*SOME SPOILERS AHEAD*
Though some more ‘awards-y’ films like The Little Things and Judas and the Black Messiah have already had the joint cinemas/HBO Max launch that looks set to revolutionise film distribution over the next year or so, Godzilla vs Kong marks the first real test of the scheme, a nine-figure budget, effects-heavy action film designed to appeal to all markets. With very few reservations, it’s a resounding success, the exact kind of dumb spectacle that is still fun in your living room, but has you itching to get back to the big screen as soon as possible. It’s hardly going to stay with you long after the credits roll, but this mega-scale creature feature is a welcome launchpad for the next year of blockbusters.
Though there are some plot points carried over from Kong Skull Island and characters lifted from the awful, turgid King of the Monsters, Godzilla vs Kong easily functions as a standalone piece, not requiring you to know anything about the rest of WB’s ‘Monsterverse’. The formerly peaceful Godzilla has started attacking coastal research bases, and so Kong is ‘recruited’ by a team of scientists to fight back against the giant, nuclear lizard and help them discover what exactly has turned Godzilla from friend to foe.
New director Adam Wingard and writers Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein still make the mistake of giving too much time over to the forgettable human stories, but they’re at least more willing to have fun here. They embrace the sci-fi weirdness of the premise, taking us into the earth’s core through a 2001-esque Stargate while shady corporations build deadly mechs, and though you will not remember any of the characters’ names, Alexander Skarsgard and Rebecca Hall are clearly having fun as the leads, completely unafraid of the silliness of their dialogue.
Of course, Godzilla vs Kong is at its best when the people get out of the way and the Big Monkey can start punching the Big Lizard, and Wingard conjures up far superior action scenes to those found in either the 2014 Godzilla or King of the Monsters. There’s less awe shown towards the titanic combatants here than in previous entries, but that is made up for by well-lit, well-choreographed clashes that feel genuinely weighty, incredible special effects bringing Godzilla and Kong to expressive life, the crags of their giant faces shifting to give us cockiness, humour, and even pathos.
Refreshingly, there is a genuine victor to the title fight, Wingard not hedging his bets in an attempt to appease both fanbases. As has been guessed for a very long time now, there is, of course, a third-act team-up, but the fact that the score has been settled before this makes for a much more satisfying finale.
It is frustrating that there’s still so much human plot – especially as one strand of it, featuring an entirely wasted Brian Tyree Henry as a supernaturally irritating podcaster, is so properly insufferable – but Godzilla vs Kong delivers its title promise with gusto with some of the most visually impressive kaiju fights ever put to screen. Already a worldwide hit in territories where cinemas are open, it’s a loud and proud retort to the notion that COVID has killed moviegoing and, for British audiences, should prove a superb appetite-whetter for the long-awaited return of the big screen this May.