We know more about the Earth’s crust and core than we do the outer reaches of space. Hell, we know more about the center of our planet than we do the ocean that covers it. So it’s rather difficult for me to suspend my disbelief whenever yet another assembly-line blockbuster decides they’ll plumb that myth one more time, and it’s even more difficult when the world-building around that myth is so thin, rushed, and otherwise thoroughly lacking. Beyond giving us the titular titan fisticuffs we were promised, a few rumbles in the urban jungles that do provide a number of entertaining moments, however brief, Godzilla vs Kong mostly centers on a human expedition wherein scientists follow Kong down a rocky, big rabbit hole to the so-called “Hollow Earth,” a land between layers of crust where lush jungles, large mountains, and lumbering dinosaurs somehow exist inside a gravitational anomaly. No matter how fun or shiny those few battles may be, or how visually spectacular Hollow Earth itself may be, there’s no ignoring the other ninety minutes spent with the likes of Millie Bobby Brown, Bryan Tyree Henry, Julian Dennison, Rebecca Hall, Damián Bichir, Eiza Gonzalez, and Alexander Skarsgard, many of them good actors, all of them forced to monologue inane dialogue that is neither very helpful in explaining the film’s ludicrous science fiction trappings nor interesting to listen to as a placeholder for action.
They’re certainly not there to develop their own characters, all of whom are mere stick figures gawking at Godzilla and Kong. Thin characterization is only forgiven when the action filmmaking hutzpah (Fury Road, Tenet) is so overwhelming that the concept of characterization ceases to matter. These folks are mostly bystanders, so we don’t exactly learn about them via heat of battle either, a writing technique expertly employed in the aforementioned films. And as for Kong and his lizard rival, more time is spent with the former in an attempt to earn audience sympathy and more or less anthropomorphize the King Ape for the requisite human bonding sessions, none of which hold a candle to Kong’s bond with Ann Darrow in the original film or Peter Jackson’s ’05 epic. Worst of all, the magisterial suspense and evocative tone of Gareth Edwards’ 2014 picture has officially been completely disowned in favor of corny, unexplained fantasy and hokey plot tokenisms. Dr. Lind (Skarsgard) is supposed to be a researcher exiled to a university backroom because his Hollow Earth theories were ridiculed and debunked, and yet not only have organizations such as Monarch and Apex discovered that Hollow Earth exists, they’ve already attempted travel there, one trip of such involving Lind’s own late brother, a tragic accident he’s very much aware of and sullen about. It’s as if the writers began with the idea that Lind ought to be an academic outsider and didn’t abandon the idea when it stopped making sense. Then you have to wonder, why cast tall, Aryan Skarsgard if you want your scientist to be a nebbish outsider?
With blockbusters like Godzilla vs. Kong, a good score can go a long way. Tom Holkenborg’s musical stylings here waver between dull grandiloquence and, briefly anyway, ethereal synth when Kong makes it home to Hollow Earth. Beyond the latter’s unique sound, there’s nothing memorable enough here to emphasize the emotional stakes or ratchet the tension when it matters most. This is likely because there are neither emotional stakes nor tension baked into the plot. Cities fall and a serious number of people die, but none of it matters. Why should we care about the fate of this world if the people in it don’t matter? Cities falling while sick monsters are fighting may be a classical tradition of the genre, but there’s no excuse for looking at Toho’s 50’s camp series and proclaiming it can’t be done any better. I don’t believe what I’m watching if the millions of folks in the streets below are essentially invisible to the audience. Internal logic and world-building are fickle tricks, and Godzilla vs. Kong trips at the finish line in nearly every way imaginable. Every way except for pure distraction. Despite my grievances, I’m not immune to red-blooded American entertainment. While the movie lacks even the minimal stand-and-cheer factor of King of the Monsters, there will always be a place in my heart for watching Godzilla and Kong crush other giant creatures with axes and atomic breath. And no matter the faulty logic of it all, the sequence wherein Hall, Gonzalez, and more travel to Hollow Earth is appropriately thrilling, disorienting, and aesthetically pleasing. I only wish director Adam Wingard had aimed for greater heights than smashing action figures together for our amusement.
In Theaters and available to stream on HBO MAX
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