Rebecca’s Take

Team Godzilla or Team Kong? That’s the question “Godzilla vs. Kong” poses as the two legendary kaiju come face-to-face for the first time on the silver screen since 1962. Fortunately for audiences, the answer is Team Monster as the fourth film in Warner Bros./Legendary’s MonsterVerse revels in the spectacular fights between its titular beasts. The supersized blockbuster, crafted for the big screen, started streaming on HBO Max the same day it debuted in theaters.

With its breathtaking battles and awe-inspiring special effects, “Godzilla vs. Kong” serves as a worthy sequel to 2017’s excellent but underrated “Kong: Skull Island” – the best film in the MonsterVerse – and a thrilling follow-up to 2019’s “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” Learning from past films in the franchise, “Godzilla vs. Kong” shows that Legendary’s modern take works the best when the films focus on the monsters more than the human characters.

“Godzilla vs. Kong” harkens back to Godzilla’s origins as a villain in the classic Toho films. Portrayed as a protector of humanity in the MonsterVerse, the radioactive dinosaur typically only attacks when provoked. But in the latest film, Godzilla mysteriously strikes cities without cause. Meanwhile, Kong is living under scientific observation on Skull Island, the only one of his species left. The giant ape is lonely, save for a young native girl, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), with whom he has bonded.

The two storylines converge when a group of scientists decide to use Kong to enter Hollow Earth, the home of the Titans, to extract a power source that can be used to stop Godzilla’s rampages. But Godzilla, sensing Kong’s movements, emerges to defend his apex status. The two will fight not only for the title of King of the Monsters, but for the Earth when an even bigger threat emerges.

The MonsterVerse kicked off with 2014’s “Godzilla,” a polarizing entry that didn’t reveal its marquee beast until halfway through the film. Since then, the successive films have introduced their Titans almost immediately. 2019’s “King of Monsters” made sure to correct the imbalance, with plenty of screen time for Godzilla and his fellow kaiju, including Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah. “Godzilla vs. Kong” follows this path, introducing Kong in its opening scene and Godzilla soon after.

This is the best of the modern “Godzilla” films, showcasing the powerful King of the Monsters’ fiery atomic breath and brute strength at every opportunity. Godzilla even shares some amusing facial expressions that I hope become GIFs. A blast from the creature’s past heightens the stakes as the Titan’s role as hero or villain is on the line.

Though Godzilla comes first in the title, audiences spend more time with Kong. “Godzilla vs. Kong” continues Kong’s journey that began in “Kong: Skull Island,” which struck the right balance between monster thrills and heartwarming storytelling. Just a teen in “Skull Island,” decades later Kong has grown up to become an adult, equal in size to Godzilla. And the mighty Kong proves a formidable match. The giant ape uncovers an ancient weapon that helps him deflect Godzilla’s attacks, evening the playing field between them. Though he can’t speak, the film finds a creative way for Kong to communicate, further developing the character.

The film’s entire second half is devoted to monster battles, one exciting match after the other. “Godzilla vs. Kong” does an excellent job of showcasing the scale of the two characters while they fight on top of a ship and against the colorful buildings of Hong Kong. The battles are remarkably clear and crisp – occurring at day and at night. The jaw-dropping clarity improves on the murky confrontations in “King of the Monsters.”

Director Adam Wingard carries on the franchise’s penchant for neon colors, with the Titan action bathed in the soft glow of yellows, blues and reds. The terrific action and first-rate GGI stun the senses. In one sequence, Kong beautifully freefalls into a new location and then encounters a sea of purple stones. The scene would look gorgeous on the big screen, but it still delivers in spades on our TVs.

The latest sequel centers its storylines around the monsters themselves, not the humans. The six main characters in “Godzilla vs. Kong” – three work with Kong while the other three track Godzilla – serve as conduits to understanding the pair of beasts. They’re sketched little more than that, but overall, that’s all right – we watch these movies for the monsters, not the people.

Making up Team Kong is Ilene Andrews (the always reliable Rebecca Hall), a dutiful scientist and Kong expert; Jia (Hottle), her adopted daughter; and Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård), a cowardly Hollow Earth theorist. Hottle amazes in her first film role, establishing a believable bond with Kong. Their relationship endears viewers to her and the big ape. Lind is the only one to have an arc, but the film doesn’t spend a lot of time on it in favor of its more interesting monsters.

On Team Godzilla is knowledgeable teen Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown, returning from “King of the Monsters”), her quirky pal Josh (Julian Dennison, from “Deadpool 2”) and the hilarious Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), a paranoid conspiracy theorist. The three share a humorous rapport in between the intense monster action. Henry was my favorite character, delivering a lot of comic relief.

However, the film misses an opportunity to further explore the bond Madison shared with Godzilla in “King of the Monsters.” This would have contrasted well with Jia’s kinship with Kong. Kyle Chandler also returns as Madison’s father from “King of the Monsters,” but the film gives the talented actor nothing to do here.

In addition to wasting some of its acting talent, “Godzilla vs. Kong” takes a while to get going in its first act. The movie doles out a lot of exposition before it ushers in the monster action. Though the plot makes sense, viewers may get tired of hearing “gravity inversion” over and over again (not to be confused with time inversion in “Tenet”).

“Godzilla vs. Kong” delivers what kaiju fans want: nearly nonstop monster action. The film embraces its beastly brawls, capitalizing on preceding films and further establishing a fun direction for the franchise. Learning from past trial-and-error, the blockbuster spotlights its titular stars over its human characters. No matter which monster comes out on top, “Godzilla vs. Kong” wins as the epic blockbuster reminds us of a time when moviegoers could lose themselves in the campy absurdity of beastly behemoths duking it out.

4 out of 5 stars

This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows a scene from “Godzilla vs. Kong.” (Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP)

Joe’s Take

The Warner Bros. MonsterVerse franchise is a mixed bag. It kicked off with 2014’s “Godzilla,” a good film with some excellent moments. It followed the blueprint of “Jaws” as it built toward its final battle with an effective slow burn. Well, that’s what I thought of it. Some wanted to see more Godzilla, more focus on the monsters and more fights. Warner Bros. listened to the fans and gave us 2019’s “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” a vastly inferior film to its predecessor devoid of memorable moments and interesting characters. In between those, King Kong entered the universe with 2017’s “Kong: Skull Island,” an entertaining and much better film than “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” but not quite as good as “Godzilla.” Warner Bros. tends to have polarizing franchises with passionate fan bases. As a result, the studio makes drastic changes in the middle of their projects (see the DCEU), so I had no idea what to expect for “Godzilla vs. Kong.” It seemed like it could be a rush, similar to Warners Bros.’ “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” mishap in 2016.

However, “Godzilla vs. Kong” found a better blend to satisfy the most fans possible.

Millie Bobby Brown (Madison Russell) and Kyle Chandler (Mark Russell) reprise their roles from “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” but most of the cast is new. None are particularly interesting, but the characters are there to get the movie where it needs to go. Haylee Hottle (Jia) proves a strong child actress, and her relationship with Kong works. Alexander Skarsgård (Nathan Lind) is the lone character with an arc, while the rest settle in on one note. While the idea of Skarsgård’s character is the right move for the film, I never bought into his arc. Rebecca Hall (Ilene Andrews) is fine and Chandler plays the character he portrays in every film.

The best human character is Bernie Hayes, played by great character actor Brian Tyree Henry. Easily the most entertaining human character, he buys into the quirky role and has fun with it. He also establishes great chemistry with Brown and they were the only human characters I wanted to see.

Of course, nobody watches a MonsterVerse movie for the humans, and Godzilla and Kong prove the best characters. The visual effects have always been solid in this franchise, but they took a step up in “Godzilla vs. Kong.” Godzilla looks great, which enables the film to show him often in the daylight. The film also handles Godzilla and Kong’s communication beautifully. They don’t speak so the audience has to understand their emotions by reading their body language and facial expressions. The audience can relate to Kong emotionally just by looking at his face.

The monster fights look awesome and they are shot in a way that allows the audience to see the action. That’s why the audience is watching and the fights deliver. The only problem is the film takes a while to get there. The film lags in the beginning as the weak plot tries to set up why the titans will fight. At the very least, the plot does provide a good reason why Godzilla attacks cities after serving as an ally in previous films. It doesn’t do much else except add exposition and jargon.

While the plot lacks, it does enough to get “Godzilla vs. Kong” where it needs to be to satisfy fans. The monsters and fights are amazing and it gives us a few enjoyable side characters when away from the monsters. The filmmakers paid more attention to the monsters and the fights, which they should. “Godzilla vs. Kong” is smart in its execution, gives the audience an entertaining two hours everyone can enjoy and proves the least polarizing in the franchise.

3.5 out of 5 stars