of self-importance manifested shamefully as I stood on the second-floor landing of our 100-year-old dwelling, yelling down to my wife and terrified dog that it was nothing.
Then when the monster touched down, and the crashing sound of trees coincided with an immediate loss of power.
Miraculously, I survived; my formerly limited respect for Mother Nature was newly kindled. I apologized to the wife, who intuitively knows all. I gave the shaking dog an affectionate embrace. There were, and still are, hugs and tears all around.
The Godzilla and King Kong franchises have always centered on man’s lack of respect for the planet. Godzilla was either created or awakened by the nuclear age. And Kong was disturbed and removed from his isolated island by men determined to capitalize on his immense size and strength. These cautionary tales rarely ended well.
This latest, big-budget, monstrous adventure, the 4th in the rebooted franchise mashup, lightly touches on environmental themes, ultimately giving way to cheaply thrilling titan battles. Those who complain about the thin human stories ignore the movies' mercenary purpose—to capture audience imagination with amusement park entertainment. And, so far, in international release, “Godzilla vs. Kong” is a massive hit.
In the film, the two title creatures do fight one another more than once. It’s a battle on sea and land, in both jungle and urban environments. However, the comic style is weightless, especially as to the inevitable loss of life underneath it all. To call the film irresponsible is to give it credibility. This bonkers fantasy purposely avoids anything that could be described as remotely realistic.
The story takes place several years after 2019’s “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” Hoping that the scaly beast is a titan savior, Madison Russell (a more mature Millie Bobby Brown) still advocates on Godzilla's behalf. She routinely listens to the conspiracy podcast of Bernie Hayes (“Atlanta’s” Brian Tyree Henry), who rants and raves about mysterious forces. As the inevitable fight nears ever-closer, these two join forces to investigate.
Meanwhile, scientist Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) plays Jane Goodall to Kong, held captive on Skull Island under a massive dome. Using sign language, the lovable but intimidating Kong communicates with a deaf orphan girl named Jia (Kaylee Hottle). Of course, when Godzilla reemerges and attacks a research facility in Pensacola, Florida, Kong’s help is sought. There can be only one titan, or should there be none?
Enter a megalomaniac industrialist named Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir). Through his company, Apex Cybernetics, Walter seeks to harness the titans' power and protect Earth. Of course, he may have more on his mind than global safety, but his financial interests might, this time, coincide with altruistic ones.
Walter visits a former Monarch geologist named Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård), hoping to enlist Lind’s help in visiting the place known as the Hollow Earth. The idea is to find the power source of the titans and use it against them. There’s another secret that I dare not reveal, but it will more than satisfy Godzilla fans.
After some consideration (like seconds), Lind joins in, and he convinces Andrews and Jia to use Kong to navigate to the Hollow Earth. But Godzilla and other forces continually threaten.
“Godzilla vs. Kong” is a campy, over-the-top extravaganza. Director Adam Wingard (see “You’re Next,” and “The Guest”) leaves nothing on the table as this film throws in every fantastic thing possible. My description of the plot barely scratches the surface. This movie's comic universe is so enormous that not even a titan could traverse it in four films.
As the film rumbles on and on, inventive contrivances abound. There’s a solution to almost any crazy, life-threatening problem. For example, if gravity reverses when making your way to Hollow Earth, no problem, there’s a special spaceship for that. In one sequence, an amateur hacker resorts to the most base and foolish way to disrupt a computer system. There are no limitations in this ever-expanding, mindless blockbuster, with the script using a line of exposition and some fantastic creation to move the story forward.
While all this creativity might sound stimulating, after an hour, it felt underwhelming. The overload of absurd ideas made me shutdown. But because the action was never-ending, I can’t say that the film became dull or boring. Fans expecting some kind of transcendent experience will be disappointed. “Godzilla vs. Kong” provides surface pleasures only.
As an escape from the terrors my community has recently experienced, I suspect that this monster movie will cut too close to the bone. Mother Nature left her footprint here. It is a titan’s impression, but we are determined to pick up the pieces.
In the wake of the initial weather onslaught, our story is about what happens next. And there’s no spaceship to the rescue, no simple technological or fantastic invention that will make everything okay immediately. This real-world aftermath, our sequel, our human franchise has a lasting impact that will only sharpen this town's resolve in connected solidarity. The Hollywood fantasies can wait.
A RottenTomatoes.com Tomatometer-approved critic, Jonathan W. Hickman is also an entertainment lawyer, college professor, novelist, and filmmaker. He’s a member of the Atlanta Film Critics Circle, The Southeastern Film Critics Association, and the Georgia Film Critics Association. For more information about Jonathan visit: FilmProductionLaw.com or DailyFIlmFix.com