Saturday, April 17, 2021

Godzilla vs Kong (2021) - Recap and Review

godzilla vs kong mechagodzilla image wallpaper screensaver poster picture

There will be spoilers in the review and readers who are yet to watch the movie are recommended to skip the review.

This is the fourth movie in Legendary's MonsterVerse. Godzilla (2014) was good but was shot almost exclusively in dark and featured too little of the titular monster. Kong: Skull Island (2017) featured a lot of King Kong and was lit well, but I did not like the overall tone of the movie. Next came Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), my favorite movie in this franchise.
This movie has impressive action sequences but suffers from the same issue as most big monster movies: insufferable human characters and a lot of boring scenes that do not feature the monsters. 
Before delving deep into this discussion, let us get the plot out of the way first. In the preceding movie, Godzilla was able to defeat King Ghidorah (with help from Mothra). In a credits scene, one of the three heads of Monster Zero was purchased by Alan Jonah (Charles Dance).
As this movie begins, we see Chimp Kong (this King Kong looks equal parts Chimpanzee and Gorilla) is living under Monarch observation in Skull Island. He has bonded with Jia (Kaylee Hottle), mute adopted daughter of Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall). Ilene is the requisite Kong expert and Rebecca is the token British actress hired to bring gravitas to the role (and the movie).
In the Godzilla camp, we have Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) and her friend Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison) and conspiracy theorist Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry). The bad guys are led by Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir), the head of Apex Cybernetics and he is supported by his daughter Maia Simmons (Eiza González) and Ren Serizawa (Shun Oguri), the son of the late Dr. Ishirō Serizawa (Ken Watanabe).

Rounding up the cast is Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard), an ex Monarch employee and Hollow Earth theorist. He is hired by Walter to lead the search for a power source.
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Godzilla attacks the Apex headquarters in Pensacola, Florida and his next target is Kong himself. Since Hollow Earth is home to Titans, Kong's help is needed. As he is being transported on a massive ship, Godzilla comes calling and we see the first encounter that has been heavily marketed in the trailers. The big lizard bests the giant ape and would have finished him too, if not for the intervention by the pesky humans. Incidentally, there was a similar scene in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, where he bites off one of Ghidorah's heads and would have finished him off. Then too, the humans dropped the Oxygen Destroyer and stopped Godzilla dead in his tracks. Almost literally.

Back to the movie under review. Chimp Kong is airlifted to the entrance to Hollow Earth. As Kong leads the team through Hollow Earth, we get to see some of the most ridiculous scenes in the MonsterVerse so far. Chimp Kong has a throne room (!), a battle ax that his kind have been using in a long running war with Godzilla's clan.

To cut the story short, all roads lead to Hong Kong. Madison and her buddies arrive at Apex Headquarters, where they discover the aforementioned skull of King Ghidorah and Mechagodzilla. Mecha gets to make a grand entrance by almost effortlessly getting rid of a Skullcrawler. Readers might remember the latter from Kong: Skull Island. Godzilla too arrives and calls out Chimp Kong by using his atomic breath to make a pathway to the throne room. (Better not to think too much about the logistics involved here).

We get our second and decisive mano-a-mano between Kong and Godzilla. In true Batman style, Kong uses the battle ax and uses his agility to defeat his physically far superior opponent, who also possesses atomic breath and a tough hide to boot. Thankfully, the director and the script writers do not favor Batman/Chimp Kong and (correctly) let Superman/Godzilla win the fight after letting Chimp Kong have some initial strikes. Godzilla goes into beast mode and Kong is left severely injured and near death.
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Godzilla next faces Mechagodzilla, who has now been taken over by King Ghidorah. Ghidorah is rage personified in his new form and takes advantage of all the weapons in Mecha's arsenal to give a brutal beatdown to his ancient rival. Not mincing words here, but there is no other way to describe the vicious and savage pounding that Godzilla receives from Mechagodzilla/King Ghidorah 2.0

Heavily outgunned and outmatched, Godzilla is almost killed when the revived Chimp Kong comes to the rescue. Still Ghidorah 2.0 would have come out the victor, but for the meddling humans again. Momentarily distracted, Ghidorah 2.0 loses his focus and Godzilla powers up the battle ax with his atomic breath. Kong proceeds to chop up the common enemy to pieces and save the day.

As the movie ends, Godzilla and Kong decide to go about minding their own business (until the inevitable sequel comes along). Chimp Kong is crowned as the ruler of Hollow Earth, that also houses the latest Monarch observation center.
Movies with vs in the title typically tend not to be good or be average at best. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice falls in the former category while Freddy vs. Jason falls in the latter. BvS failed majorly in one aspect: the fight scenes. Both the Batman vs Superman action piece and climactic sequence featuring DC's Trinity vs Doomsday were shot poorly from both lighting and choreography perspective. The special effects were sub par and it was obvious that we were watching computer generated entities take on each other.
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Here is where G vs K knocks it out of the park. The action sequences in the fourth installment are arguably among the best in the series. They are brightly lit and well choreographed. There are four action set pieces in the movie and only one of them does not involve Godzilla. It is set in Hollow Earth and features Chimp Kong taking on Warbats (reptilian looking Titans).

My favorite is the climactic one. It is the best shot, choreographed and the most intense. But the impact is reduced because Junkie XL/Tom Holkenborg uses a minor variation on the Flight theme (from Hans Zimmer's soundtrack for Man of Steel). This took me out of the movie watching experience a bit. Perhaps he was working to a tough deadline. Either way, the soundtrack comes off as uninspired and does not do justice to the top notch work put in by other crew members (special effects, action chereography, direction etc.) Wish Bear McCreary had continued his superlative work from the previous movie. His themes for each of the Titans gave them an unique personality and that is missed here.

The other influence I could notice was Pacific Rim, directed by Guillermo del Toro. Nathan losing his brother in an expedition and still being haunted by it, the way Hong Kong is lit during the second Godzilla vs Kong battle, the helicopters whirring around in the fight scenes, and most significantly Ren using “Drifting like technique to use King Ghidorah to control the Mecha. Not surprising, since Legendary and Warner Bros. produced the del Toro movie too.

Kong has a lot more screen time than Godzilla, who appears only to fight other Titans. Still, credit is due to Adam Wingrad and his crew for ensuring that all Titans get their own moments under the sun. 
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King Ghidorah remains the ultimate Godzilla baddie and his presence can be present in the action finale. Like the previous movie, it still takes two Titans to bring him down and while Mechagodzilla may well be the physically strongest, he is just a robot and does not have the sheer force of personality and charisma of King Ghidorah. In the last movie, Ghidorah took Godzilla for a ride to the sky and dropped him to earth. This time, he tops it by smashing his rival through three buildings in a row and throws the behemoth around like a rag doll. Ghidorah lives up to his name and remains the King of Godzilla's rogues' gallery.
The movie does lag when the Titans are absent. This is especially true of the scenes featuring Millie Bobby Brown, Julian Dennison and Brian Tyree HenryRebecca Hall looks bored (as expected) and Alexander Skarsgard is well Alexander Skarsgard in his full wooden glory.
Demian Bichir understands his role and has fun with it. Kaylee Hottle does very well as Jia and her relationship with Kong is the heart of the movie. Eiza González and Shun Oguri have minor supporting roles and do not leave a lasting impression.

Fun Trivia: Kyle Chandler has appeared in two different King Kong adaptations: The 2005 movie directed by Peter Jackson and this one.
But none of that matters. People watch these movies for the monster-on-monster action and that is where this movie scores big time. The special effects look spectacular and all three Titans look and feel real. And judging from audience response all over the world, the series will continue further as is evident from the world building that has been done in this movie with respect to Hollow Earth.

I enjoyed Adam Wingrad's small budget horror pic: You're Next. He has taken his career to the next level with this movie and has already signed up for his next project: a live adaptation of ThunderCats.
Highly recommended for fans of Kaiju/Big Monster movies, and Kong/Godzilla.

Image Sources: Legendary Entertainment, Warner Bros.

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