I fully understand the wisdom in adjusting expectations ahead of a viewing of Godzilla vs. Kong. No matter how gleefully retrospective analyzers of film can employ weighty themes of nuclear proliferation and malicious colonialism onto the inaugural screen appearance of the two combatants on display here, we are a long, long way from Bergman and Varda. This is the realm of spectacle over intricacy, kinetics over intellect, bombast over nuance. The actuaries at Warner Bros. didn’t invest in a multi–film buildup to this title-card bout to take the narrative at a slow, measured pace. Instead, let’s get the lizard riled up, put a mystical, energy-absorbing battle axe in the gorilla’s paw, and see what happens.
At my core, I’m all for this. Reared on comic books of the nineteen-seventies and nineteen-eighties, I want a story like this to embrace freewheeling absurdity. Wilder is better, and the whole brouhaha is only enhanced by overqualified actors gaping at the zippy nonsense while muttering dialogue filled with pseudoscience that adheres to the academic rigor of a sugar-rushing toddler. But, good grief, it shouldn’t be asking too much for the plot to be coherent, the editing to be nimble, and the visual design to be attractive. As directed by Adam Wingard, a veteran largely of horror films, Godzilla vs. Kong is so slapdash that it feels like it’s stubbornly resistant to being entertaining. It’s a clanking contraction, getting the task done in the clumsiest fashion imaginable.
The pleasures in the film are rare and fleeting. As a conspiracy-minded podcast host who gets drawn into the mayhem, Brian Tyree Henry continues his recent streak of swiping scenes in any film that puts him on the call sheet. He’s the one performer who brings any verve to the proceedings, who seems aware that a little goofball unpredictability is what’s required. The visual effects are clearly where the most dedicated effort went, and the digital artists ply their art with real panache. It’s too bad it’s only so much pixel paint on a shabby construction. With Godzilla vs. Kong, there are no winners.