Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 10, 2021

Godzilla vs. Kong is a winning CGI spectacle — just don’t think about it too much

By SOPHIA LIN | April 9, 2021

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TOM SIMPSON/CC BY-NC 2.0

Pictured is an image from the 1962 film King Kong vs. Godzilla.

If you like massive CGI fights, a touch of sci-fi and almost non-stop action, then you’ve come to the right place. And you might not be alone, either. In the first five days of the theatrical release of the hugely-anticipated blockbuster Godzilla vs. Kong, its box office hit a record-setting $48.5 million, making it the biggest opening for a film since the start of the pandemic.

Part of the hype comes from its place in the MonsterVerse franchise, as the fourth installment and the sequel to both Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Kong: Skull Island. This is all not to mention the fact that a showdown of epic proportions between two iconic titans — and CGI wonders of equally epic proportions — is something of a draw, to say the least.

The bare-bones story behind the mythical monster mash is relatively simplistic. Kong and his caretakers, along with an orphaned girl who possesses the sole ability to communicate with him, embark on a journey to find his true home. As they traverse across the globe, Godzilla is on their trail — and hungry for blood. All the while, however, nothing is quite as it seems.

The film's beginning does a skillful job of weaving in exposition while keeping the story moving. We first find Kong relaxing in what appears to be his home, Skull Island — until he throws a tree into the sky. It shatters the illusion, revealing that he’s surrounded by a biodome manned by scientist and “Kong Whisperer” Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall). Her adopted daughter is a young orphan, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who communicates via sign language. The problem with their present arrangement is that Kong can’t stay enclosed forever, yet he must be protected from Godzilla.

With no time to lose, a second storyline is subsequently added to the mix. Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), who can only be described as a spunky, jittery podcaster, is in the midst of investigating the technology giant Apex Cybernetics. While he’s there, Godzilla launches an attack on the industrial compound, leading him to theorize about the corporation’s sinister doings on his latest podcast.

As it turns out, following another segue, his podcasting is obsessively consumed by a high school student named Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown). Plotting a scheme of her own, she ropes in her disgruntled friend Josh (Julian Dennison), and the two set off.

In one last transition, we’re introduced to Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård), a geologist turned disillusioned professor. After being approached by Apex Cybernetics to lead a mission into Hollow Earth, his area of research, Nathan agrees and kicks off Kong’s journey to Antarctica.

If you’re starting to — quite reasonably — get a little dizzy with all the seemingly-unrelated characters, well, there are more supporting characters to come. But hang in there, because things start getting easier to follow. Nathan, Ilene and Jia eventually form a team to transport Kong. Meanwhile, Bernie, Madison and Josh come together to get to the bottom of Apex Cybernetics’ plan.

These two plotlines intercut with one another make for an engaging watch, skillfully adding an extra layer of intrigue and forcing you to wonder exactly how they’ll end up piecing together. But the multitude of characters, while enabling for these fast-paced storylines, soon becomes a detriment to the film.

To start, the sheer amount of them results in each character lacking any sort of depth, making it near impossible to be emotionally invested in the movie’s characters. Pitifully little time is spent developing their backstories; the best we get is a few sentences about Jia’s past and Nathan staring at a photo of his brother. Distinct personalities and perspectives are also close to absent, and there are undeniably points in time when the characters feel like agents carrying out what is required of them in the plot.

More problems arise with the plot points themselves. The film gets pretty out there with what’s possible, walking a thin line between absurdity and the believable sort of fantasy that science fiction does best. Where it really gets bad, though, is the number of conveniently-occurring happenings that the plot hinges on. The ending isn’t any better, as it’s almost amusingly predictable, complete with a deus ex machina.

Though it assuredly has its strengths, a stellar cast and excellent pacing among them, flaws evidently run rampant in Godzilla vs. Kong. At the end of the day, what you think of it depends on what you have in mind. For those looking for a thought-provoking, well-written film that will stick with you, it’ll be a long two hours. But for the rest looking for a visually stunning sci-fi romp to make for an easy escape from reality, it most certainly won’t disappoint.

And to that end, it’s precisely the promise of these staggering special effects on the big screen, perhaps coupled with surround sound explosions, that’s making audiences flock back to theaters. Just this alone makes it a victory for the film industry, providing a much-needed sign that it has made it through the brunt of the pandemic semi-intact. Now, with Godzilla vs. Kong's opening weekend in the books, it looks like good times are ahead — for both tentpole releases and for Hollywood. 

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