“Godzilla vs. Kong,” directed by low-budget horror specialist Adam Wingard (“You’re Next,” “Blair Witch”), cost $200 million (more than all of his previous movies combined), and Wingard simply isn’t up to the task.
The film’s plot, a beastly mishmash of borrowings, cribbings and ho-hum inside jokes, is really about the futility of attempting something different in the form — it’s the fourth feature in Universal’s erratic MonsterVerse series — when audiences are used to seeing their favorite Japanese monsters look a certain way and knock down model cityscapes.
Kong is the last non-human survivor of a massive storm that destroyed Skull Island and wiped out its entire human population save for a deaf-mute girl named Lia (Kaylee Hottle, who is really hearing-impaired), who uses sign language to communicate with Kong. Meanwhile, Godzilla inexplicably surfaces in Florida and stomps Apex, an impressive A.I. installation run by the movie’s villain Walter Simmonds (Demian Bechir), into bricks and slivers. You know he’s the villain because he wears a dinner jacket and drinks wine during his experiments. It doesn’t make much sense, but then almost nothing does in this movie.
Why has Godzilla, after becoming a friend of Man, chosen this moment to revert to killing-machine mode? Can he be stopped? The answer, of course, is yes, by bringing Kong and Godzilla together to finish what one character calls “their ancient rivalry.” The monsters clash at sea, and we end up with 113 minutes of deafening roars, amplified punches and ear-splitting blasts of shattered glass and concrete.
The picture is noisy when it means to be exciting and the choppy structure has very little payoff. “Godzilla,” “Kong: Skull Island” and “Godzilla, King of the Monsters” were vivid, entertaining examples of elaborate digital effects. In the years since actors in rubber suits leveled Tokyo in 1960s Japanese sci-fi epics, technology has advanced, but the basic visual language of the genre remains the same. Gargantuan monsters rampaging in our world, mass destruction and the invincible power of nature are guaranteed to impress audiences. And Wingard does, from time to time, but without summoning the deeper primordial fears or the wondrous spectacle a movie like this can supply that might make “Godzilla vs. Kong” something more than a throwaway exercise.
Dr. Lind (Alexander Skaarsgard) wrote a book about Hollow Earth, a gravitational rabbit hole in Antarctica where Kong is deposited. What Lind expects to find on this journey isn’t clear, but it’s enough to bring Lia and Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), known as “The Kong Whisperer.” They attract Simmonds’ sexy daughter Maia (Eiza Gonzalez), who may have her own motives. In a parallel plot, three conspiracy nuts led by Millie Bobby Brown set out to expose corporate evils at Apex; their discovery provides the film’s only real surprise. The humans lack personality and the filmmaking is too crude to make you care about what happens to them, even though Lind’s Hollow Earth evokes a sense of wonder the rest of this disappointing but briskly paced movie badly needs.