Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Godzilla vs. Kong

It took three attempts, but I finally stayed awake through Legendary’s Godzilla vs. Kong. To be fair, these days, it doesn’t take much to put me out, given the degree of fatigue with which I regularly end far too many of my days.

Attempt number one: as soon as G vs. K came available on HBOMax, I opened an account and cranked up the movie. A long day it had been, and though I really wanted to soldier through it, the endeavor was doomed from the start. Attempt number two: easily the most fun of the three, this one took place at the Eden Drive-In Theater. I must say, Godzilla and drive-ins have gone hand-in-hand since I was just a wee little kaiju nerd, and this experience proved largely delightful. Largely, I say, though not wholly. Constant rain ended up marring the viewing, as did — again — a willing spirit but desperately tired flesh. However... finally... on attempt number three (again on HBOMax), mind and body managed to remain focused.

Spoilers here, there may be.

As with its predecessor, Godzilla - King of the Monsters, G vs. K eschews anything like engaging storyline and characters in favor of CGI spectacle. While one could hardly expect anything different these days, the endlessly-cynical-yet-ever-hopeful movie buff in me still feels a tad slighted. “But it’s a giant monster movie,” I hear you cry. “You go to see monsters, monsters, monsters, and it’s ridiculous to expect anything more.” Well, no, it isn’t, any more than it’s ridiculous to expect more than a CGI extravaganza in any movie, be it superhero, action-adventure, science-fiction/fantasy/horror, comedy, or pure drama. But movies play to their perceived audience, and the perception is clearly that a monster movie needs little more than a big-ass budget, a few recognizable names, and a houseful of kitchen sinks to hit the mark.

So be it. On those terms, G vs. K isn’t exactly a waste of time. Legendary’s version of Godzilla turns in a more entertaining performance than he did in either of his previous two films, and he even boasts a marginally better design. Now, our big guy is still a weirdly proportioned walking mountain, with a tiny head and bloated physique; however, this go-round, his proportions appear a tad better balanced, and his posture and movements convey a distinctly reptilian menace. Not since Shin Godzilla has an incarnation of Big G emitted more high-powered light rays and fried more shit from exceptional distances. I do love the fact that this film treats us to an honest-to-Godzilla rampage that reduces a lot of city-shaped pixels to rubble-shaped pixels. I suppose I could even go so far as to credit many of the Godzilla scenes with keeping me awake longer than I might have otherwise managed, even if the story had been more engaging.

Kong, who looks pretty much like he did in Kong: Skull Island, only bigger, spends a lot of time airborne. Leaping, flying, floating, and — in a worthy nod to Toho’s original King Kong vs. Godzilla — traveling by way of a balloon airlift. Another (slightly) pleasant surprise is that Kong’s interactions with young Jia, a deaf-mute girl who is able to communicate with him via sign language, take up a relatively tiny portion of the film’s running time. From the trailers I had seen, I had feared this potentially saccharine trope might overwhelm the film’s other, slightly less saccharine tropes. It did not. Jia, who is played by deaf actress Kaylee Hottle, is treated respectfully, and of all the kids ever to appear in a giant monster movie, I might categorize Jia as the least annoying ever. I suppose that is something.
Hallo, how are you, nice day.
Eiza Gonzalez as Maia Simmonds

The human cast? Ah, the human cast. Not much happening here. Not due to lack of talent, just a lack of material. Alexander Skarsgaard plays the boyishly charming Dr. Nathan Lind, who leads an expedition into the hollow Earth (established in the previous film) to find a nebulous power source that exists there as well as to take Kong “home.” He has to take Kong home because, if he doesn’t, Godzilla, as a rival apex predator, will be duty-bound to whoop up on him. Rebecca Hall plays Kong expert Ilene Andrews, whose primary job — apart from being Jia’s mother — is to remind us every few minutes that Kong bows to no one (“no one” meaning Godzilla). Naturally, Millie Bobby Brown returns as Madison Russell to spout conspiracy theories, offer the occasional snarky line, and walk everywhere with a rapid, purposeful stride. For our requisite lovable, conspiracy theory–driven protagonist, we have Bernie Hayes, played by Brian Tyree Henry. On his own, Henry comes across as engaging enough, though he is unable to conjure up an ounce of chemistry with any of the other players — a criticism that could be leveled at the entire cast, actually. Young Julian Dennison, as nerdy Josh Valentine, rounds out our eccentric group of do-gooders.

The do-gooders are trying to find out what Godzilla has against technological giant Apex Industries, run by smarmy Walter Simmonds, played by Demián Bichir. I give nothing away by saying he’s not a good guy. Nor is his daughter, Maia, played by Eiza Gonzalez, whose specialty is slinging insults fast and hard. Move over, Boris and Natasha.
Alexander Skarsgaard as Dr. Nathan Lind, Rebecca Hall as Ilene Andrews, Kaylee Hottle as Jia Andrews
Julian Dennison as Josh Valentine, Millie Bobby Brown as Madison Russell, Brian Tyree Henry as Bernie Hayes
Demián Bichir as Walter Simmonds
The reward for sitting through the occasional character interaction is to finally witness what Apex Industries hath wrought. At first, I can’t say I was much taken with it, but it does actually seem to be growing on me. At worst, it offers an effective visual reminiscent of the scene of Lt. Goro Gondo’s demise in Toho’s Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989). If that description means anything to you, my hat comes off.

I am giving G vs. K three out of five Damned Rodan’s Dirty Firetinis, and leaving it at that. Thank you.
Hallo, how are you, nice day.

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