LOS ANGELES: If you want to get simplistic about it, monster blockbuster “Godzilla vs. Kong” is about a gorilla and a lizard fighting — but it’s so epic, it will have you glued to your seat.
“The movie is so many different things,” said director Adam Wingard, a childhood fan of giant kaiju monster films. “It’s a futuristic, sci-fi fantasy film with the biggest fight scenes of all time.”
The most recent installment in the MonsterVerse franchise is fun, and for a moviegoing public that could use a bit of bombastic blockbuster spectacle, it delivers. It doesn’t abandon the themes or environmentalist message found in the previous entries of Legendary Entertainment and Warner Bros.’ film franchise, but it does let them soak into the background.
Similarly, while it is still tied into the established lore of the previous films with some returning characters and the giant monster Illuminati group Monarch, there is little complication in the form of narrative twists. Mysteries are heavily foreshadowed, presented not to bend the minds of audiences but rather to provide moments of anticipation before the next action scene hits like a rollercoaster drop. The spectacle is the focus, not the plot, though when describing “Godzilla vs. Kong,” it may be more appropriate to say plots plural.
“You can look at the film as two separate stories that intersect eventually: Team Kong and Team Godzilla,” Wingard explained.
Where the previous films kept attention on the human characters, generally focusing on their struggle to avoid or cope with being collateral damage in the battles between the monsters referred to in-universe as Titans, “Godzilla vs. Kong” positions its human cast as supporting characters to the two CGI lead roles.
“Each human story is following the monster story,” Wingard continued.
Millie Bobby Brown reprises her role from “Godzilla: King of Monsters” as Madison Russell, the teen daughter of Godzilla-expert scientists who suspects that recent attacks by Godzilla are being provoked by shady tech corporation Apex. She is joined by her wisecracking best friend, Josh (Julian Dennison) and an Apex engineer turned conspiracy theorist, Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry).
“In the movie, they’re an amazing team. They work really well together. They complement each other so well,” Brown said. “Offset, it’s so nice to be friends with the people you work with.”
This half of the film evokes a classic “kids-on-a-road-trip” adventure, and child actors Brown and Dennison deliver in their performances.
“Millie’s been so awesome to work with. Julian is honestly just a big ball of happiness,” said Henry. “There’s something about their essence and in the way they carry themselves in and out of character, which is so great.”
You can’t mention the film’s child actors without bringing up screen newcomer Kaylee Hottle, a deaf actress who plays Jia, an orphan girl from Skull Island who has formed a special bond with Kong and able to communicate with him via sign language. This relationship harkens back to other movies that feature kid characters and their non-human friends, such as “The Iron Giant” or “E.T.”
“Kaylee really is very talented. She’s incredibly rewarding to work with as an actor,” said Rebecca Hall, lead actress of the Kong half of the film’s story. “She gives so much, and as I’ve gotten to know her better, I’ve realized that she’s extremely funny and playful. She’s just a great kid to be around.”
The Team Kong human characters are on a separate adventure as they escort Kong to an underground subcontinent known as Hollow Earth. While the film is full of beautiful art direction — particular mention goes to Godzilla and Kong’s nighttime fight in the neon-filled Hong Kong skyline — Hollow Earth is the movie’s chance to showcase a fantastical, psychedelic feel. Another 80s adventure subgenre checked off the list.
The star-studded cast brings their A-game to the movie, providing comedy beats and some heartwarming family moments. And while the human characters in monster movies are generally there to give the audience someone to relate to, “Godzilla vs. Kong” gives us a peek into the minds and hearts of its monsters.
Kong in particular is given a wordless depth of character, thanks to the previously mentioned relationship with Jia and the stellar performance by Terry Notary. Notary’s body language is evocative of, once again, 80s grizzled action heroes. It’s funny to watch a 50-foot ape dive away from an explosion like he’s starring in “Die Hard,” and it’s nice to see moments of humanity in scenes of big CGI action figures bashing into each other.
As Hollywood begins to resume operation in earnest, it’s a breath of fresh air to have a turn-your-brain-off popcorn-muncher of an action movie that knocks it out of the park, whether you’re watching in theaters or on HBO Max.