Directed by Adam Wingard, “Godzilla vs. Kong” is the fourth film in Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse franchise. The film stars Alexander Skarsgård (Big Little Lies), Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things), Rebecca Hall (The Prestige, 2006), and Brian Tyree Henry (If Beale Street Could Talk; 2018). Don’t worry about the characters they play, though, because at heart, the film feels like a 90s disaster blockbusters where spectacle trumps everything else.
Is that a bad thing? Not in the slightest, I’d argue. One glance at Wingard’s filmography, and you’d find films like “The Guest” (2014), “You’re Next” (2011), and “Death Note” (2017) that pay homage to the visual aesthetic of sci-fi, horror and film-noir. “Godzilla vs. Kong” is no different. Taking a leaf out of the Emmerich playbook, Wingard turns every single human into a means to an end of sorts.
They’re the guys who form a connective tissue between the soft-sci-fi exposition and the bombastic set-pieces. For a movie that is all about the inevitable “Fight Night” face-off between a giant lizard and a giant monkey, it shouldn’t be much of an issue. All that matters is if the movie’s humans are likable enough to take us along for the ride.
The good news? They’re perfectly functional at that. Brian Tyree Henry is the most balanced of the lot. As conspiracy podcaster Bernie, he walks a tightrope between humor and seriousness without slipping into the kind of Paranoid Madman stereotype we’ve already seen in movies like “2012” or “Independence Day.”
Millie Bobby Brown is fine, but it’s her on-screen partner-in-crime Julian Dennison who steals the show as the awkward, bumbling pushover. Kaylee Hottle, who marks her feature film debut, is easily the breakout star here and holds her own through and through. Hall and Skarsgård are competent. Eiza González (Baby Driver; 2017) and Shun Oguri just exist as offshoots to Demián Bichir’s character, who isn’t essential either, sadly.
The bad news? Most of the cast plays characters with the solid potential to be explored further had the film given them time to breathe. Considering “Godzilla vs. Kong’s” evident focus stays on Godzilla and Kong, though, it ends up doing what it sold its audience. Gareth Edwards’s “Godzilla” (2014) this is not.
However, it still does a lot to give both monsters enough motive for potential viewers to be emotionally attached to either. The most compelling narrative arc in the whole movie is the bond Hottle’s Jia shares with Kong that pays off beautifully in the film’s closing. Godzilla doesn’t exactly have the same treatment in comparison. Still, considering this is the monster’s third time in the MonsterVerse compared to Kong — for who the film marks his sophomore appearance, it’s forgivable.
Ultimately though, “Godzilla vs. Kong” isn’t an emotionally mature parable of existential grief. It’s not much of a man versus nature commentary either. Suppose we’re to go strictly by text. In that case, it’s a by-the-numbers monster blockbuster, with the plot zooming past snappily till it reaches the neon-drenched finale that’s bound to impress both fans and detractors. It may not sound like a novel idea, but if a by-the-numbers movie template is done really well — and Wingard’s knocked it out of the park — everything else is moot. Love it or hate it, this MonsterVerse movie is precisely what it says it is, and it’s unapologetically proud.