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It was back in late 2015 that the plan for what would become the MonsterVerse started to really take shape. Following the release of Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla the year prior, the idea grew that the lizard-like kaiju would be established as part of an expanded canon that would also include King Kong – setting up a cinematic rematch nearly 60 years in the making after Ishiro Honda’s King Kong vs. Godzilla. The franchise grew with Jordan Vogt-Roberts' Kong: Skull Island and Michael Dougherty's Godzilla: King of the Monsters, establishing characters, locations, and key events, and now we are seeing the arrival of the promised capstone blockbuster that is Adam Wingard’s Godzilla vs. Kong.

Unfortunately, it’s not really much of a capstone blockbuster. Despite having three full movies to set things up, and a half-decade in development time, the film still has to spend its entire first act introducing brand new heroes and villains and all varieties of plot points. It’s an aspect of Godzilla vs. Kong that may disappoint fans who were hoping for more impactful usage of the canon, and it also results in the beginning of the story being way more of a slog than you’d hope for – but it’s also a film that sees a sputtering start turn into a fun ride stocked with some spectacular monster action, silly-but-enjoyable narratives, and wonderful design.

Written by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein, the movie unfolds across two separate storylines – one being a follow-up to the adventure in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and the other feeling like the continuation of a Kong: Skull Island sequel that never got made (you can probably take a good stab and which of the two is overstocked with exposition). What kicks off both storylines, however, is the same event, which sees Godzilla make a surprise appearance in Pensacola, Florida and decimate the American headquarters of the company Apex Cybernetics.

Fearing that Godzilla’s behavior is only going to become more erratic and more destructive, the head of Apex, Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir), reaches out to discredited scientist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) and provides him with the resources to continue his research. Lind believes that there is a Titan homeworld that exists at the core of the Earth, and Simmons believes that there exists a power there that could finally give humanity a fighting chance against the King of the Monsters. The only way that they can find what they are looking for, though, is with the help of another Titan, which leads Lind to reach out to former colleague Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), who has Kong in containment and has been studying his behavior.

Those on Team Kong worry about the giant ape’s safety when another alpha Titan is loose in the world and constantly looking to prove its dominance – but there is another party that believes that the threat isn’t what people think it is. Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), an Apex whistleblower and conspiracy theorist podcaster, is on a mission to prove that his employer is up to some sinister activity, and while he gives off some serious crackpot vibes, one person that believes him is young Godzilla advocate Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), who tracks Bernie down with some help from her reticent friend, Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison).

There’s no questioning that Godzilla vs. Kong’s story is silly, but it ultimately gets the job done.

The plotting of Godzilla vs. Kong is so obvious that the marketing for the movie has felt totally free to spoil the big reveal in the third act, but what can be applauded is its creativity and commitment to its own weirdness. Its introduction may be crazy ham-fisted, featuring dialogue that could easily be replaced with “MacGuffin Energy MacGuffin Hollow Earth MacGuffin MacGuffin,” but once Kong, followed by advanced airships, starts swinging on support beams built to support an Antarctic tunnel on his way down to a gravitational inversion that separates the Titan’s world from ours, it’s hard not to just lean back and enjoy it.

As has been the case in the last two Godzilla movies (less so in Kong: Skull Island), the most significant issue in the film is its human characters, who just have a really hard time rating high on the interest scale when they are sharing the screen with skyscraper-sized monsters. It’s really here that the lack of development in the MonsterVerse is most glaring, as Godzilla vs. Kong would be vastly improved if the ensemble was comprised of heroes and villains we already knew about going in.

With Nathan Lind and Ilene Andrews, for example, we’re told about the death of the former’s brother during an early attempt to enter the Hollow Earth, and the latter discusses the destruction of Skull Island in a horrible storm that killed all of the natives. And while these stories are being spelled out in conversation you can’t help but think, I really wish I got to see this in a movie. Not only would it have allowed a proper execution of “show, don’t tell,” but it would give the two protagonists more emotional weight (which they don’t really possess in the movie).

Team Godzilla certainly has the advantage in this department thanks to Godzilla: King Of The Monsters’ Millie Bobby Brown, and the fact that her two cohorts are one-dimensional (albeit funny) characters. There’s a lot less heavy lifting required – though it should be recognized that there is also a swing-and-a-miss bringing back Kyle Chandler as Madison Russell’s father, Mark, as his entire role is talking into a radio and observing monster action from a distance.

It should surprise absolutely nobody that it’s the monster vs. monster action that truly sells Godzilla vs. Kong.

Truly the most important job that Godzilla vs. Kong has is just establishing proper set pieces to highlight the titular conflict, and that’s certainly the job that the movie does best. There are two clashes between the titular Titans in the film, and while that seems like a small number on paper, both conflicts are momentous and exhilarating (and it should be noted that they aren’t the only battles featured – just the only battles between the eponymous monsters). Without giving too much away, the scenes are unique in their stakes and their staging, and exercise the incredible powers of the characters well. Those who are seeking kaiju destruction action won’t be disappointed.

From creatures to advanced technology, Godzilla vs. Kong is filled with some fantastic design work.

Not only are said kaiju beautifully rendered and realistic (possessing shocking weight and depth), they are part of a world that throws a number of freaky and awesome ideas at audiences – from eagles with batwings to otherworldly dragon-like creatures that attack while Team Kong is in the Hollow Earth. It’s not just limited to the creatures either, as the design work all around is exciting, from the sleek airships that are used to follow Kong, to the dangerous secrets that Team Godzilla winds up finding in Apex Cybernetics’ Hong Kong headquarters.

Five years ago it sounded like Godzilla vs. Kong was being prepared as an Avengers-like event that would coalesce an expansive MonsterVerse franchise as a next-level blockbuster, and while it’s disappointing that the film very much isn’t that, its merits outweigh its flaws. It’s certainly not going to convert anyone who doesn’t already take pleasure in the storied genre, but those with an open mind will find plenty to appreciate.

7 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed star rating out of five
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