If there were special awards for truth in advertising when it comes to movie titles, GODZILLA VS. KONG would sweep them. Essentially, that is all there is to this extravagant spree of special effects and occasional camp. The plot, and there is a great deal of it, is completely subservient to upping the ante when it comes to popping the eyes out of the collective audience’s head. Does it make much sense? Heck no! Does it matter? Not really.
We pick up with Kong living a life of peaceful tedium in his containment facility on Skull Island. The containment part is proving problematical, what with Kong turning the towering trees in his enclosure into missiles and whizzing them at the holographic dome atop it. This worries Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), who has been observing Kong for 10 years. When she’s advised that she will need to find other accommodations for her pet project, she frets. Outside the safety of his containment facility, he will become the target of Godzilla, the other Alpha Titan. Fortunately, Ilene’s ward, the doughty little indigenous girl, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), a speechless and literal orphan of a storm, has made more progress than Ilene, as we learn that she has taught Kong to talk to her. Because in this series, as with all good films featuring Kaiju, it’s the little kid who wins the monster’s trust.
Kong, it seems, is homesick, but returning him to his native land is not as easy as chaining him to an oversize barge and shipping him there. Well, actually, it is, but only if the Hollow Earth Theory is correct, and if Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård), a fringe physicist who literally wrote the book on the subject, will help them travel through the putative entrance to it in Antarctica.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) has become obsessed with the conspiracy theories spun by the Titan Truth podcast, hosted by Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), much to the chagrin of her scientist father, Mark (Kyle Chandler). When Godzilla, who had been helpful to the humans in the last installment, runs rampant over the part of Florida where Madison and Mark live, Madison refuses to believe it was unprovoked. Soon, and for reasons that are flimsy but fun, Madison and her best pal, Josh (Julian Dennison) have stolen a van from Josh’s brother, and set out to make contact with Bernie, thereby revealing the truth behind the evil Apex Corporation.
Head spinning yet? Never mind. The first battle between Kong and Godzilla arrives about 30 minutes into the 1 hour and 52 minutes of running time. Even better, it takes place at sea, where both Kong and Godzilla swat at fighter planes and take them down the way humans take down flies and with scarcely more effort. It’s loud, it’s action-packed, and it’s only a prelude for what’s to come. Before we arrive at the second showdown, the one that destroys Hong Kong and involves Godzilla finding a more direct way to the center of the hollow Earth, there are more visual effects by which to be dazzled. Flying vehicles specially designed to withstand the gravity inversion of travel to the inside of the planet are not just transportation, they are a light show. The gravity inversion there allows mountains to soar majestically in the air, and to hang upside-down overhead as they glow with the same electric blue light that surrounds Godzilla when he’s ticked off. Kong doesn’t just grapple with Godzilla either. No, there are all manner of interesting fauna down below, including flying dragons that allow the big ape to do some impromptu batting practice.
The humans are less fun, though some of the actors involved understand better than others that none of this should be taken too seriously. Leading that contingent is Demián Bichir as the evil head of the evil corporation. With a glass of what is undoubtedly a rare single-malt scotch always in hand, he delivers lines such as “Crazy ideas have made me rich” with a self-satisfied panache.
The obvious comic relief in the persons of Bernie and Josh take the edge off the irksome earnestness of Jia and Madison as we re-discover the Nazi origins of fluoridation and the surprising uses of Chinese bleach in combatting organic surveillance. While Dennison is perfectly competent as the bemused nerd, it is Henry’s flirtation with paranoid obsession that deftly steals every scene in which he appears.
Director Adam Wingard, a hero of the wry horror genre, injects his signature impudence whenever possible. The script does not leave him much to work with, but light touches such as Kong’s reaction to snow when he lands in Antarctica has a giddy élan to it that also serves to humanize him, if you will pardon the anthropomorphism.
GODZILLA VS. KONG’s energy never sags, even when it skirts the dangerous shoals of sentimentality. Plus, it offers a deeply satisfying take down of a supercomputer that is not only logical, in a film where such a concept is anathema, but definitively low tech. It may be more bombast than art, but it’s never dull.