Two years ago I wrote about Godzilla: King of the Monsters and said that I wasn’t sure there is a way to make Godzilla work as a Hollywood (re)invention. Godzilla is not our cultural myth, and America’s unwillingness to face the moral reckoning of the atomic bomb means we’re never even going to get close to what Godzilla is supposed to be on screen. But Godzilla vs. Kong just hit theaters and HBO Max and now there is an answer to the question of how Hollywood makes Godzilla work: by making him DUMB. Just make him a big dumb monster in the middle of a big dumb movie and voila, Godzilla more or less works as a Hollywood movie. This movie nominally features characters in the form of Alexander Skarsgard as Good Scientist Everyone Thinks Is Crazy, Rebecca Hall as Good Scientist Everyone Thinks Is Smart, Demián Bichir as Rich Evil Scientist, and Kaylee Hottle as Special Child. Kyle Chandler and Millie Bobby Brown return as Human Characters from King of the Monsters, and they are joined by Julian Dennison as Unspecial Child and Brian Tyree Henry as Podcaster.
Every single thing every one of these people does is completely stupid and nonsensical, but they all look damn good doing it. Directed by Adam Wingard of The Guest fame, Godzilla vs. Kong looks SPECTACULAR. Everyone is lit like angels are vomiting sunshine directly onto their best angles, even in the dark scenes (it’s lensed by Ben Seresin). Finally! A Godzilla movie where we can see the damn action! At night, underwater, lit by neon, doesn’t matter. Every second of this film is visually intelligible, and it is AMAZING how much of a difference that makes in the enjoyment factor. When Godzilla is curb-stomping King Kong, you want to see it in all its bone-crushing glory, and now you can! The plot, however, is an entirely different story. I don’t think there is any universe in which this movie makes even a little bit of sense.
After years of peace, Godzilla attacks seemingly at random. Rich Evil Scientist goes to Good Scientist Everyone Thinks Is Crazy and is like, Your hollow earth theory is the key to all of this, and GSETIC goes, But everyone thinks it’s a crazy theory! I don’t know why that would be, though. This is a world where a giant radioactive lizard shows up every few years to face-punch other giant monsters. I feel like if someone said, Maybe the earth is hollow and monsters live there, the scientific community would give that person a Nobel Prize right away. Anyway, Rich Evil Scientist and GSETIC team up, but GSETIC needs the help of Good Scientist Everyone Thinks Is Smart to use King Kong as a kind of homing pigeon to reach the hollow center of the earth. Sure, why not. GSETIS brings the Special Child with her, because the Special Child can speak in sign language to Kong. She is the last of her Indigenous tribe that lived on Skull Island with Kong, which is an unintentional gross stereotype about magical Indigenous people that we need to retire immediately.
This is just the basic setup of Godzilla vs. Kong, and if you think it sounds stupid, buckle the f-ck up because it gets MUCH stupider. Millie Bobby Brown is leading a quest to discover what Rich Evil Scientist is up to, and how a couple teenagers and a podcaster manage to crash his evil corporate lair defies belief. This movie is scripted by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein, with story by Terry Rossio, Michael Dougherty, and Zach Shields, and it plays like they had a competition to see who could come up with the dumbest idea and we all won. Because while Godzilla vs. Kong is the dumbest movie on the block, it is TREMENDOUSLY fun. By the time Kong is riding Mechagodzilla like a mechanical bull we have gone fully down the rabbit hole of idiotic ideas and yet with each increasingly insane thing that happens, the movie gets exponentially more fun. I’m not sure I was supposed to laugh during the final fight—it is literal screaming nonsense—but I’m also not sure I’m not NOT supposed to laugh.
Unlike the other “monsterverse” films, Godzilla vs. Kong has no real philosophical leaning and isn’t aiming for anything higher than “monster punch face good”, but we’ve already established Hollywood isn’t capable of grappling with the mythic qualities of Godzilla. Might as well turn it into a fancy cartoon about monsters punching faces (even still, Kong is much more humanized and comes across as a real character, while Godzilla remains a remote destroyer figure). It’s a pure spectacle that is hella fun to watch, with some genuinely eye-popping images thrown in that range from the gross—if you’ve ever wanted to see King Kong chew with his mouth open, this movie is for you—to the fantastical. Godzilla vs. Kong is so stupid it’s impressive, but it is also incredibly entertaining. In the tradition of Deep Blue Sea, Pacific Rim, and the stupider of the Jurassic Park movies, Godzilla vs. Kong delivers on grand-scale action and imagery—ironic, then, most will probably watch it at home—and while it makes no goddamned sense, there is something very satisfying about watching King Kong punch Godzilla square in the face.
Godzilla vs. Kong is in theaters now and streaming on HBO Max through April 30.