Almost 60 years after they rumbled in a pretty awful 1962 movie – featuring guys in monster suits destroying tiny models – “Godzilla vs. Kong” reunite with all the wonders that modern special effects can offer and still don’t much improve the results. After a lengthy buildup, this “thrilla” in the “MonsterVerse” – for anyone with even modest expectations – qualifies as a pretty sizable letdown.
To be fair, the movie was watched on a TV screen, which surely isn’t the way that Warner Bros. (like CNN, a unit of WarnerMedia) and Legendary Pictures originally intended it.
The film lands simultaneously on HBO Max and in theaters in the US – having already roared out of the starting gate in some international markets – but frankly, it’s not like an Imax screen could fix the plot and dialogue in a script and story credited to five writers, directed by Adam Wingard.
Following a pair of Godzilla movies that bookended the dreary “Kong: Skull Island,” the film begins with the notion that the title monsters are “alpha titans” and “ancient enemies,” making a showdown inevitable. Still, Godzilla’s sudden antisocial behavior represents a mystery to those who have witnessed his prior outings, causing them to search for the underlying cause.
As for Kong, he’s under the care and supervision of Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) on his island home, accompanied by a deaf girl (Kaylee Hottle), who joins a rather long tradition of kids that have improbably befriended giant monsters. They reluctantly find themselves tagging along with an academic (Alexander Skarsgard) who is convinced he can locate Kong’s historic home in the bowels of the Earth, a mission financed by the CEO of a company called Apex Cybernetics, played by Demián Bichir.
It gives away little, in this day and age, to say one should beware of people who become entangled with forces beyond their control, and these towering titans surely fit that description. The disjointed plot also reassembles past players like Millie Bobby Brown and Kyle Chandler, but the actors in this exercise feel even more incidental to the main event.
Given the relatively small amount of time that the “versus” part comes into play, “Godzilla vs. Kong” labors to flesh out the story, in ways that – like the earlier films – contain callbacks to the old cheesy movies, while telegraphing practically every beat.
The sheer size and level of destruction these gargantuan combatants unleash is occasionally impressive, if a little numbing before it’s over. Yet even allowing that the goal is simply to deliver big, dumb fun, some of the action sequences are unfortunately murky, to the point where it’d be nice to just let the beasts duke it out for a few minutes on an open plain in broad daylight.
Movies like “Godzilla vs. Kong” were made to be shared with audiences – perhaps especially the ridiculous parts – but even those advantages only go so far. Tasked with creating a spectacle around two of the movies’ biggest (literally) stars, “Godzilla vs. Kong” turns this battle of “alpha titans” into at best a C-level attraction.
“Godzilla vs. Kong” premieres March 31 on HBO Max and in theaters in the US. It’s rated PG-13.