Since the blockbuster overperformance of Marvel’s The Avengers in 2012, every studio has attempted their own spin on the MCU shared universe model, taking existing IP and juicing it up for maximum profit. A trend that has, frankly, not resulted in the success likely expected and hoped for. It’s gotten so bad that even Scooby-Doo and Mystery Inc. were given a superhero spin in last year’s awful Scoob. The prospect of shared universes these days inspires less ‘wow’ factor and more ‘oh god’ factor. This brings us to the Monsterverse, which fits neither category.
Starting in 2014 with Gareth Edwards’ sublime Godzilla, there was immediate promise. Taking Toho’s famed monsters and having them duke it out has the intent of another money-making cinematic universe strategy, but one with pre-established roots in the IP to begin with. One of the hallmarks of Godzilla is the fact that he routinely participates in monster mashes, so bringing this to the screen once again actually makes sense and with a film as truly great as Godzilla to kick it all off, why not?
What would then follow is the unfortunate one-two punch of awful that Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla: King of the Monsters represented. Completely losing sight of the thematic grace and horror leanings of the 2014 installment to instead deliver overproduced, visually numbing battles with faux depth registering as almost an apology for the restraint of Godzilla, an incredible miscalculation that resulted in the box office underperformance of King of the Monsters and presumably bringing an end to the Monsterverse following its latest installment, bringing its two heroes to the grand, promised battle. And what a shame that is because Godzilla vs. Kong represents the absolute best of what this franchise can be, a massive return to form for the Monsterverse.
Set not long after King of the Monsters, the film begins with a return to our favourite lovable monkey, Kong, enjoying a morning routine and being thoroughly adorable, firmly establishing him as the film’s protagonist, a choice that may annoy some Godzilla devotees, but makes the most sense narratively. The biggest issue with the Monsterverse thus far, across all of its installments is an overreliance on human characters and their uninteresting relationships and drama. GvK makes the inspired and smart choice of tying the human drama directly into the monsters by making them inextricable.
The film’s human protagonist is a little girl who is closely bonded to and friends with Kong, meaning that we get both human drama to ground the film and the sense that we’re never too far from the happenings of the monsters we came here to see. The film is rounded out by other humans who are all similarly related to the monsters in some way, eschewing any bland character drama for complete focus on Godzilla, Kong, and the larger thematic leanings of the film. It took them 4 movies, but Godzilla vs. Kong perfects the narrative formula of what WB and Legendary have attempted here and makes a film as sensitive and smart as it is thrilling.
And holy sh*t let’s talk about that last part. Because good character drama is all well and good, but this film is called Godzilla vs. Kong and not only do we want to see these boys duke it out and cause some destruction, but we want a real, definitive winner too. The unspoken rule of every versus flick featuring two famous characters is that well, no one can really win. You risk making one look weaker and that’s a non-starter as far as any future films for that character. Captain America can beat Iron Man’s ass left and right, but they’ve still got to sell toys and be the Avengers again eventually, so let’s call it a draw.
Godzilla vs Kong makes the smart and satisfying choice of showing who would win a brawl like this, while still ensuring that fans of both characters are satisfied and the lore is respected. Director Adam Wingard’s deep love for these creatures is apparent in every frame, their godliness clear as day, but their feelings and innermost character traits also on display. That means gargantuan battles where Kong looks angry or perhaps afraid and Godzilla expresses annoyance or flashes a menacing smile at Kong post-ass-whipping.
With those ass-whippings filmed beautifully, a near masterclass in CGI spectacle filmmaking, every punch and atomic blast crystal clear and visible. Wingard makes the transition from smaller films (You’re Next, The Guest) to the biggest of them all with grace and confidence, never hiding flaws in VFX behind smoke and rain because there really aren’t any of those flaws. There’s a clear intent and vision behind every battle, a product of communicating those themes about nature versus technology and feeling displaced from one’s home and threatened in a new one. But also a commitment to delivering on fan expectations and wanting the kind of battles that make fans yell at the screen like the world’s biggest, most destructive wrestling match.
In the pantheon of monster movies, Godzilla vs. Kong reigns supreme, earning a spot amongst the best the genre has to offer. It’s the rare and refreshing blockbuster that leaves you wanting more, rather than already promising more. A story that truly stands on its own, while honoring everything that came before.