The enduring appeal of Kong and Godzilla has to do with their simplicity. “King Kong,” made in Hollywood, debuted in 1933; “Godzilla”, produced in Japan, was released in 1954. Both films were based on a clear and precise premise: fantastic monsters that have let loose in ordinary human reality and who, given their presence, turn out to be even more hideous than the monsters themselves. These symbolic power rather than physical power is the source of their enduring appeal and the fundamental element that “Godzilla vs. Kong”, the new mashup directed by Adam Wingard, is being forgotten. The film is garishly overloaded with splices and grafts from other films, other genres, and other premises, including a mythical setting and evil society. The result is a distracting mess that reduces the use of the movie’s powerful showdown to almost a vanishing point, turning the title titans and their other colossal cohorts into incredibly shrinking monsters.
From start to finish, “Godzilla vs. Kong” overturns viewers’ sympathy for Kong. His primate-centered inclination is shown for the first time in a trick from “2001: A Space Odyssey”: Kong’s discovery and use of tools. At the beginning of the film, Kong is in a biodome replica of Skull Island, where he is led by a team of scientists led by Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) is being monitored. Ilene is also the guardian of a girl named Jia (Kaylee Hottle), the last surviving member of the island’s indigenous Iwi. Jia, who is deaf, communicates with Kong in sign language, a fact that surprises Ilene (and that anchors the monkey more firmly on the human side). Jia knows Kong is restless in his new home, and Kong proves it by pulling a tree out of the ground and throwing it like a spear into the sky, which is not heaven at all, but a simulacrum. The tree shatters it, revealing a high-tech scaffolding underneath. Kong wants to be free, but the sealed dome is all that protects him from the wild Godzilla, because it is said that the world is not big enough for two alpha titans.
Godzilla’s ferocity was soon revealed in an attack on Pensacola, Florida, in a vast industrial area called Apex Cybernetics. Its secret operations have raised suspicions of a local conspiracy theorist-qua-investigator named Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), who gets a job there collecting information that he then distributes on a frantic podcast obsessing a local teenager. Anger, Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) and her boyfriend Josh (Julian Dennison). Apex is led by Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir), whose self-righteous, ego-insane plan to save the world – from Godzilla – and gain recognition for it, drives the action into what is known as the Hollow Earth (a crackpot theory that in fact Life that has been talked about for centuries) to tap into its powerful source of energy. A hollow-earth explorer named Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) is recruited into the effort, and he persuades Ilene to recruit Kong. Your team will transport Kong by sea to Antarctica, where he is expected to find the portal to the underground energy source.
Kong’s journey on a colossal barge pulled by an aircraft carrier and supported by an entire fleet serves only as a pretext for the first scene of the fight between the monkey and the reptile. The best part of this fight happens early, when, after some skirmishing and pounding, the couple pit against each other on the deck of a porter and, like the apotheosis of a bar thug, tows and shoots Godzilla off Godzilla with a mighty roundhouse. Wingard films at a great distance from the “action” (however computer graphics it may be), and the effect – such a simple representation of a classic humanoid gesture on a familiar film object – is as good as the film. From there, Wingard and the quintet of screenwriters unfortunately amplify the thunder and the complications of the plot to reach the climactic struggles of the film half an hour later in Hong Kong. At this point, they have worked hard just to pull the carpet out from under the titans and knock them off each other and other adversaries in a dramatic and audiovisual void.
The broad and incongruous spectrum of the film’s sources includes nippy little jetpods flying across the sky like something out of the “Star Wars” franchise. Robotics from the Marvel Cinematic Universe; the massive, barren, neo-primitive landscapes of the DC Comics’ cult of nature; and added dashes from “2001” in Kong’s use of an ax in combat and in a faint imitation of the agonizing abstractions of the Star Gate sequence as part of a similarly anti-gravity flight. The teen heroic spunk from Disneyfied that Madison and Josh cast as they team up with Bernie and find their way to the final showdown is a deferential sop for the nerdhood superhero fan base, youth and adults alike who are saving the world. In good part, the film adds the secular sacrament – and sentiment – of a child to lead in the form of Jia, the only character who can communicate with Kong. In “Godzilla vs. Kong” and the larger MonsterVerse it belongs to, the problem is competition, whether from Marvel, DC or the “Star Wars” franchises, all of which involve extravagant science fiction fantasies. The film takes the easy way out and focuses on a sound-reversing supersonic mini-beam rather than a glimmer of true emotions and the apocalyptic destruction of a big city rather than the experience of its citizens – let alone a government response. (In particular, there are no governments in the film, be it in the US or in Hong Kong – absences that are themselves ideological explanations.) The mandatory observance of familiar characters and storylines takes precedence over the imaginative freedom to follow characters and develop situations in which they are the wildest are implications. Failure to understand the implications is not just a question of aesthetics or psychology, but of basic decency. The unaddressed collateral damage in “Godzilla vs. Kong” is obscene: after the Pensacola attack, the film contains a CNN report stating that eight people have died, while the film later unnamed, invisible Asians in Hong Kong without him, clueless and indifferent kills them even count.
Classic monster and science fiction films that centered the beasts and inventions barely needed the art and aura of the movie stars. In any case, they were mostly low-budget films and certainly – regardless of their merit – of low reputation and would hardly have attracted the luminaries of the time. Many of the performances in these classics are hectic or combative, as befits the film’s highly artificial subjects. “Godzilla vs. Kong” on the other hand characteristics well-known actors of depth and reach, but they’re worse than wasted – they’re miscast. Before going after Monster, Henry stole “If Beale Street Could Talk”. Hall gave “Christine” enormous complexity; Chandler was powerful and subtle in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Manchester by the Sea”; and Bichír was moving and unforgettable in A Better Life. With their refinement and psychological subtlety, these actors stand no chance against the biological and mechanical extravagances of “Godzilla vs. Kong” – although their refined manner only highlights the artistry and absurdity of these creatures. In the end, the people and monsters of the film are the ones involved in a cinematic death match, which only leads to a mutually assured reduction.