Ever since the release of Godzilla in 2014, just the possibility of this film has been highly anticipated. The last time we got to see these two titans go head to head, it was in the 1963 version of Kong vs, Godzilla. Sure, it has some value as a campy romp, but you’ll have a difficult time convincing anyone that it was actually a good movie. No matter what fans may think of the new Monsterverse that we’ve gotten, I feel what can be agreed upon is that each of the films has given us an impressive look at these monsters, not just in their design, but in their fights. While I’m pretty open about my affection for these titans and how happy I am to see them finally get their due beyond the man-in-suit films (which of course I still enjoy and adore), it’s still no surprise to me that the weakest parts have always been the human aspect of the films. While I believe Peter Jackson’s King Kong may be the best of all the monster films by blending story, FX, and monster mayhem, Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) was quite simply a beautiful take of just monster mayhem, and it really amped up everyone’s expectations to finally get to see Kong and Godzilla finally do battle with a budget and FX that are deserving of them both.
Right from the start the film is setting it up that Godzilla is the “bad guy” while he destroys a tech facility in Florida called Apex Cybernetics. Is it a random attack, or is there something more sinister going on at the facility? Of course, something is rotten in Denmark there, but just what is going on we don’t get the full details on till much later. For fans seeing Godzilla as the villain isn’t anything new; he’s a force of nature that just enjoys destroying cities and getting into scraps with any giant monsters that get in his way. When we meet up with Kong, he’s pretty much the polar opposite. It’s been about 50 years later since his last romp on Skull Island, and he’s just trying to live his life and be happy. Apparently Skull Island has been destroyed, and Kong is really housed in a giant facility where he is under 24-hour watch. In this time he’s made himself a friend, Jia ( Kaylee Hottle), a girl with a hearing disability that has developed a sweet bond with the giant ape. For Hottle this is her first role, and as an actress with a real hearing disability, well, she’s impressive and does a great job as being the heart of this film. How she’s able interact with this giant CGI character and have it look so genuine is definitely what saves this film on the human side of things.
This film catches us up with Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) who along with her mom in King of the Monsters helped save the world along with the giant lizard. She sees Godzilla wage his attack on Florida and of course knows something is wrong. With her best friend, Josh (Julian Dennison) they set off on a mission to find the host of a podcast who is obsessed with government conspiracies that revolve around the titans. Let’s just say when they meet the smart but painfully awkward host, Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), the film takes a bit of a nosedive. In these kinds of films it seems the audience should come to expect the human storylines to be somewhat weak and are strictly used to drive the plot forward no matter how illogical things may get, but in this film it gets cringe-worthy. Numerous times in this film I hoped so badly that these characters would be killed off. Considering the talented screenwriters involved, I can’t understand how they made these good actors become the most absurd characters in the Monsterverse. Sure, we’re talking about giant monsters fighting that are the size of skyscrapers, so leaps of logic should be expected, but these three do things that just hurt my brain. Sadly they hurt the movie most and should have found their way to the cutting room floor.
Then there is the obvious human villain of the film, Walter Simmons (Demian Bichir), the billionaire who owns Apex Cybernetics and believes in the theory of Hollow Earth, basically another world around the center of the Earth where it’s believed the titans all came from. He wants to send a crew there led by Nathan (Alexander Skarsgard), an expert on the theory of Hollow Earth. To get there, though, they’ll need Kong, which gives Kong the possibility of finding more like him and finally being home. With some convincing of Kong’s main caretaker, Ilene (Rebecca Hall) she reluctantly agrees, so they get Kong on a ship and their adventure begins. This is the storyline that works best and genuinely works as a plot device and doesn’t seem forced. The best part is it opens up so many possibilities down the road. When the film does get to Hollow Earth, this is easily my favorite part of the film. It’s like that brief tease to the Godzilla temple in King of the Monsters, but here we get to explore it. I know the filmmakers have been throwing around ideas for sequels and returning to Hollow Earth; this needs to happen, I now need to see a monster fight in this world that plays with gravity.
So how are the fights? After all, that is the main course for this film. They are spectacular. The battle in the ocean is fantastic; the little wink to Die Hard when Kong dives to avoid Godzilla’s atomic blast just made me giddy. Seeing them throwing haymakers at one another on an aircraft carrier is just cinematic bliss. This film isn’t after best picture; it’s about making everyone in the audience feel like a bunch of excited kids seeing their monster heroes battle it out, and it doesn’t disappoint. When the battle gets to Hong Kong, it manages to up the ante and delivers a brutal duel that topples buildings with every blow. You’ve seen the previews, you know what they tease, and they deliver. And then there is Mechagodzilla, the creation from Walter Simmons. We knew it was coming, and how it comes together, well, I’ll keep that as a surprise, but I will say that as much as I enjoyed seeing him, his design was a bit underwhelming, but he’s still pretty cool.
At the end of the day Adam Wingard delivered a fun and entertaining film. Considering that King of the Monsters was underwhelming at the box office, there was genuine concern about this film even being completed, and it seemed that possibly the franchise was done. It would be a shame for this to be the final entry, because there really is so much potential and plenty more monster mayhem that can ensue. But if this is the end, I can honestly say I’m happy with how things turned out. Could it have been better? Sure, but fundamentally it delivered what fans have wanted to see for years. The studios took a big chance with this, and I thank them and the filmmakers for it. This was my first film back to the cinema after COVID restrictions were lifting. There was no way my first screening could be at home; I needed to see this on the biggest screen imaginable. (Indulge me just a moment longer.) When I went there, was a nice Asian family next to me with a boy no older than six. While the movie played he was a constant jabber-mouth. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but what resonated was the excitement that he had. His joy at seeing Godzilla for the first time, the squeals he made during the battles and over the course of the whole movie. Most times this would have irritated me to no end, but instead it hit home all the more about what these movies are. Beyond the language barrier, it was obvious the amount of joy he was experiencing, the same I felt when I was just about the same age and saw King Kong the first time. Obviously his parents were fans of the monsters and were passing down that love for these cinematic creatures, and most likely this would be a moment the boy and his family would never forget. He wouldn’t think about the obnoxious sub-plot; he’d remember the titans and possibly for a moment believing that they could really exist beyond the realm of the giant screen and be lurking beneath the depths of our oceans and in the vastness of the jungle. I’m not sure if you can put a rating on that experience, but for this film and for that little fan, I’ll try to.
Godzilla vs. Kong is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The ultra-high-definition image presentation is arrived at with an HEVC codec at an average of 70 mbps. There is a reason why I support keeping the extras on the Blu-ray copy and not on the UHD presentation. It’s so we can use the entire 66+ gigs strictly for the audio and video of the film. This one greatly benefits by such choices. There’s not as much low-light monster action as the first Godzilla film, but the contrast abilities of the HDR to provide nice delineation between bright and dark elements on a scene, and along with increased shadow definition give you the best view of these creatures your going to get. The HDR also delivers wonderfully vivid colors. The blue and red of the monsters’ radioactive breaths is incredibly alive, particularly when set against a dark scene. The blue tones of Hong Kong in the climax also deliver a rather surreal element to that final battle. Explosions give us bright red and oranges blooms that really grab your attention as they should. There are pretty sweet textures, particularly on Kong and his hair. The WETA guys did this, and they had some practice with their own version of Kong ala Peter Jackson. The image is always sharp and detailed, and that’s not always easy with so much mayhem going on.
The Atmos track defaults to a really solid 7.1 mix. There’s a lot going on here, and the trick is to give you the high-energy explosions and building crashes as these monsters fight and still maintain a relatively immersive track during the quieter moments. That’s exactly what you’ll find here. Subs really deliver, but not only in the obvious stuff. The roar of jets going by and crashing of waves against a destroyer hull all deliver. The surrounds give you great immersion, particularly during the rainy environments. You are literally surrounded with all of the subtle sounds of rain striking foliage and ground. Dialog pokes through rather well even when everything is pretty much chaos. I like an audio presentation that can both rock you and lull you, sometimes all at once.
Available only on the Blu-ray copy of the film.
Godzilla Attacks: (6:25) Discusses Godzilla’s opening attack, mostly regurgitates to the audience what we already know since we saw the movie.
The Phenomenon of Gojira: King of the Monsters: (9:52) Briefly goes over Godzilla’s legacy over the years with input from the cast and crew.
Kong Leaves Home: (7:56) This is mostly about this being an older Kong and more about the little girl he’s befriended.
Kong Discovers Hollow Earth: (7:53) One of the better features that delves into the concepts of Hollow Earth for the film and the possible origin of the Titans.
Behold Kong’s Temple: (5:52) Delves more specifically into Kong and him finding the home of his ancestors.
The Evolution of Kong: Eight Wonder of the World: (8:25) This goes over the history of Kong and how this updated Universe has given us new stories and adventures with Kong.
The Rise of MechaGodzilla: (7:06) Gets into the redesign on modern concept of the classic villain from the TOHO universe.
The Battles: (18:00) Discusses the three major battles in the film.
Watching the film a second time was just as much as a blast as it was the first time around. For those who missed out from seeing it in theaters, I don’t care how great your system or TV is; nothing compares to the theater experience, and this film is a perfect example of that. If you don’t have HBO, this is a disc definitely worth picking up. This is a film I’ll be revisiting numerous times in the future. It’s a fun popcorn flick that doesn’t disappoint.
Parts of this review were written by Gino Sassani