This review contains spoilers.
Eager fans of the fourth MonsterVerse installment can finally quench their anticipation now that “Godzilla vs. Kong” is available on HBO Max and in theaters as of March 31.
Streaming numbers haven’t been released yet, but the performance at the box office has been absolutely astounding. The opening day domestic box office figure of $9.6 million made for “the best opening day total of the coronavirus era,” according to Variety.
It’s hard to tell, though, whether people are truly enjoying the film or if they're so starved for the movie theater experience that they’ll see the first thing showing at their newly-reopened theater. My money is on the latter.
It’s no shocker that the aspect of this movie that suffers the most is the writing, causing the human characters to fall flat and the pacing to drag in several parts. These monster movies have never been about well-written plots or transformative character arcs, but the scale of this film makes the mistakes it suffers from even more glaring.
In particular, a trio of characters played by Millie Bobby Brown, Brian Tyree Henry and Julian Dennison all suffered from a lack of good writing. I appreciated the witty banter and the unlikely bond they formed, but it would’ve been better if they had their own separate detective movie. Each of these actors has proven their acting chops time and time again, but this movie never gave them a chance with its one-dimensional script.
What filmmakers didn’t expect was that one of the newcomers, young Kaylee Hottle, would become the talking point of the film. Hottle is a deaf actress rising to join the ranks of Millicent Simmonds in “A Quiet Place,” and her character steals the spotlight by teaching Kong American Sign Language and ultimately ensuring the survival of humankind.
One of the most memorable scenes in the movie was between Hottle and the lumbering CGI Kong, which provided one of the only scenes where the audience could feel genuine human emotion on-screen. It’s Hottle’s character that helps humanize Kong and make him out to be more than a mindless titan thirsting for blood and destruction.
In general, if you came into this film expecting to watch an epic CGI monster fight, then that’s what you’ll get. It takes some time to get into their massive brawls, but they're certainly epic enough to warrant a viewing in IMAX. One highlight is how the environment plays a factor in the fights, like Godzilla using the ocean to almost drown Kong, or Kong leaping off of the top of a Hong Kong skyscraper onto Godzilla’s back.
I can’t help but wonder if people who came to see two titans clash on the big screen will leave disappointed that the fight scenes are barely a fourth of the two-hour-long runtime bloated with unnecessary B-plots. I’m not a major fan of the franchise and even I left feeling disappointed that there wasn’t more fighting.
The only good thing to come out of a kooky side plot to the Hollow Earth was the introduction of Kong’s new ax. The tie-in to his ancestry worked to humanize him further, plus the idea that the only useful weapon against Godzilla is one made from Godzilla’s own dorsal spines is genius.
The weapon ultimately failed to defeat Godzilla, but it was helpful in defeating the film’s surprise appearance, Mechagodzilla. Unfortunately, this was the most disappointing aspect of the movie for me because it screamed missed potential.
Mechagodzilla vs. Godzilla should’ve been its own addition to the franchise in order to allow the writers to create a more nuanced take other than “humans create Mechagodzilla and are the real bad guy.” Instead, viewers of "Godzilla vs. Kong" are treated to a Mechagodzilla that feels shoehorned in, and barely gets any screen time to show off before it’s taken down by the dynamic duo of Godzilla and Kong.
Overall, this movie is the definition of a popcorn flick — go into it not expecting much other than to be entertained by giant CGI monsters duking it out and you won’t be entirely disappointed. If you want plot or multi-dimensional human characters, this is not the film for you.
It’s ironic that Christopher Nolan was so certain that his July release of “Tenet” was going to save the film industry, when “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which according to Deadline is “the quickest studio movie released during COVID to hit the $200M international milestone,” might just be the salvation the film industry was looking for. Quality or not, numbers don’t lie.
Shelby Kleinhans is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BirdsNotReal99