Opening in theaters and on HBO Max...
Godzilla vs. Kong--The colossal ape of the title, plodding groggily toward a morning shower under a waterfall, scratches his butt. On the soundtrack is Bobby Vinton singing "Over the Mountain, Across the Sea." This was the point, barely a minute in, that I was pretty sure this movie was going to be fun. I wasn't disappointed.
I was indeed disappointed by the 2014 Yank version of Godzilla, but the 2017 Kong: Skull Island and the 2019 Godzilla: King of the Monsters were both big improvements. This clash of the titans, their first movie meeting since the 1962 Japanese King Kong vs. Godzilla, may be the best of the latter-day lot. It's certainly the silliest, which works to its benefit.
After years of peaceful coexistence, the gargantuan reptile of the title is turned from heroic protector of humankind back into a menace, for purposes of the main event; he attacks a shadowy corporate facility in Pensacola, Florida. A conspiracy-minded podcast host (Brian Tyree Henry), a teenager (Millie Bobby Brown) and her best friend (Julian Dennison) investigate the sinister reasons behind the incident.
Meanwhile, those same corporate interests have Kong transported--in chains, by ship, just like back in 1933--from Skull Island to Antarctica in hopes that he'll lead them into the Hollow Earth. Traveling with him are a Hollow Earth expert (Alexander Skarsgard), a "Kong Whisperer" scientist (Rebecca Hall) and her adopted native daughter (Kaylie Hottle), who communicates by sign language. The two strands converge, via an actual hole to the center of the Earth, in Hong Kong, where the title monsters plus one other kaiju icon scrap in the streets.
As you can tell from this synopsis, director Adam Wingard and his screenwriters certainly don't let utter preposterousness get in the way of telling this tall tale; they loot sources from Verne and Burroughs to pro wrestling. When Kong socks Godzilla in the jaw for the first time, it reminded me of Alex Karras punching the horse in Blazing Saddles. This pop pilferage has the feel, at times, of kids improvising a make-believe monster game in their back yard.
Yet there are moments, like the scenes involving Kong negotiating the gravity deep underground, that have a near-poetic wonder. And the monsters, especially the soulful, fed-up Kong, are truly vivid characters, engaging our sympathies more than any of the human actors.
Absent profound, meaningful filmmaking and drama--and maybe, sometimes, in preference to it--this is what I want my summer blockbusters to be: fast, funny, unpretentious, with dash of heart. It clocks in at under two hours, but it didn't leave me feeling cheated.