Confession: I don’t have a clue how to unpack the idiotic plot of “Godzilla vs. Kong,” the fourth feature in the ongoing MonsterVerse series, but I don’t care. You won’t either. Whether you catch this monster mash in theaters or on HBO Max—the bigger the screen the better—the clash of these titans is spectacular in every sense of the word.
Will this be the pandemic crowdpleaser that finally gets the masked and the vaccinated back into the socially-distanced multiplex? Maybe. In China, it’s already a blockbuster. And Hollywood’s bottom line—the only thing sacred to studio suits—depends on it.
There’s no telling why flesh-and-blood actors signed onto this theme-park ride disguised as a movie, except for the visions of fat paychecks dancing in their heads. They don’t stand a chance against behemoths, the Brad and Leo of digital demigods. Special effects have come a long way since 1963’s cheapie, Japanese kaiju (monster) smackdown “King Kong vs. Godzilla” and it’s a thrill to see our two leading dudes—one scaly, one hairy—ready to rumble.
Godzilla and Kong take on tanks, planes, battleships and beasts, human and otherwise, before going at each other in a slugfest that’s definitely worth the price of a look-see. Who wins? I’ll never tell, though there’s a cute, bromantic twist in the windup. Don’t be fooled by the curveball opener when Kong wakes up in the jungle, yawns and showers in a waterfall to the tune of Bobby Vinton’s dreamy "Over the Mountain, Across the Sea.” Nightmares are coming.
The mayhem stays on hold for a few minutes as we learn that Kong is not home on Skull Island, but in a dome where he’s carefully monitored by government researcher Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall). Dr. Ilene is also raising an orphaned indigenous Iwi girl named Ja, played by deaf actress Kaylee Hottle in a lovely screen debut. It turns out that Ja communicates with Kong through sign language in scenes that are sweetly touching. All together now—aww.
Ja and Kong are the heart of a movie that is otherwise hardcore hardware as Godzilla rises out of the sea in a rage to attack Apex, a cybernetics corporation in Pensacola, Florida, run by Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir), a deceptive, scotch-swilling charmer who may only be pretending to be an ally for Godzilla as a weapon for peace.
Working inside Apex is conspiracy podcaster Bernie Hayes (the great Brian Tyree Henry wasted as comic relief), who teams up with teen firecracker Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) and her nerdy friend Josh (Julian Dennison) to prevent Apex from recruiting Dr. Ilene and Hollow Earth expert Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) to the dark side of kaiju destruction.
Got that? I didn’t think so. The script ties itself in knots that defy unraveling or understanding as the movie flits to Hong Kong and Antartica before hitting the crushing gravity of Hollow Earth. Luckily, director Adam Wingard uses the tight pacing he learned from such horror quickies as “The Guest” and ”You’re Next” to speed us to the real action, involving Godzilla and Kong and not actors forced to stare in fake awe at green screens where computer effects will be drawn in later.
Godzilla can sever an aircraft carrier in half with one slap of his tail. And Kong is no slouch at ripping the head off a flying beast and guzzling blood from its dripping noggin. Relax, it’s PG-13. Their climactic face-off is a doozy. Emotionally, though, this is Kong’s movie. How do you not cheer for an aging ape that shows empathy for a deaf girl and radiates nobility even when taking his lumps from Godzilla? “Kong bows to no one,” claims Dr. Ilene. You said it, sister.