While last year still saw some great new releases, movie theaters all but disappeared in 2020, and one type of movie in particular disappeared right along with them: blockbusters. Other than Tenet, which more than anything gave the industry’s optimistic pandemic timeline a swift kick in the pants, the closest we got to those big-budget spectaculars was reading about them getting pushed back again every few months. Did we miss them? The early box office numbers for Godzilla vs. Kong suggest we did: it’s on track for easily the biggest opening weekend of the pandemic era, even with a same-day release on HBO Max. I unfortunately couldn’t contribute to those numbers, and as I watched it on my TV, I really missed IMAX – but not in a this-movie-only-works-in-that-format way. I missed it in a I-can’t-wait-to-see-that-big-ol’-screen-again kind of way. I’d say that makes this a pretty big win for blockbusters.
Director Adam Wingard’s Godzilla vs. Kong is the fourth entry in the MonsterVerse franchise, but (thankfully for me) you don’t really need to catch up on the previous ones to follow it. The story begins when Godzilla destroys an Apex Cybernetics facility in Florida, seemingly the first time he has attacked without provocation from another Titan (this series’ translation of the Japanese term Kaiju). To give humanity a fighting chance, Apex recruits Hollow Earth theorist Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) to lead an expedition to the Titans’ subterranean birthplace in search of power strong enough to contend with Godzilla. Their only chance of reaching Hollow Earth is to enlist Kong as a guide – but releasing him from controlled surveillance on his native Skull Island would mean an epic showdown with the King of the Monsters himself.
There’s technically a lot more “plot” going on, with a surprisingly expansive cast of talented humans, but that’s not really what we’re here for. The movie knows that too, and the giant monster fights are treated like the main attraction. And they are fun. Wingard and co. do well to maintain a sense of scale, capturing the unavoidable awe that would come with watching a massive ape and a nuclear lizard shove each other’s faces into actual skyscrapers, and the action-storytelling is always clear. Both monsters even manage to emote somehow, becoming actual characters that we can connect with, and the “personal” stakes this adds to their city-destroying brawls result in no shortage of fist-pumps.
If it’s not already clear, I deeply enjoyed my time watching Godzilla vs. Kong. But I can’t say it doesn’t also have serious flaws. With my critic-hat on, I see a script that’s clunky and drenched in exposition, a series of unnecessarily tangled plotlines, and a lot of human characters that are hard to invest in (newcomer Kaylee Hottle’s deaf Skull Island native Jia being an important exception). But I also see a movie that knows not to let all that get in the way too much. Godzilla vs. Kong hits the right balance of epic tone and lack of self-seriousness to be a good time. So, whether you’re still watching from home or sprinting back into your local multiplex, grab a soda and some popcorn, pick a Kaiju to root for (Team Godzilla all the way), and just enjoy the ride.