Of course genre pictures can allow for complexity and subtlety, but their chiefest pleasures are simple and immediate: the blood-drenched kills of horror; the razzle-dazzle production numbers in a musical; the chases and shootouts of the western. The genre classification sets the terms of a deal for the viewer, a negotiation no more complicated than ‘the more generously the film fulfils those terms, the greater the viewer’s gross enjoyment’.
It is in this spirit that we good people of Earth have come together to watch the giant ape fight the giant lizard. Starting with the title, the new crossover tying together Legendary Pictures’ connected cinematic universe of destructive megafauna promises a clash of titans to put Clash of the Titans to shame. One irate primate, one hostile reptile – two beloved intellectual properties enter the ring, but only one shall leave.
Except that the stakes of the conflict aren’t anywhere near that definitive, or even that oppositional. (Nor could they be, as we realise pretty quickly. The studio can’t be seen to play favourites with one or the other, which is why they’ve tinkered with the size of both beasties to contrive a fair face-off.)
The competitors, pitted against each other by their film’s very premise, figure instead into a more elaborate and extraneous plot proffering an explanation for why they’re at odds in the first place. Godzilla and King Kong may have their differences but, as ever, the real enemy here is humanity. The question the script must answer – a query hanging over ever inert scene of puny Homo sapiens having their silly little dialogues – is who can possibly care when the lord of all kaiju could be breathing jets of blue fire at Fay Wray’s ex.
The CGI stars of the show do indeed trade magnificent blows in early scenes, and credit where it’s due to director Adam Wingard for giving their tussles the bitter fury they deserve. Their fight scenes have been choreographed more legibly than most of the big set pieces in recent blockbuster memory; it seems more manageable to capture a gargantuan pas de deux than to get coverage over a bustling battle royale while keeping track of dozens of characters.
The numerous, dragging interludes spent with the mere mortals, however, succeed only in elongating the run time and grinding the action to a halt. A new round of scientists and military types (Rebecca Hall, Alexander Skarsgård, Eiza González) scramble about trying not to get crushed underfoot, though that’s not nearly as snooze-worthy as the thoroughly unneeded subplot involving a couple of exhausting smart-aleck kids (Julian Dennison and a returning Millie Bobby Brown) and a conspiracy-theorist podcaster (Brian Tyree Henry, doing what he can).
This has been the constant complaint with Hollywood’s neo-Godzilla pictures, that the signal-to-noise ratio is all out of whack with too much time spent away from the monster mash that drew us here. Wingard has learned from the massive letdown of Big G’s last appearance in 2019, but the improvements he makes are incremental and minor. We spend less time with the lowly human annoyances, and yet still too much. The combat has been fine-tuned somewhat, while still lacking in the godly scale that came from the ground-level cinematography of Gareth Edwards’ superior 2014 take on Godzilla.
The opening scene, which calmly joins a King Kong in solitude as he wanders around his lush homeland and exalts in the majesty of nature, invites us to imagine a winnowed-down version of the concept. The ideal instalment of this franchise’s would be something like a brutal Planet Earth episode, disposing of all dialogue and letting the digitally-rendered dynamos of charisma at the centre carry the film. It only took the original Toho productions a few movies to figure out that foregrounding their icon made for more reliable entertainment. How long will it take us?
Our generation’s Ali-Frazier. 3
Delivers on the simian-reptilian fisticuffs, at least. 3
Just do a Godzilla/Kong boxing movie! 2
Millie Bobby Brown, Alexander Skarsgård, Rebecca Hall
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