The much-anticipated “Godzilla vs. Kong” hits theaters and HBO Max this week. Like so many sequels to this genre of movie, it’s not necessary to see any of its predecessors. Of course, viewing this larger-than-life film in a theater complete with surround sound is the way to go as it touts itself as more than a movie; it’s intended to be an experience. This cinematic awe and wonder is the key ingredient, but unfortunately there are more elements necessary and “Godzilla vs. Kong seems to have forgotten that.
That initial awe takes place as we meet an angry and depressed Kong, a captive animal living on a remote and secret island —think “The Truman Show” here—his every wisp of hair lit differently and reacting to the wind as he rips a tree from its roots, strips its branches with a single swipe and catapults this handmade spear into the sky. Hitting the “clouds,” we realize that Kong’s world is nothing more than a giant cage with an observation deck above. We learn that his handlers need his help in finding Hollow Earth located in the center of the planet, and in an instant, Kong is duped into believing he is being transported back home to the other Titans of the Monsterverse. Of course, there are ulterior motives not shared with the beast and all of these actions trigger an attack by the dreaded Godzilla.
The action is hot and heavy almost from start to finish as the two beasts meet and like a boxing match, duke it out for several rounds. The first interaction feels more like the finale, but this is just the beginning of the onslaught of non-stop fighting. Thankfully, and this is what makes the film work on at least one level, there’s a sweet connection between hearing impaired Jia (Kaylee Hottle), the daughter of Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), the Kong Whisperer, and Kong himself. The emotion imparted on the story and the audience is incredible thanks to the CGI artistry and Hottle’s performance. We feel the connection between this little girl and Kong who has developed a deep and meaningful relationship thanks to the communication tool of sign language.
However, the story itself is a convoluted one as past characters from the Godzilla story emerge and like the two monsters, these two stories eventually clash as well. From the Godzilla side, high ranking Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) and his daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) attempt to understand why Godzilla has returned to attack. Madison’s sidekick Josh (Julian Dennison) rides along on this transcontinental adventure and Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) a scientific conspiracy theorist attempt to provide the comic relief in what is otherwise a dark and dreary story. Bernie’s fast talking distractions and Josh’s comical commentary, unfortunately just falls flat.
Those missing ingredients in this film are many, but let’s address the elephant in the room; the acting. The stilted performances from every single character except Jia and I can’t believe I’m saying this, Kong make it a cringe-worthy experience. Kong, a CGI character has more personality and displays more emotion than all the rest of the cast put together. Did the actors forget to rehearse? Did they just read their lines from cue cards being held off in the distance? Did no one give the script a rewrite? And did the direct fall asleep on the job? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding yes! Hearing dialogue spoken was painful particularly from the talent represented in this film. Hall, Alexander Skarsgard, Chandler, Brown, and Henry have had extraordinary careers but to see them in this, you’d never know it. When a film focuses 90% of its energy on battle scenes, I crave a little human interaction, but in this case, it didn’t help.
The highlight of “Godzilla vs. Kong” is Jia and Kong’s story. Sadly, this interaction wasn’t seen nearly enough to save the monster movie. The rest of the film is one big predictable fight scene until the final bell rings and my eyes roll back in my head. Yes, the CGI is incredible and the artistry of Hollow Earth elicits that awe, but that can’t carry the entire more, but director Adam Wingard was banking on that happening.
“Godzilla vs. Kong” does tick all the right boxes of animation, artistry, and larger than life characters which will please all of the fans of this universe, but the writing, directing, and acting boxes are empty with the exception of Hottle. If you’re looking for a fun story to escape and engage your senses, you’re not going to find it here.
The Daily Journal
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