What to Watch Verdict
Godzilla vs. Kong is a confident city-smasher that may slight its human characters like most Monsterverse entries, but succeeds in royally rumbling with the utmost mayhem.
🐒 Pops with color
🐒 Heavier lean into outrageous fantasy elements
🐒 The Godzilla and Kong fights are headliners
🦖 Humans are afterthoughts
🦖 Becomes reliant on stereotypical arcs
🦖 Not for those who want more than advertised
As Warner Brothers’ Monsterverse reaches Godzilla vs Kong, it's evident that lessons learned on past Kaiju brawlers influenced Adam Wingard’s vision. Those thirsting for Sour Patch color palettes and "monkey fights lizard" smash ‘n bash mayhem, you’re in luck. Godzilla vs Kong steps above Godzilla: King of Monsters in terms of titanic main events, albeit still lacking the human character development of Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island or the inferiority-inspiring perspective of Gareth Edwards' Godzilla. Metropolitan skylines crumble, gargantuan creatures go round-for-round, and it’s all rather exciting as two legendary monsters earn their accolades as pandemonium occurs underfoot. Wingard’s heavier lean into Vogt-Roberts’ usage of vibrant production design makes a world of difference and embraces the zanier sci-fi elements of industrial egotism as we’ve now reached the apex (heh) of Monsterverse narratives — where man foolishly intervenes worse than ever.
At this point in franchise continuity, Kaijus have been living amongst humanity for years. Kong remains on Skull Island but within a holographic enclosure under close observation by Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her caretaking team. Godzilla lurks underwater depths but rises to attack an Apex Cybernetics facility, which Titan Truth Podcast host Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) labels a conspiracy. In any case, a rise in Godzilla attacks sets plans in motion to use Kong as a defender of our people—Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) embarks on a mission to the theorized birthplace of all Titans, Hollow Earth, with Kong. Godzilla intervenes, fighting commences on land and at sea, yet these apparent enemies may not be who we should fear the most once Apex’s whiskey-sipping chief operator Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir) and daughter Maya (Eiza González) trade scientific intentions for secretive motivations.
Like most Monsterverse entries, Godzilla vs Kong sufferers from its slighter handling of fleshy characters (expectedly). We’re not here because of Nathan Lind’s obsessive novelization of Hollow Earth hypotheses or Madison Russell’s (Millie Bobby Brown) team-up with a podcaster who washes in bleach and tag-along buddy Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison). That said, Kong: Skull Island proves filmmakers needn't sacrifice human development so Kong can swing an energy-boosted battle axe. I look towards Maya’s stereotypically seedy glare or Walter’s only defining trait being a glass of liquor in his hand, which Demián Bichir does swirl with a certain slickness. Still, even that’s a tired maybe-villain, maybe-misunderstood businessman trope. While I enjoy new additions like Brian Tyree Henry’s conspiracy advocate who’s thrust into the most fantastical of his ramblings, Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein’s screenplay insufficiently establishes smaller-scale stakes which might not matter to some audiences—it’s just hard to grasp certain momentous turns with such little time invested in plenty of new credited additions.
That said, Wingard capitalizes on glorious set pieces that mean to distract audiences with awe-struck excitement until the following out-of-this-universe altercation. Godzilla vs Kong douses Hong Kong in neon-noir lighting that paints a third-act battleground like something pop-futuristic and optically engaging. Blackened nightscapes play against flamingo-pink building outlines and Godzilla’s bluish atomic heat beam—Cretatious era beatdowns meet cyberpunk decorations. That comes after Kong and Godzilla fight on aircraft carriers or submerged underwater in another spectacle duke-it-out where the two claw, strike and grapple while vessels explode under their immeasurable weight. For someone who’s “Team Kong,” Wingard serves humbling and touching moments between beast and rescued child (deaf child actress Kaylee Hottle plays Skull Island orphan Jia who can sign with Kong), but doesn’t make this a one-sided battle once ‘Zilla snarls in-frame. Godzilla vs Kong executes the crossover elements of Kong and Godzilla’s tonal collision with maximum impact, emphasizing both stylistic and thunderous fight sequences that are worth entrance fees.
Wingard releases any “grounded” resemblances as hovercrafts defy gravitational reversals that should crush fantastical vehicles like soda cans or Godzilla pulse-blasts a hole straight through China to Hollow Earth. Godzilla vs Kong plays more like an adventure than a pay-per-view heavyweight bout since Kong’s relationship with Jia — E.T. finger boopin’ and all — brings compassion into the fold more so than we’ve yet seen in the Monsterverse. Alexander Skarsgård does his best to portray a “sci-fi quack trading in fringe physics” but of course Skarsgård comes across as a “studly geologist” (also Skarsgård learned to sign because he wanted to communicate with Hottle on-set [non-sarcastic “daw”]). Rebecca Hall and Hottle share a maternal bond throughout that becomes the beating heart of Godzilla vs Kong, so maybe I should pump the breaks on blanket character development complaints — but more service in this area could have gone a tremendous way. Or more Bichir sippin’, because Wingard's midnight movie appreciation blossoms in these goofier but expressive moments.
That said, no character is failed more than Ren Serizawa (Shun Oguri), Apex’s Chief Technology Officer. Since this isn’t a spoiler review, I can’t delve any deeper, but no other arc screams shortchanged investment—let’s reconsider after y’all have streamed this one on HBO Max.
Godzilla vs Kong is the smashy-flashy Kaiju throwdown that’s meant for massive theater screens and neverending tubs of buttered popcorn. That’s not a commentary on our current times, just a proficient descriptor of the blockbuster continent redecorator that does precisely what Monsterverse movies do best — lets them fight. Citywide wreckage is off-the-charts as two mighty kings throw their dazzling digital weights around in a pleasurable variety of locations while puny humans can do nothing but gaze in terror and wonder. Kong wields gigantic ancient weapons, Godzilla’s menace reaches new heights, and while more time could — maybe should — have been spent empowering ant-sized characters beyond fundamental subgenre roles, Godzilla vs Kong still makes a seismic impact in terms of no-holds-barred animalistic action that looks pretty darn impressive in terms of computer-generated chaos.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.