Review: Monster mash 'Godzilla vs. Kong' missing that big fight feel

Sure, the two monsters go to war, but nothing about 'Godzilla vs. Kong' makes their fight feel important

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

It's a smackdown on your senses in "Godzilla vs. Kong," a colossal battle of Goliath and Goliath in which the audience ultimately loses. 

Sure, the two title characters go up against each other in a series of big-time clashes, and you're silly if you're looking for anything other than Godzilla vs. Kong from "Godzilla vs. Kong." Still, the screenwriting team (two credited script authors and three who receive "story by" credit) do everything they can to make things much more complicated — and brain-numbing — than they need to be, and the story twists itself into pretzels trying to get to its marquee showdown. 

Godzilla takes on King Kong in the aptly titled "Godzilla vs. Kong."

And pity the poor humans in the cast who are all laid to waste, just like the thousands of deaths that occur off-screen as Godzilla and King Kong reduce Hong Kong to rubble in the grand finale. Rebecca Hall, playing an anthropological linguist who works closely with Kong, is tasked early on with delivering the line, "if he leaves, Godzilla will come after him!" and in that moment you can see her die inside, just a little bit. 

Cast-wise, the film is mostly imported from the "Godzilla" universe, since Kyle Chandler and Millie Bobby Brown — who tracked Godzilla in 2019's "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" — carry over. (The survivors of 2017's "Kong: Skull Island," including characters played by Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston and John C. Reilly, are nowhere to be found.) Brian Tyree Henry is on board as a paranoid conspiracy theorist, Alexander Skarsgård plays a geologist and Demián Bichir plays a tech CEO with a nefarious agenda, and none of them register much by the time the credits roll. 

The film opens as Kong is being held captive on Skull Island in a dome that houses his own kind of "Truman Show," with holograms replicating the expansive skies he's used to. Kong is on to the gimmick, though, and he hurls a tree through the roof just to let his human captors know he knows what they're up to.

Godzilla, meanwhile, stages an attack on a Florida facility that houses Apex Cybernetics, alarming humans who were of the belief that Godzilla was a friendly monster. And he's soon on his way for Kong, who is escorted off Skull Island on a series of freighters, setting up a showdown at sea, the first of several matches between the two Titans. 

Eventually they both wind up in Hong Kong, which Kong arrives at via a trip through the Hollow Earth, a side trip with sci-fi underpinnings that might make sober audience members wish they'd made a trip to their local marijuana dispensary ahead of showtime. 

But hey, we're not here for coherence, we're here for a fight! And there, "Godzilla vs. Kong" delivers on only a surface level, since there's no real emotional investment in either gigantic monster, even though plenty of effort is made to make Kong a sympathetic character with human traits. (He communicates via sign language with  Rebecca Hall's character's adopted daughter, played by Kaylee Hottle.) 

Back to the melee. Punch, kick, slam, toss — you know the drill, and director Adam Wingard ("You're Next," "The Guest") stages the action well enough as the city crumbles around the two behemoths. And of course the fight is the main course, even if the stakes aren't quite clear, and lines of good and evil get blurry as a third opponent is tossed into the mix. (The best fights have a clear good guy and a bad guy, and that is kind of tossed aside here.) 

As far as PPV-worthy matchups go, "Godzilla vs. Kong" is about as big as it gets, just as "Batman v Superman" (or even "Freddy vs. Jason") was before it. But like those other showdowns, the reality is it takes more than just a big brawl to sell an event, and it's everywhere else where "Godzilla vs. Kong" falls short. Consider this one a draw. 

'Godzilla vs. Kong'

GRADE: C

Rated PG-13: for intense sequences of creature violence/destruction and brief language

Running time: 113 minutes

In theaters and on HBO Max

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama