So why are Godzilla and King Kong fighting? Think Rajiv Rai’s Mohra. Two heroes. One is the establishment’s hero, the other the renegade hero. They misunderstand each other and fight until the third act when they realise both have been conned into being enemies by a mastermind.
Adam Wingard’s Godzilla vs. Kong is the fourth instalment in MonsterVerse, Legendary studio’s competing franchise in a world where Marvel and DC run amok. The preceding films introduced Godzilla and King Kong anew as titans destructing property with godlike impunity.
Godzilla vs. Kong begins with the monster ape held captive by the benevolent Monarch, a government agency tasked with handling titanic affairs. Elsewhere, Godzilla pop ups after a three-year sabbatical in the series’s timeline and attacks the offices of APEX, a technology corporation which is, as usual, up to no good in films of this sort. Humans cannot figure out why Godzilla has gone rogue after being the nice guy in previous films, but such are the demands of the screenplay.
Kong is brought out of temporary retirement to fight Godzilla. APEX convinces Monarch employees, the scientist Nathan (Alexander Skarsgard), and the linguist Ilene (Rebecca Hall), to lead a team that takes Kong miles underground to a place called the Hollow Earth, home to Kong and sundry titans. This, APEX claims, will solve the Godzilla issue, but it has other plans up its sleeve.
What’s interesting is the contrast between the sort of hero’s welcome Godzilla and Kong get.
The journey of Kong to Hollow Earth is interrupted by the first of two bouts with Godzilla. It happens on water, and Godzilla wins with homeground advantage. Kong is then flown to his destination by the world’s biggest hammock. The portions in Hollow Earth have some of the film’s most gorgeous moments, only second to Godzilla and Kong’s final fight in neon-lit Hong Kong.
This storyline is crossed with that of young titan enthusiast Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) and conspiracy theorist Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) breaking into APEX headquarters to investigate what stranger things the corporation is up to. These moments offer the funnies, until the big reveal, which storms out to fight Godzilla and Kong in the climax.
What’s interesting is the contrast between the sort of hero’s welcome Godzilla and Kong get. The film opens with Kong waking up in the jungle, scratching his bum, and taking a shower. While Kong is pitched as the everyman protagonist, Gozilla, looking buffer than ever, gets the sexier, more sinister entry.
The opening credits feature computer monitors showing titans “defeated” by Godzilla and Kong in the previous films. It ends with the two facing one another. Soon, a character notes, “There can’t be two alpha titans.” With a setup like this, how can you stop this from being a two-hour Mortal Kombat fight? How to make it a human story?
The film’s emotional thrust arrives with Kong’s alienation in the human world. Kong’s digitally generated melancholic expressions have the film’s best acting. His journey to Hollow Earth brings a kinetic road-movie element to the story. Among the film’s best spectacles is Kong making himself at home in his castle, which strongly resembles Skeletor’s pad in Eternia.
The actors are adequate in their functional roles of adding context and exposition to the CGI fights. The knee-high Kaylee Hottle stars as Jia, the deaf and mute friend of Kong. Hottle’s puppy face softens the literally earth-shattering tone of the movie. As the resourceful Bernie, Tyree Henry is fabulous.
What makes Godzilla vs. Kong possibly the best in the MonsterVerse series is how neatly the central anxiety of this series is outlined.
The film’s emotional thrust arrives with Kong’s alienation in the human world.
On the one hand, the movie revolves around the fear of encountering primitive forces, made more relevant than ever with reports of scientists discovering millenia-old viruses under the ice, while a stubborn pandemic is afoot. On the other hand, there is the classic case of suspicion towards private entities handling science and technology. The antagonist’s Darwinian zeal to dominate what it considers nonhuman threats in the name of global security also has a political edge to it.
Wingard and company, however, keep matters as light as is expected from the tentpole-blockbuster template. They don’t delve into philosophising the subtext, although there is scope to do so in this series of films.
For starters, there’s the burning question of what’s stopping the titans from teaming up to wipe out humans for good and ending this franchise. One of the most radical ways these films can be done differently is moving away from their anthropocentrism. Indeed, why do Thor and Superman and Godzilla feel so invested in keeping humanity alive?