Godzilla vs. Kong: Jia (Kaylee Hottle) is the little dear in the ape's headlights.
The definition of insanity is watching another sequel with “Kong” and/or “Godzilla” in its title and expecting different results. Godzilla vs. Kong is a risk-free retread of Jurassic proportions. Kong still calls Skull Island his home, and is now living life under the electronic supervision of Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her deaf young daughter Jai (Kaylee Hottle), with whom the great ape communicates through sign language. When her parents died, Ilene promised to look after Jai and keep her safe from harm. She must have overlooked the codicil pertaining to constantly placing Jai’s life in peril due to the screenwriters’ inability to devise a more cogent plot-advancer than a kid signing with an ape. Then again, better the human touch of a child communicating with a skyscraper-topping simian than two unappealing CG monsters exchanging rock ’em-sock ’em haymakers MMA-style.
According to the five guys who receive story and screenplay credit, this year’s monsters are actually a rather docile duo. For his safety, a restless Kong is confined to an Astrodome-sized container, a controlled-environment scale replica of his jungle homeland. In practice, Godzilla follows in the giant footsteps of another Warner Bros. colossus, Bugs Bunny. Under the even-tempered hand of animator Chuck Jones, Bugs remained indifferent until provoked. If Godzilla is inclined to follow Bugs’ “Of course you know, this means war!” trope, what then is he doing attacking Skull Island? Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) — worst-selling Hollow Earth theorist and Ilene’s once and future romantic companion — reasons that this interior space is the birthplace of all monsters, and the best way to capture Godzilla would be to use Kong as bait to lure him in the direction of subterranean retirement. It’s also Lind’s idea to bring Jia along for the trip so that the child can keep the reins on Kong. Surely there had to be a better way of taking the jump from the jungle to the streets of Toho rather than the token Tolkien-gesture of making Hollow Earth part of the tour? Kong’s paw lazing in the water off his barge or watching as he is carried through the night sky suspended from ropes were sustainable forms of transport, not merchandisible aerial vehicles that genre bend to the point of breaking.
Wanted: big-name actors with a track record. Little to no acting required. Huge payday. Oscar nominations not a must. That’s what the casting call in Variety must have read, for how else would they persuade Hall and Skarsgård to star, or get Demián Bichir to play the corporate bad guy who dreams up the robotic end-all to all monsters, the telepathically controlled Mechagodzilla? Brian Tyree Henry provides much-needed, but seldom-connecting comic relief as Bernie Hayes, a podcaster/Kong-spiracy devotee. For you youngsters in the audience, he’s joined by Godzilla-cheerleader/holdover from Godzilla: King of the Monsters Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) and nerdy franchise newcomer Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison).
This isn’t a movie, it’s a product strung together off the backs of merchandise that came before it. (A Japanese stuntman in a latex costume designed with one facial expression displayed more personality than this CG Godzilla.) A pilot ejecting from his cockpit is added as if to say, “See! Not every civilian is a casualty.” Other than one shot of humans fleeing for their lives, the filmmakers work their hardest to keep the body count to a minimum. After all, Titans aren’t responsible for the destruction and countless fatalities — monsters are. Have we gone so completely “woke” as to fear stepping on the toes of imaginary monsters, such that these giant creatures of mass destruction are now referred to as Titans? No matter how they spin it, this is a monster movie. (And what’s with the character design gone awry? They’re drawn together, if not to scale. The difference in size is written off as, “He’s gotten too big over time.” Either that or Kong is sporting a pair of elevator paws.) These aren’t Titans so much as they are mass murderers being marketed as superheroes. We didn’t survive a pandemic to come out the other side only to find this waiting for us. ●