After only two weeks in theaters, Godzilla vs. Kong surpassed the $70 million mark, making it the highest-grossing film of the pandemic era. In comparison, the horror film Us, released in late March 2019, grossed $70 million during its opening weekend alone. While the two releases are certainly not an apple to apple comparison, this fact illustrates the far-reaching financial impacts of COVID on the film industry.
With vaccines more widely available, though, theaters are almost certain to see a bit of a resurgence in the coming months. And if Godzilla vs. Kong’s moderate financial success proves anything, it is that large, dumb, tentpole franchises still have drawing power at the box office.
I am not using this descriptor for Godzilla vs. Kong as an insult, but rather, a term of endearment. Few things bring me more joy than kicking back with a tub of popcorn and a soda in front of an IMAX screen with a mindless action film playing. There is no doubt that Godzilla vs. Kong falls within this category, and even its most staunch supporters would be hard press to label it as anything else.
Director Adam Wingard, working from a script penned by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein, seems keenly aware of this fact himself. Wingard fully embraces it, focusing all of his energy on the monster mayhem while attempting to drown out the white noise from its background characters. It is a wise decision that puts the film’s titular titans at the forefront of the story.
Godzilla vs. Kong is at its best when these legendary heavyweights of cinema are duking it out for titan supremacy. The action is big, destructive, and a ton of fun to watch. What impressed me most, though, was the subtle storytelling featured in the ebb and flows of their numerous battles. Not only is the action smooth, but both Godzilla and Kong manage to convey so much emotion through body language and facial expressions. Truthfully, I expected the action to look fake and over the top, yet the film manages to subvert those expectations, at least to an extent.
The same cannot be said for the titan’s counterparts, the humans. Godzilla vs. Kong struggles to find any coherent footing when the human element dictates the pace of the narrative. Unfortunately, this happens far too often despite Wingard’s best efforts.
Godzilla vs. Kong picks up five years after the events of Godzilla: King of the Monsters. While Godzilla remains hidden from the world, Kong is monitored on Skull Island by Monarch scientist Illene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle).
After Godzilla reemerges to attack Apex Cybernetics’ Florida facility, Apex CEO Walter Simmons (Demian Bichir) recruits noted Hollow Earth theorist Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) to guide an expedition to the mythical homeworld of the titans. Unbeknownst to Lind, Simmons plans to use the Hollow Earth energy to power his own titan creation Mechagodzilla in hopes that humans will assume the role of a premier apex predator.
Lind approaches Illene to convince Kong to guide them on their quest. Initially hesitant, Illene agrees, hoping to find a stable home for Kong. Of course, the journey is not easy. Not only does the crew have to navigate the reverse gravitational effect of Hollow Earth, but the threat of a Godzilla attack looms large.
Back in Florida, Apex employee and titan conspiracy theorist Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) managed to extract data connecting Apex to Mechagodzilla before Godzilla destroyed the facility. Along with Maddison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) and her friend Josh (Julian Dennison), the three investigate the Florida facility, leading them to Hong Kong and a confrontation with Simmons and his monster.
It feels fitting the central plot revolves around the search for Hollow Earth because hollow is a perfect descriptor for the overall narrative. It is a ridiculous story that offers little in terms of substance. There is no meat to chew on, a bare-bones viewing experience that ultimately will leave audiences wanting more.
Wingard seemingly recognizes the issues within the plot and does his best to limit the amount of screen space the humans occupy. Unfortunately, the lack of screen time also leads to a lack of nuance in performance. There just isn’t enough room for character development, and, outside of Jia, there are far too many one-note characters.
Frustratingly, Wingard amassed a fantastic cast capable of dynamic performances. There is so much potential, yet writers Pearson and Borenstein give them nothing interesting to do. I mean, Kyle Chandler and Millie Bobby Brown are included simply for continuity purposes, offering very little to the larger story while taking up desperately needed screen time from other characters. And don’t even get me started on Lance Reddick’s inclusion to appear in one scene with minimal impact.
Ultimately, the fun action sequences featuring Godzilla and Kong are not enough to overcome the plot’s shortcomings. For those keeping track at home, this is the second consecutive poor showing for Godzilla on the big screen. One has to wonder if it is time to put Godzilla back on the self, at least for a little while. If Godzilla and Kong can mutually part ways to live their lives, maybe we should follow suit and let these monsters rest for a while.
Then again, the undercard doesn’t matter if the main event is a battle between heavyweights people are willing to pay to watch. And if box office proved anything, it is that people will pay to see these heavyweights.