Fireworks, by Bob Connally

5 Apr

A few years ago in my review of Kong: Skull Island, I wrote, “Sometimes we want to see a gigantic gorilla smash things.” Of course, while much has changed in our world since that time, that’s an eternal and universal truth. So as movie theaters gradually re-open across the country, the opportunity to see a gigantic gorilla and a gigantic lizard smash things and indeed, each other, has emerged and many people who have not ventured into a movie theater in over a year are taking that opportunity. Being that there are still many theaters that remain closed and because many are understandably averse to going into public for reasons other than buying groceries, Warner Bros. is offering Godzilla vs. Kong on its streaming service, HBO Max, at this same time. So is this monster brawl worth watching and if so, is it worth seeing in a theater?

Set shortly after the events of the largely forgettable Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Godzilla vs. Kong opens with Godzilla’s destruction of the Apex Cybernetics facility, leading the world to question why Godzilla has returned to wreak havoc upon the world. Meanwhile, Kong still lives on Skull Island, though under a gigantic dome that projects the island, all so he can be monitored by the Monarch corporation who found him nearly 50 years ago. In these early scenes, the film spends the bare minimum of time and effort to establish a story, characters, and stakes to justify the screenwriters’ paychecks but none of it is interesting and none of it really matters. This movie exists for one reason only and we just want to get to it. But right about the time we as viewers turn into Milhouse van Houten impatiently asking, “When are they gonna get to the fireworks factory?!”, the movie delivers the first of its wonderfully grandiose monster fights between our two titans. It’s the kind of rollicking madness that one hopes for from a movie titled Godzilla vs. Kong. Then, sadly it returns to human-based storylines that we care nothing about.

Written by committee and directed by Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest), Godzilla vs. Kong is interesting in that it delivers what we really come for so thoroughly that one can’t really be mad at it for not delivering anything else. While the human stories alternate between being boring or dumb, they aren’t as infuriatingly stupid or annoying as basically everything in the two Jurassic World films. There are some very good actors here too, including Rebecca Hall and a barely-there Kyle Chandler, but in this now four-movie franchise, unless you’re John C. Reilly or to some extent, Samuel L. Jackson, you really don’t get a character to play in these films. You just show up, deliver exposition and/or unfunny jokes, get paid presumably quite a bit of money, and move on with your life and career. It really shows how much care was put into Kong: Skull Island that Reilly was given what initially seemed to be a comic relief character, but who ultimately gave the movie a beating heart. What Reilly did with it truly was remarkable and while he has always been a wonderful actor, it’s a really special performance. It’s a huge credit to that film’s director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, that he was given the chance to deliver it. That shows that there can still be room for meaningful human drama in this kind of movie and that it can work, but that’s a rare film of its kind that goes above and beyond what it needs to.

There is one aspect of Skull Island that this movie takes a stab at – though less successfully- which is introducing a kind of interesting weirdness to this universe. But where Skull Island’s weirdness was fun and felt inventive, here it’s mostly baffling. Taking Kong into the “Hollow Earth” through a hole in the ground in Antarctica is bizarre but at least he gets to go rampaging while he’s there. Wingard knows when it’s time to take us back to the fireworks factory. Still, for just a moment, I was hoping for Godzilla vs. Kong vs. The Thing.

As we near the film’s end, the three boring characters played by Brian Tyree Henry, Millie Bobbie Brown, and Julian Dennison stumble into the exciting development that leads to our big final showdown. Much of Godzilla vs. Kong’s third act is so absurd that it becomes laugh-out-loud funny, but the final monster fight is everything we could want it to be and again, gives us what we really came for. 

The questions posed at the beginning of the review are if this is worth seeing and if it’s worth venturing out to the theater. The answer is a bit complicated. My recommendation with this film is to skip to the monster fights which makes HBO Max the way to do that, however, those monster fights are so gloriously massive that they really should be seen on the big screen. The sound work is top-notch here as well and worth experiencing. So if you feel comfortable doing so, I give Godzilla vs. Kong a recommendation to be seen in the theater. While the human stuff is in no way interesting or worthwhile, it’s not agonizing. The monster fights will give you the big movie theater experience you’ve been missing for the past year. This is in no way a great or even good movie overall, but those big scenes make it worth the trip. There is also an excellent musical score from Tom Holkenborg (Mad Max: Fury Road) to enjoy through those cinema speakers.

As for Wingard, the box-office success of this gives me hope that he will get the chance to make whatever he wants with his frequent collaborator, screenwriter Simon Barrett. Barrett had nothing to do with this unless he was at some point brought in to take an uncredited pass at it, though I find that extremely unlikely based on the finished product. You’re Next and The Guest are both incredibly entertaining and imaginative films filled with colorful characters, witty dialogue, and incredible style. Godzilla vs. Kong really has none of those things, but I look forward to how Wingard cashes this in for something with Barrett. Whatever it is, we won’t be bored on our way to the fireworks factory.

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