- Ravi Swami
"Godzilla V Kong", Dir: Adam Wingard, 2021
Updated: Apr 3, 2021
Giant monster films...you either love 'em or hate 'em, there doesn't appear to be a middle ground for them in terms of taste in cinema.
Thanks to how U.S audiences have taken the reptilian "Kaiju" to heart as a cultural pop-icon as a kind of nod back from the Japanese to his fictional antecedent, the original giant monster in films, King Kong, there are likely to be many more films emanating from Hollywood based on the cinematic mythology created by the Japanese film industry in the wake of the horrors of the atomic bombings at the end of WWII combined with pre-existent native mythologies that reflect the precarious balance of nature in a region noted for earthquakes.
Primitive cultures personified natural forces as titanic beasts that could wreak destruction and this is the main springboard for the concepts that permeate the giant monster genre, with later additions being elements from science-fiction and technology.
There seem to be two tacks for re-interpreting the original "man-in-a-suit", or "Suitmation" films that were spawned by the original "Godzilla" - the result of a visual effects deviation from the laborious stop-motion technique used to bring King Kong to life (and also used in the inspiration for "Godzilla", "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms) forced by the economics of film-making in Japan in the immediate post-war period.
You can ground the films in reality or you can run with the freewheeling approach of the later films which incorporated a rag-bag of mythology and pop-culture tropes that resulted in some wacky concepts and a bizarre menagerie of giant monsters, or "Kaiju".
Gareth Edward's "Godzilla" (2014) opened the latest revival for world audiences with a plot that seemed quite plausible and in many ways he had an easier job since he was tasked with re-making the very first film, directed by Ishiro Honda. Edwards had forged a reputation for a style of film-making that used "neorealist" techniques to lend a sense of reality to fantastical plots, as seen in his debut film "Monsters" and in a similar way that the original Japanese films moved gradually away from Honda's original (& it should be noted that Honda had originally intended to direct documentaries, not films about giant monsters), the recent sequels have followed suit, a consequence of which was that Edwards departed the series part way through "Godzilla - King of The Monsters" and this time "Godzilla v Kong" is directed by Adam Wingard.
The latest film runs with the notion that what fans really want to see are the titanic battles between monsters, and in that regard it delivers in aces with some truly stupendous sequences though I have to admit that, personally, after a while these started to wear me out, and unfortunately there isn't really much left to engage the viewer in terms of the human performances.
Millie Bobby Brown makes a reappearance as "Madison Russell" and while she has proven her acting chops with her excellent self-produced Netflix one-off, "Enola Holmes", here she has little to do besides spend the film shrugging off the two character who, alongside her character, make up "Team Godzilla" - a nod back to similar youthful characters from the later Japanese films designed to appeal to the main demographic of a younger audience - played by Julian Dennison and Brian Tyree Henry as "Bernie Hayes", a conspiracy theorist and hacker who rather implausibly manages to access a vast underground government complex that houses mysterious goings-on.
The implausibility continues as the trio penetrate the lower reaches of the vast underground complex with relative ease as monster mayhem breaks out on the surface and reaches a shattering conclusion in the multicolored neon metropolis of a future Hong Kong.
Throughout, "Bernie Hayes" is allowed to spout whatever conspiracy nonsense enters his head and this soon grates, while Dennison's role as "Josh Valentine" seems extraneous and equally irritating, but then the idea of Brown's "Madison Russell" doing it all on her own would be stretching credulity even more.
The conspiracy theory aspect is interesting but it merely seems like an addition for audiences attuned to YouTube videos, an unnecessary "Conspiracy Theories 101", whereas it would have been better for his character to simply shut up and be gob-smacked by the events that unfold and which put most conspiracy theories in the shade or wrong-foot expectations.
The other interesting aspect is how some of these ideas have been mined and which have a basis in the original films, like underground civilizations and the Hollow Earth etc - spectacularly realised in the film and which provides some logical rationale for the existence of the titans which resonate with ideas that exist in real-world mythology, fantasy fiction and archeological speculation, an area anticipated in the previous film in the series.
The inclusion of "Jia", played by Kaylee Hottle, as the last remaining native inhabitant of Skull Island - Kong's home and where he is held captive by the Monarch organisation - and who is a deaf mute child who can communicate with Kong via the "Makaton" sign language (a system developed to aid children with autism and other developmental delay issues) is interesting from a personal point of view since my son has developmental delay and uses the same system to communicate, and in the film it is a device used to humanize Kong and elicit our sympathy for the lonely giant.
I watched the film in "Enhanced Ultra HD" streamed via Sky Store in the UK and what struck me is that the Japanese originals, for all their faults and clunky VFX, were enjoyed on the big screen in the immersive environment of a cinema - on a psychological level this means that audiences are more forgiving of scenes that may look less realistic and they fill in the gaps with their imagination.
In "Godzilla v Kong" with its' state of the art CGI effects and hyper-realism that creates a true sense of scale and spectacle it's somewhat ironic to reflect that due to the current pandemic we can only enjoy these films on smaller screens, which impacts on the sense of spectacle even with the aid of hi-resolution broadcast formats like 4K or "Enhanced Ultra HD" , bringing to mind the classic quote from "Sunset Boulevard" uttered by Norma Desmond : "I am big! It's the pictures that got small."
To be fair, "Godzilla v Kong" does live up to the hype even on a large screen TV though the term "spectacular" as used so often on posters from the classic era of Godzilla films, is noticeably absent on current poster art - it's all that and possibly even more in the environment of the cinema, once they re-open, even if cinema screens have gradually diminished in size.
Lastly, the films' score avoids referencing the scores of the original films in the same way that the preceding film in the current series did, which I felt contributed to a sense of continuity and lineage, however it makes up for that by sounding suitably epic.