It’s the rematch of the ages as two of cinema’s most iconic monsters clash once again. It’s been five years since Godzilla defeated Ghidorah, proving himself the Alpha Titan and King of the Monsters and keeping a relative peace among the giants of Earth. Kong, now grown to even greater size, has been kept in a Monarch facility on Skull Island in an attempt to prevent the two from clashing, as Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), the leading expert on the giant ape, has found evidence suggesting a rivalry between the two species of Titan. With Jia (Kaylee Hottle), a deaf child and last of the Iwi tribe of Skull Island who Kong has a bond with, they just want what’s best for him.
When Godzilla resurfaces for the first time in years, and actually attacks humans for the first time in this film universe while rampaging at a facility belonging to the tech corporation Apex Cybernetics, the CEO Walter Simmons (Demian Bichir) recruits Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) to lead an expedition to the Hollow Earth, the subterranean world that Titans possibly originate from. Convinced that they need a Titan to guide them, he convinces Andrews to allow them to take Kong, setting the stage for a clash of kings. But there’s more going on behind the King of the Monsters’ sudden attack, and as Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) and her friend Josh (Julian Dennison) team up with conspiracy theorist Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), they discover that there’s a bigger threat than the showdown between Godzilla and Kong.
The plot is a simple one, like many classic kaiju movies: the human story reacts to the monster story, and ends up pushing the monster story forward. What we end up with a fun adventure that’s easy to follow and moves at a great pace. The actors turn in some great performances, with Brian Tyree Henry stealing the show with his mix of humor and paranoia, to say nothing of Millie Bobby Brown’s continued rise as an actress and the brilliant breakout role for deaf child actress Kaylee Hottle. The music is suitably epic, although when stacked up against the soundtrack from Godzilla: King of the Monsters, it can feel like Junkie XL isn’t a good substitute for Bear McCreary. The cinematography is some of the best for the Monsterverse, showcasing the locations like the Pacific ocean, Honk Kong and the new Hollow Earth in beautiful ways, and often bringing the camera right up to the action with sweeping moves that show the scale but also allows the monster stars to actually get some great character acting and facial emotion.
Speaking of the monsters, much like the rest of the Monsterverse, the real stars are Godzilla and Kong. Whether it’s a challenging roar, a glare, or even a smile or respectful look, director Adam Wingard manages to give both icons a lot of personality that makes you get behind them. Kong does seem to get a little more focus in the plot, but given that Godzilla’s behavior is part of the story’s mystery, it makes sense. And when the two fight, it is an absolute joy to witness, especially for fans of these two legendary characters. And while there is a definitive winner in their rivalry, neither monster gets to look better or worse than the other, which is great as sometimes in these sorts of crossovers one runs the risk of shortchanging any of the characters and disappointing those who have a favorite. In fact, the final fight of the movie is my favorite final fight of any movie to have come out in the last year. Like the rest of the movie, it is so awesome and fun that I actually came back to watch a second time.
If this is the final film for the Monsterverse (with Warner Bros’ license agreement with Toho for Godzilla ending with this movie), it’s a spectacular one to go out on. Like the rest of the films in this series, it has its own unique identity, and is one of the most fun flicks you could enjoy, be it on the big screen in a safe environment, or through its limited streaming run on HBOMax.
Reviewer streamed the movie through HBOMax at release