Apologies for the wait. When I finished this movie, I started writing this review, and I realized it just doesn’t feel right not knowing the full context, so I played catch-up and watched the first two Godzilla movies. I was just too curious and felt this movie thrived on the backstories I’d neglected to see. I’ve seen the Kong movie within this universe already (and loved it) but I realized there was more I had to watch to give a proper review. And boy, this movie gave me the most fun homework I’ve ever done.
And you know what else I’ve found out? This movie didn’t necessarily have to be made. Godzilla and Kong’s last movies depicted them as monstrosities that are a little non-minded of damage control, but good, misunderstood beings, so who they really were aside from how the world sees them is now irrelevant. What the movie is going for is answering which is the fiercer apex predator, a debate that ultimately went to Kong the last time.
Returning are the Russells, Mark (Kyle Chandler) and Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) from Godzilla: King of the Monsters. No one from Kong: Skull Island returns and I’d forgotten for a while that that’s because it’s been over half a century since the events of that film. Well, the film opens with Kong looking like he’s at peace, and even has a human friend like Monsters Inc’s Boo. It’s a bit odd there’d be that kind of human there, then we realize Skull Island is not the lovely giant-spider utopia we know. Kong’s now property of America, his island now a giant territorial dome, property of the big corporate Monarch, dedicated to, as they would say, protecting humans from the now-worldly-known Titans of the world, or at least keeping them in check, as they proved they’re capable of true bad when they went haywire and truly good when they use their abilities to heal the planet.
One day for some unexplainable reason, Godzilla just goes mad and attacks a Monarch facility, never mind the casualties. Mark and Madison know there must be a reason he’s acting this way, as the others get Kong off the island to kill the rogue alpha, a strategy made by relics showing the two of them have a Tom-and-Jerry-like immortal rivalry. Kong and his small group of humans he actually trusts head out to stop Godzilla, and finish the feud they’ve had for so long. And it’ll go swimmingly. I mean, how could it not? WHAT could possibly go wrong?
I’d call this movie straight up fan service, except not quite. There are fans out there who can put together an independent production of Kong battling Godzilla. It wouldn’t surprise me if during my time minding my own alternative business that there were productions like that made. And what fans really want in that kind of brawl is no punches pulled, plenty of destruction, ear-piercing roaring, and fighting that just makes it completely unpredictable which one will be holding their fist up. What I mean by “except not quite” is in a Hollywood movie, you have to give a reason for them to fight, and considering we’ve had one movie of this Kong and two of this Godzilla and all of them had them up against actual evil, even if there is a bitter historic rivalry between them we know they’re better than just going at each other’s throats. In Hollywood, you come up with a plot that will give the excuse for them to lose their minds.
And they do it.
I’m in the minority on this view, but I actually do appreciate the human stories in movies like this. In this sense, they broaden the conflict. We have people we know on both sides supporting one particular monster and would prefer seeing theirs kill the other. And human characters in monster movies allow us to watch what they do and wonder if we would do the same things they do. Run that way, take that leap, steal that weapon, or say what they said.
I had a mixed reaction toward its 105-minute running time, which is definitely a digestible time but there could’ve been more time to just have some talking between the human characters, especially the new ones not yet in this verse like the adorable sign-language kid. Or an extra action scene. And apart from some communications between Kong and the humans he somewhat trusts, there isn’t actually much in this film outside of the brawling.
But you know what? I was a big fan of all the previous movies, especially Kong: Skull Island. It had all the heavy-handed carnage I could ask for while still having some legitimate scariness with the humans as they tried to survive an island where they are the ants caught in the web, plus a heartbreaking side story with John C. Reilly’s character. I gave that movie an A. As for the other Godzilla movies, the first one (which I gave a B to) is good but a slow-burn, and as a result not as rewatchable as it could’ve been. King of the Monsters, (an improvement, which I gave an A- to) dived into the action much faster like I wanted it to, and actually had returning characters from the last film and new ones, with some beloved ones perishing and others doing heroic acts. This film, instead, unlike the others, is a straight up boxing match, but that’s what it promised in the title. Maybe it’s more fan service after all. The other three movies established everything, so, you know, what else is there to establish? And when you’re entertained by all the fast-paced straightforwardness, why complain, really? I decided to just shut my brain up and enjoy the ride, and anyone who follows my lead will have 105 minutes of thunderous escapism.