There is a reason, in Godzilla vs. Kong, why Godzilla and Kong must do battle, and it is explained at great length by many different characters at many different points in the movie. For the life of me, though, I can’t be bothered to remember.
The real reason these two monsters are going at it is because the movie is called Godzilla vs. Kong, and we’re all here to see Godzilla fight Kong, and in that regard the movie does what it says on the box. Godzilla and Kong do indeed go head-to-head, multiple times even, and their matches look big and impressive in that shiny, empty CG way, where no part of me believes any of the destruction I’m witnessing is real, but the kid in me thinks it’s kinda neat all the same to watch these lavishly rendered digital action figures smash up against each other.
And really, that’s about all there is to it. Any stakes are undermined by the fact that the movie feels like it’s making it all up as it goes along — the outcomes of their skirmishes feel more dictated by a screenwriter’s need to keep the story moving than like a logical outgrowth of either character’s strengths or weaknesses or personal journeys. There’s only the faintest attempt to gesture toward deeper emotions or loftier theme. The movie doesn’t even try all that hard to sell us on the idea that humanity is facing an existential threat, or that it would matter much if we were.
In some ways, that singlemindedness is a strength. Where the three previous installments of this franchise — Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island, and Godzilla: King of the Monsters — have struggled to balance intimate human drama with epic-scale action, Godzilla vs. Kong knows perfectly well that we don’t give a crap about these people. Most of its humans exist only to facilitate the plot and bark clichés. Not even the likes of Rebecca Hall or Brian Tyree Henry or Demián Bichir can make them believable as people, and yet it’s tough to mind too much; who are we to begrudge Alexander Skarsgård or Eiza González or Millie Bobby Brown a paycheck? (Yes, for a movie with almost no human characters worth mentioning, Godzilla vs. Kong has a stupidly stacked cast.)
Freed from the obligation to try and be anything more meaningful than it is, Godzilla vs. Kong ekes out its biggest triumphs when it embraces silliness and spectacle. The cheesy lines (“Looks like round two goes to [spoiler]!”) become part of the fun. The monster mashes play like chaotic light shows, in contrast to the flat muddiness of so many other mega-budget blockbuster climaxes. At one point, the movie ditches any pretension of “realism” altogether and dives headfirst into a more overtly fantastical realm, and it makes for some of the most arresting imagery this entire franchise has had to offer.
But Godzilla vs. Kong doesn’t go quite far enough in that direction to skate by on sheer fun. It falls short of the go-for-broke ambition of a Zack Snyder’s Justice League or the stealth goofiness of a Tenet. It’s too straight-faced, too straightforward. What it does have going for it is sheer scale. Its title characters are designed to overwhelm the senses, with expensive VFX that make their faces look textured enough to touch, and sound effects that render their growls almost more felt than heard. I can imagine being awed in an IMAX theater when Kong pulls himself up to his full height, or feeling a tremble when Godzilla throws his weight around.
It seems a damn shame, then, that so many viewers — myself included — won’t get to enjoy Godzilla vs. Kong that way. On a home TV, the enormity of its leads, and the destruction they leave in their wake, doesn’t quite translate. The creatures’ epic rivalry doesn’t feel all that epic. Godzilla and Kong tear into each other, just as promised, and it’s a perfectly fine distraction. But the biggest blow either of them face turns out to come not from each other, but from a simple truth: Cut down to size, these towering titans feel kind of ordinary.
Godzilla vs. Kong is in theaters and on HBO Max March 31.