It’s king vs. king. It’s beast vs. beast. It’s Godzilla vs. Kong: the long-awaited clash of the titans pitting the reptilian kaiju against the mighty ape has finally arrived. Originally scheduled for a March 2020 release, the latest entry in Legendary’s “MonsterVerse” was delayed several times due to COVID, and mounting fan anticipation has led it to have the biggest opening of the pandemic yet. As an impressive special effects showdown that deserves to be seen on the big screen, Godzilla vs. Kong could be described as the perfect movie to mark the return to theaters.
The roots of this epic rivalry began in 1933 with one of commercial film’s greatest masterpieces: Merian C. Cooper’s King Kong, which first introduced the world to the benevolent giant gorilla. Then in 1954, Japan’s Toho kicked off what would be the biggest monster franchise of all time with Honda Ishirō’s Gojira (or Godzilla in the States), which introduced the world to the giant radioactive lizard. Then in 1962, Japan licensed the King Kong character to pit these two powerful titans against each other for the first time in the fun, but flawed King Kong vs. Godzilla.
The two would face off again in an American incarnation, but first all of the pieces would have to be put into place. An American Godzilla was produced in 1998, but it was considered by most Godzilla fans to be a failure. Next, Legendary Pictures licensed the character, and planned a new franchise starting with the generally well-received Godzilla in 2014. After this, Legendary gave Kong a new film with 2017’s Kong: Skull Island. Another Godzilla came next in 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, paving the way for the two to finally collide once again in 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong.
In Godzilla vs. Kong, we learn that Kong is living in a giant research facility on Skull Island. Meanwhile, Godzilla has become suddenly hostile, and people don’t know why. Due to this, Apex Cybernetics recruits geologist Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) to journey inside the earth to locate a power source for use in combat against Godzilla. To do this, he teams up with Kong researcher Dr. Illene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) to have Kong take them there. But bringing Kong out of containment lures Godzilla to Kong, leading the two to combat for the title of alpha titan.
After 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters had a rather dramatic and gloomy tone, director Adam Wingard (who was originally considered for Kong: Skull Island, but doesn’t show up until here) makes the wise move to lighten things up quite a bit for Godzilla vs. Kong. (This is, after all, essentially a movie about a giant monster wrestling match). He makes this quickly apparent with a jovial opening scene which features Kong nonchalantly waking up to start his day and scratching his butt. This is comically set to Bobby Vinton’s “Over the Mountain, Across the Sea.”
From there, the fun only ramps up, and thrills are in no short supply. Though 2014’s Godzilla was mostly enjoyed by fans, the biggest complaint was a lack of action and a lack of Godzilla. This was mainly due to an effective focus on human characters, but people go to monster movies for a reason, and it’s not that. This was largely rectified with the following films, and it is certainly no problem here. Moviegoers will be flocking to Godzilla vs. Kong for the promise of an epic monster brawl, and with jaw-dropping action and terrific visual effects, they will not be disappointed.
One of the major talking points among potential attendees will be “who will win?” Adding to the fun. Any familiarity with these characters and their history should make this clear: Godzilla. This was obviously apparent to the filmmakers as well, as Kong is smartly cast as the underdog and the protagonist here in this matchup following his animalistic portrayal in Skull Island, and Godzilla’s heroic depiction in King of the Monsters. It’s the right move, as Kong’s species is closer to human, and a giant, deadly radioactive leviathan is most properly cast as an imposing villain.
The first confrontation occurs at sea, as the water-accustomed Godzilla comes for Kong as he is being transported on a giant sea barge that was clearly inspired by the original Japanese film. Massive ships are easily destroyed as Godzilla appears, and the first round of this mighty matchup is perhaps the most memorable as Kong lands a thunderous right hook before Godzilla drags him into the ocean. Deep sea charges are detonated to disorient Godzilla, and Kong successfully makes it back to his ship. But before they face again, Kong will go on a little journey.
One of the major highlights of the film beyond pitting these two beasts against each other involves the mysterious and exciting journey inside the “hollow earth,” to a hidden eco-system which is believed to be the birthplace of all titans. Following Kong in a “Hollow Earth Aerial Vehicle,” the humans experience a gravitational inversion which entails a visual representation highly evocative of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Inside the earth, all manner of wonders are to be found, including a dual-gravity landscape reminiscent of Inception, as well as more monstrous creatures.
(Warning: the next two paragraphs contain spoilers.)
In an ancient temple deep within the earth that suggests an advanced race of titan ancestors, Kong locates an atomic “axe” which will be used for some exciting combat. Godzilla then cuts straight through the earth to Kong with his atomic breath, and Kong travels through the hole to face the lizard again. The two then contest for the second time in an incredible battle in Hong Kong, and after it looks like Godzilla has been crowned the proper winner, we are gifted with the well-hidden and delightful surprise of the movie: the introduction of the metal Mechagodzilla!
The twist allows for the two former enemies to put aside their rivalry for the time being to take on this new colossal threat. It’s a spectacular show that is more than worth seeing in a theater. As can be expected, the human characters are rather secondary to the monsters, but the cast here still includes some enjoyable presences. Kaylee Hottle, who plays Kong’s one true friend, is a very talented little girl and is excellent at portraying emotion. Series newcomers Rebecca Hall and Alexander Skarsgård also do solid work as scientists who are involved in the titan drama.
Millie Bobby Brown and Kyle Chandler return from the previous film, and Brown only continues to blossom as a star. Julian Dennison is a fun inclusion as her friend Josh, and Brian Tyree Henry is amusing as a kooky podcaster who helps them uncover the truth about Apex Cybernetics. Wingard, in the biggest directorial role of his career, nails his first big spectacle, as the titan stars are breathtaking to behold, and the terrain they explore is even more fascinating. Godzilla vs. Kong is about as good as giant monster movies get, and it is demanded in-theater viewing.