Have you ever had two friends with pretty dominant character traits manage to wear out their welcome? The culmination of Legendary’s MonsterVerse including Godzilla (2014),Kong: Skull Island(2017) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters(2019), Adam Wingard’s Godzilla vs. Kong (B-) pits a pair of titans in an epic showdown, and the result is less than the sum of its parts. Sure, this serving of Tokusatsu delivers its requisite wallop with spectacular effects and compelling global set pieces, but it runs out of imagination pretty sharply. In this installment, Kong clashes with Godzilla as humans lure the primate into the “Hollow Earth” to retrieve an energy source to stop the fire-breathing lizard monster’s mysterious rampages. Even bringing in “a third,” the robotic doppelgänger Mechagodzilla, fails to spice up this relationship. Brian Tyree Henry and Millie Bobby Brown are some of the few humans in the ensemble who get to display even a hint of nuance, and displays of simian sign language provide some brief moments of up-close connection. The scope, the score and epic battle sequences win here, which may just be enough for this kind of movie. It’s ultimately a kaiju-normous action film that delivers on its premise but is unlikely to provide viewers much more than a momentary ape escape.
The kaijū film genre, marked by fantastical creatures storming world cities, gets epic treatment in Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters (B-), the third in a proposed quartet of “Legendary MonsterVerse” films (preceded by 2014’s Godzillaand 2017’s Kong: Skull Island). This movie is wall to wall action around the globe featuring a clash of spectacular Titans – the titular beast, the flying Rodan, the multi-headed King Ghidorah and the exotic Mothra. Grounded in a domestic drama at its core but absolutely unleashed in terms of glorious effects, set pieces and apex predator showdowns, this is as exciting and thrilling as a Hollywood disaster and destruction blockbuster gets. Kyle Chandler sinks his teeth into the monster-hunting leading man role in psychological battle with Vera Farmiga, who harbors a belief that the colossal creatures may help restore the earth from mankind’s foibles. Exploring all the strangest things firsthand, Millie Bobby Brown is solid as their conflicted offspring. Bradley Whitford provides coy comfort in the situation room, and Ken Watanabe steals the show a scientist turned soldier hellbent on maintaining the balance and safety of all living things. There may actually be too much packed into this creature feature as the momentum rages on a bit too long. Sometimes the sheer spectacle crowds out promised characterizations, but this film delivers the goods in terms of action and intrigue.
In the latest case of CGI taxidermy, Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island (C+) plumbs a menagerie of good ideas but doesn’t zero in on any of them well enough. Set in the post-Vietnam War era, a band of American explorers sets sail to an uncharted land filled with mythical creatures and must confront if they are the peacekeepers or oppressors of their new jungle. Early sequences have a fabulous Raiders of the Lost Ark or Rocketeer type vibe but devolve into video game overload style anarchy. The film is notable for the sheer randomness it allows its cast members to bite the dust. Frankly, others could have joined them. Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson are among the charmless ensemble. There were two to three spectacular action sequences stitched together with a lot of awkward exposition in between. I’ve had better times with animated apes at Chuck E Cheese.
Gareth Edwards’ vision for a new Godzilla (B+) is a you-are-there disaster epic with undertones of family drama and a down-to-earth reality undergirding its myth and mayhem. There’s no camp or comedy in this mighty, muscular take on the classic monster legend. Gorgeous retro news reels and a globetrotting travelogue of sequences help plot out the possibilities early, even as surprises lurk behind every corner and cavern. Grounding the proceedings in its serious sphere is Aaron Taylor-Johnson as an extremely likable protagonist, balancing duties as father, husband, son and military operative against the backdrop of worldwide catastrophe. Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe provide additional heft to the proceedings in supporting roles as men who have studied conspiracies that are finally resurfacing. The monsters and their powers are wisely revealed over time during the film’s somewhat long duration, and the slow burn glimpses help build realism and suspense. The stunt work, art direction and effects are quite remarkable, presenting a modern look and feel while hearkening back to some of the iconography purists will crave. Although Edwards can’t sustain his taut atmosphere through every beat of the obligatory final showdowns in San Francisco, he certainly gives a summer movie audience its packed punch of epic thrills. There’s not gonna be a 13-year-old boy on earth who will be able to resist this action flick; and luckily for folks of all ages, it’s a pretty spectacularly well-made film for this genre if you’re going to venture to the cinema for a big screen blockbuster.