*Spoilers for "Godzilla vs. Kong," now available in theaters and on HBO Max. You've been warned.*
"Godzilla vs. Kong" doesn't truly start until about 38 minutes into the film.
That marks when the title behemoths finally face off, about a quarter into the movie. The ensuing destruction, where Kong is on a boat as he takes on Godzilla, is glorious mayhem, all shot clearly in the light of day, with no darkness to obscure the incredible action before us. These two creatures have arguably never looked this good before and the scenes they are a treat. It's the main reason for the film's existence and probably why most people wanted to see it in the first place.
Like with most of the previous films in the MonsterVerse cinematic universe from Warner Bros., though, sandwiched in between scenes with iconic beasts blowing up all of creation to kingdom come are dour human characters and plotlines that feel tangential to the good stuff, like the subplot with Millie Bobbie Brown and Brian Tyree Henry's character that take up a fair chunk of the movie and adds very little to the overall story/
This brings us to the problem that hangs over most giant monster movies: The giant monsters normally aren't in them much, leaving a parade of puny humans you don't care about nearly as much (if at all) to anchor the story around. Almost all the old Godzilla pictures are like this, and so are the King Kong films
That isn't the fault of these movies; the issue is baked into the concept of the flicks themselves. The kaijus in these films are often massive and don't even speak, so they often can't communicate or hold conversations with others to move a story forward. "Godzilla vs. Kong" actually has a way to have one of its beasts communicate, but we'll get to that later. Regardless, because of this issue, it's harder to center a film around such a creature, at least to the point where they would be the main character we would follow for most of a 90-minute feature.
Not to mention expensive, since only displaying your main attraction in key moments is a good way to save on CGI or the amount of money you'd spend on stop motion or, in the case of a lot of the older "Godzilla" films, rubber suits. Plus, if your lead is a massive destructive force of nature, it's hard to make a film that's nothing but wall-to-wall fighting — but I'd still love to see that.
Every MonsterVerse entry has contended with this issue of having too many humans and not enough of the guys you actually came to see. The 2014 "Godzilla" reboot that kicked off this universe was famously criticized for not revealing the big guy until about an hour in. Most of the film was instead about a bunch of personality-deprived bystanders. The sequel "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" corrected that issue by getting to Godzilla in the first scene. Though that one has some of the best kaiju scenes ever committed to film, it suffered by framing its story once again around the characters who largely sat wide-eyed by the sidelines, gazing at the destruction with their mouths plummeted to the ground like characters in a Tex Avery cartoon.
2017's "Kong: Skull Island" has been the most successful so far with balancing the creature violence with the human element. Though the characters are one-note, the Vietnam era-set film benefits from basically being a survival/quasi-war picture in addition to a giant monsters flick, with an squadron of overqualified movie stars and top-tier character actors dealing directly with the monster action directly.
The way "Godzilla vs. Kong" handles this monster conundrum is a mixed bag. Kong himself shows up in the first scene and is in the film quite a bit...but a lot of the time he's either knocked out or chained to a boat, with the other characters talking about whether he could handle Godzilla or not. Obviously there had to be a way to get Kong to the Hollow Earth entrance in Antarctica, but it doesn't make for riveting cinema, especially when this ape that keeps getting knocked around is supposed to face the unstoppable one-lizard army known as Godzilla.
Speaking of Godzilla, he's really not in the film much despite grabbing top billing in the title. While we spend a sizable amount of time with Kong even though he doesn't do much, Godzilla only shows up every once in a while to either to prove his toughness against Kong and try to destroy the facilities where MechaGodzilla is getting worked on. Previous Godzilla films have shown him to be a less sympathetic, destructive force, but here he just pops up to prove he's still the toughest titan around and then leaves. In a weird way, it's less satisfying to see Godzilla win against Kong even though it makes sense that the former would come out on top, mainly because we've spent more time with Kong during the film up to that point.
Again, even though Kong's not really an active participant in a lot of his own story, he's treated more like an actual character than Godzilla is, and he even sort of gets an arc. At the beginning of the film, Kong, the last of his kind, is stuck in a facility with a weird semi-real simulation of Skull island to keep him away from Godzilla, because it's believed they'll come after each other to prove their dominance (even they've both been on this planet for years now, but only now is there a conflict between them because the movie needs there to be one). The human scientists, who say Godzilla and Kong's ancestors clashed eons ago, talk about finding a home for Kong, which he finds in Hollow Earth. The deaf orphan Jia (Kaylee Hottle) is even able to convince Kong to go into Hollow Earth because he might be able find more apes like him there. While there he finds some odd cave/temple where he finds an axe created by Kong's ancestors that was apparently made from the fin of one of Godzilla's ancestors. It's all very vague, but he accepts this call to action to take on Godzilla just as their ancestors did. By the end, Kong has found his new home at Hollow Earth, even though it's unclear why he couldn't remain on Skull Island since he and Godzilla apparently came to an understanding by the end. Plus having Kong communicate with Jia was a brilliant way to create a tangible connection with him, even though I would have liked to have seen more of it.
It's only sort of an arc, but it is something. Even then, though, Kong that has to share screen time with various other humans, so it doesn't get as much room to breath as it should. Even Wingard himself recently said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that he wants to see a monster movie with more of the monster and less humans: "If there's another MonsterVerse movie, in my opinion, it should be the first full-on monster film. I would say, 30 percent humans, the rest monsters, basically flipping the formula of what a lot of these movies generally are. I think people are ready for it." Even though the film he made still has plenty going for it, I hope his suggestion of the first "full-on monster film" comes to fruition sooner rather than later.
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Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.