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Godzilla Vs. Kong Review: Royal Rumble?

Have you ever had one of those moments where you think something is going to be so cool, and then the moment you verbalize it you know it's a complete dud? Where you can only react by apologizing with something like "That sounded way better in my head"? It is that feeling, that moment of wincing, that permeates every frame of Godzilla vs. Kong.

First on the list of bad ideas is the dialogue. Actors are intensely delivering lines like "Godzilla had left us in peace. You provoked him into war!" and "He needs our help. There must be some way to disorient Godzilla!" with the utmost of sincerity. At such moments, when the "reality" of the situation is dragged out into the spotlight and actually verbalized, it feels like the entire film wants to hang its head in shame. Somewhere in a vault, there must be an amazing reel of outtakes, filled with actors cracking up as they attempt lines like "Godzilla saved us. You were there with Mom. You saw it!" That reel, unfortunately, would be so much more entertaining than this movie.

Secondly, there are the humans delivering these lines. Talented actors like Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, and Kyle Chandler, all of whom should be busy looking for the next Friday Night Lights or Christine, not wasting months of their lives in service to a movie whose most inspired moment is lifted from Deep Blue Sea. They are cast as Jane Goodall ripoffs, podcasting adventurers, geologist/cartographers, and deaf Iwi girls who can tell when someone's heartbeat is slowing down. You know, the sort of relatable folks we all meet every day.

Thirdly, you've got the sheer guts of a movie called Godzilla vs. Kong that takes 83 minutes to have Godzilla, you know, fight King Kong. Sure, they have a brief encounter earlier in the film when Kong is doped up on sedatives, but after nearly an hour and a half of watching the supposedly brilliant guy played by Skarsgård ask questions like "How's Kong with heights?" you're fantasizing about a giant Kaiju foot mercifully stomping down on your living room, putting an end to the misery. Oh, and when the smackdown does finally arrive, there's a third monster who crashes the party, allowing the film to cop out and turn their battle into a team-up.

Lastly, and perhaps most fatally, you've got the fight scenes themselves. Kong and Godzilla move in such a slow half-speed (they even fall through air slowly) that moments deliberately presented in "slow motion" are difficult to differentiate. In real life, large predators like bears move fast; a gorilla could smack the flesh off your face before you had time to flinch. Presumably, this lumbering aesthetic is supposed to give the audience an appreciation of their fight techniques, but instead it's epic without being scary. What makes this even more difficult to immerse yourself in is that since it takes place in Hong Kong, every smashed building should result in thousands of lives lost, but we never hear human screams of pain, never see them getting stomped like ants, or anything else that would give an unwelcome aftertaste to the visceral thrill of watching two enormous things punch each other.

Clash of the titans

The list could go on and on, but at some point we should probably talk about what Godzilla vs. Kong presents as its plot. The film begins with Kong being studied in a virtual jungle on Skull Island, breaking himself out via a breach in Sector 7G (nice Simpsons reference), while Godzilla is... well... cranky. That one line of plot description results in the aforementioned 83 ensuing minutes of humans scrambling to manipulate these mammoths as we watch knowing more than them: in the end they're gonna fight, duh.

Hall's Ilene Andrews and her adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle) team up with Skarsgård's geologist Lind in spearheading an effort that plans to knock out Kong, put him on a barge, and airlift him to Antarctica, where he can go into a tunnel and reach Hollow Earth (the home of all Titans). On a second (and less interesting) story track is scientist daughter Madison Russell (Brown), a Godzilla-chasing nerd named Josh (Julian Dennison from Hunt for the Wilderpeople), and conspiracy-theory-spewing podcaster Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), who are determined to find out what sketchy billionaire Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir) is up to.

When the podcaster reveals a flask of whiskey he keeps in his pocket, you might want to reach for yours. "This was a gift from my Sara," he says. "She was my wife, she passed on. She was my rock, my truth. I'll tell you something: the day this goes empty, that's the day you know I've given up." Hello foreshadowing, how's it going?

Simmons wants the power these Titans harness in Hollow Earth. Ilene, Jia and Lind want to help Kong. The other characters want to expose the truth. You just want them all to get out of the way so you can... let's say it together now... watch two enormous things punch each other.

But wait! First you have to watch one character (Simmons) compliment another (Lind) on a big thick book he wrote about Hollow Earth, then point to a digital map of Hollow Earth and ask "You know what this is, right?" You have to watch someone else explain that they've built brand new, heavily-specialized, high-tech spaceship-like crafts to descend into Hollow Earth, only to have Skarsgård casually slide into the pilot's seat and adeptly navigate one through treacherous underground crevasses.

Godzilla vs. Kong is a strange movie in that it is trying so hard to get you to care about the unrelatable, vaguely motivated, clunky-speaking humans in the film, when all you want to care about is the unrelatable, vaguely motivated, non-speaking monsters instead. Since neither Godzilla or Kong talk, you end up with lots of scenes that have humans telling us what they are thinking — and of course, their analysis of the monster's motivations are always spot-on.

At one point, the humans are buzzing around Godzilla's atomic breath in their spaceship, providing such useful commentary as "Looks like round two goes to Kong." Thanks for the help there, Mean Gene.

Speaking of Kong, most of the insight around him comes via little Jia, who speaks with the king of the apes via sign language. "His heart is slowing down," she says at one point, simply because she can somehow feel this. So of course, the "adults" take her diagnosis as immediate fact and enact a life-risking plan to kickstart Kong's heart by exploding their ship.

Every now and then, the movie tries to make Kong or Godzilla "act," and that wincing feeling returns yet again. Godzilla knocks Kong to the ground and... smiles? Kong is standing on an aircraft carrier that is about to explode and... wait a minute, did he just pull a John McClane? By the time Kong puts one foot up on a building and does a Superman punch off it, you're wondering where his MMA moves were when he was dangling Fay Wray off the Empire State Building in 1933.

Hey, we're here too

In the heads of the screenwriters and director and everyone else involved, all these character attributes, intense lines and Superman punches must have seemed really cool. But again and again, it feels so much better in theory than execution.

The movie really goes off the rails, however, if you even begin to consider the human toll that would be left in the wake of its climactic battle. As Godzilla and Kong stand licking their wounds in the middle of Hong Kong, in front of smoldering buildings and rubble, you can't help but wonder why you don't hear any screams of half-dead people. Where are the first responders rushing to help? Where are the ambulance sirens? Where are the despondent skyscraper residents, jumping to their doom from soon-to-collapse buildings with gaping holes in them?

At one point in the battle a wounded Kong realizes his shoulder is messed up, so he punches a building in frustration — okay, there goes another hundred or so civilian lives. Keep in mind, at this point, he's supposed to be the guy we're rooting for.

Then there's the negligence of human "heroes" like Ilene and Jia. In the middle of the battle, Hong Kong falls remarkably quiet as these two characters approach Kong, bypassing any opportunity to assist off-camera bystanders so they can have a tender moment with the ape that just mauled the city. Instead, the girl takes her time to tearfully tell Kong via sign language to "Please, be careful."

Of course, the three paragraphs above are complete speculative silliness; this is a Godzilla movie. But they also give you an idea of the many questions that Godzilla vs. Kong has no interest in entertaining. The movie wants to seem real, but at the same time not at all. It wants you to care about the humans, but makes them insufferable idiots.

In the end, Mechagodzilla shows up just in time to provide a safe conclusion that undermines any stakes the battle may have once had. Meanwhile, your original desire has yielded to a sense you'd rather be watching pretty much any other battle: Batman vs. Superman, Freddy vs. Jason, Alien vs. Predator, even you vs. drying paint. The smoke clears, Hong Kong is in shambles, and the only clear loser is the audience.