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Family Movie Review: Godzilla vs. Kong (PG-13)

‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ is a throwback to old-school monster movies that belabors a paper-thin plot.

Kernel Rating: 2 out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG-13     Length: 113 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 11+. This latest sequel in the now-overlapping Godzilla and King Kong franchises brings the monsters together to fight. Those battle sequences are full of over-the-top action, including monsters throwing each other around, smashing skyscrapers, destroying islands, sinking military aircraft carriers, and generally wreaking havoc. A couple of scenes are gross, like Kong ripping the head off another gigantic creature and slurping its blood, and various humans die. Some scary creatures like gigantic hawks, skull creatures, and other mystical figures, and humans use a lot of guns. Characters curse and insult each other; an adult’s flask of alcohol is used to destroy a piece of dangerous technology.

By Roxana Hadadi

Sometimes a movie truly fulfills that nostalgic-childhood part of your brain that longs for the days where all you could do all day was smash action figures or dolls or other toys together and act out your own elaborate stories and scenarios, and that satisfaction is essentially all “Godzilla vs. Kong” provides. There is a plot here somewhere, one with too many characters and too many locations and a brief suggestion of “tech capitalism is bad,” but ultimately, “Godzilla vs. Kong” is just about those two monsters beating each other up, and there is some enjoyment to be found in that.

Note the “some enjoyment” part of this. “Godzilla vs. Kong” is too long, and has too many subplots. Most of the characters don’t have anything to do. In bringing together two franchises that are quite different in tone—“Godzilla” and “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” were more somber, while “Kong: Skull Island” was more goofy—“Godzilla vs. Kong” doesn’t really form a cohesive whole. There is far too little Godzilla in this, and the film ultimately acts as more of a sequel to “Skull Island” than it does as a sequel to “King of the Monsters.” But again, these are concerns that probably won’t matter if all you’re watching this movie for is Kong and Godzilla primal screaming into each other’s faces in a city they’ve just destroyed. For tween viewers, that might be enough.

“Godzilla vs. Kong” picks up after the events of “King of the Monsters,” in which Godzilla fought the other ancient, gigantic Titan creatures for dominance, and after the events of “Skull Island,” in which this mysterious, prehistoric island full of various monsters and creatures was discovered by American soldiers returning home from the Vietnam War. After “King of the Monsters,” humanity thought Godzilla was their protector—but he suddenly starts attacking random cities. This behavior confuses Monarch, the organization dedicated to researching the Titans, partially led by Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), whose teenage daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) has a special fondness for Godzilla. She refuses to believe, as her father does, that Godzilla has just changed and now become an enemy. She’s convinced that there’s a reason for Godzilla’s behavior, and she teams up with classmate Josh (Julian Dennison) and conspiracy theorist podcast host Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) to get to the bottom of it.

Meanwhile, on Skull Island, Monarch is essentially hiding King Kong, who is monitored by scientist Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and has a special relationship with her deaf daughter, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), the last member of the Iwi tribe who lived on Skull Island and worshipped Kong. They’re soon joined by another researcher, Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård), who believes that the Earth is hollow and that the interior world is where the Titans come from. A major tech company, Apex Industries, is funding Dr. Lind’s research, and their CEO Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir), his daughter Maya (Eiza González), and his second in command Ren Serizawa (Shun Oguri), the son of the Ken Watanabe character from the “Godzilla” films, tag along to discover if Hollow Earth is real.

That is a lot of buildup, and all this human nonsense means that there is not enough time for the monsters themselves. There are too many scenes of scientific-sounding gobbledygook, with the doctors saying more than once that something is a grand discovery, and then the Apex Industries people saying something sinister, and then Madison and her crew realizing that Apex Industries is sinister, and on and on. What this means is that Kong and Godzilla are mostly kept separate, and that the film only briefly comes to life when they fight. A scene where Godzilla tracks Kong’s transport on a fleet of aircraft carriers and then attacks by swimming through the gigantic warships is well-staged and unnervingly tense; it’s also the film’s only true moment of danger.

Otherwise, a lot of this feels like treading water. Godzilla and King Kong fight in Hong Kong in a beautifully neon-lit but ultimately soulless battle. The return to Skull Island and the foray into the Hollow Earth make for some interesting (and appreciably gross!) character designs, but so much sympathetic backstory for King Kong doesn’t feel really necessary. When the two monsters do briefly team up to take down an enemy, it’s theoretically exciting but so brief as to lack real impact. In one of the trailers for the film “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” Watanabe’s character had said of Godzilla and the other Titans, “Let them fight.” The best parts of “Godzilla vs. Kong” are when the movie lets the titular pair do just that; otherwise, there are too many humans here slowing down what should have been a straightforwardly satisfying story of action mayhem.

‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ is playing in theaters and is available on HBO Max for 30 days for no additional cost for subscribers.

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