Director: Adam Wingard
Stars: Millie Bobby Brown, Demián Bichir, Brian Tyree Henry
As far back as a candid 2014 interview with The Dissolve, Adam Wingard expressed his ambitions. Having garnered attention for two of the decade’s most purely enjoyable genre flicks (You’re Next and The Guest), Wingard openly admitted he didn’t want to remain at the same level, but hoped to springboard from project to project, forever upward toward bigger projects. The kind Spielberg would make.
Those two movies led quickly to the third Blair Witch for Lionsgate – his first effort for an established franchise – and then a poorly received adaptation of Death Note for Netflix. These two may have lacked the spark of his earlier salvos, but they set Wingard on exactly the path he wanted (and, for the record, his Blair Witch wasn’t half bad). Now, just a few years later, here he is at the helm of a big, dumb, fun action picture, colliding two iconic franchise assets for our popcorn quaffing glee.
One wishes he’d reunite with former scribe Simon Barrett. The script here peddles out an awful lot of codswallop exposition early doors, making for a stilted first act, but at least it gets the majority of its loopy sci-fi jargon out of the way with haste The gist is this: Kong is grumpy and Godzilla is stroppy. Supposedly, two ‘apex titans’ coexisting like this can’t bare the thought of one another and will inevitably come to blows over which is the ultimate alpha – and all humankind is at risk of becoming collateral damage. It gets goofier.
Dr Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) has a wild theory that the Earth is hollow, with another planet inside it, and that this is the birthplace of these giant creatures. Billionaire philanthropist Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir) gives him carte blanche to build a flying robot mole so that they can burrow/glide down to the planet’s core – luring Kong along with the – in the hopes that this will somehow quell the two riled-up monsters. Elsewhere, we have Millie Bobby Brown as van-driving podcast-listening teen Madison Russell seeking to assist conspiracy-theorist podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry). That kid from Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Deadpool 2 (Julian Dennison) tags along for the ride. This unlikely threesome discover… well… that would be telling….
There are some signs of the Wingard of old here (especially in a couple of the music cues), but largely he seems to have been consumed by his monsters. Godzilla vs Kong is a sturdy iteration of the standard Hollywood disasterpiece. He avoids the self-serious dreariness of Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla. Nor does he tip too far into the profoundly inane, as per Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island. Caught in the middle, Wingard makes sure his movie is pretty handsome, but it lacks a strong, defining sense of character in its own right. Safety play, however understandable, rarely generates genuine surprise. Still, Hollow Earth is a pretty cool place.
Gigantic CG spectacle is a tricky business. Wingard sets up plenty of creative shots in an effort to keep things fresh (the two titular champs exchanging blows on the deck of an aircraft carrier is pretty nifty), but too often his signature moments are over too quickly, or rendered numbing by the consistent noise surrounding them.
Trickier still is mounting a movie in which the human elements don’t feel monumentally dwarfed by such pyrotechnics. Positioning two wide-eyed teens as front-runners in this respect rings true with Wingard’s previously admitted Spielbergian ambitions. See also a deaf little girl, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who is able to communicate with Kong through sign. But, as is often the case in movies like this, everyone is a little too disparate, a little too fragmented. Jia aside, they lack connection with the film’s over-sized antagonists. And with each other. Of late, the only director who has understood the importance of this element in the mix seems to have been Guillermo del Toro with Pacific Rim.
Wingard isn’t quite as successful, but Pacific Rim might be the nearest and neatest comparison for Godzilla vs Kong. Both embrace their inevitable cheesiness and appreciate that the kids are among the key demographics that need to be pleased. On a design front, there’s also a similar enjoyment of sci-fi neons at play here, especially once the story starts rocketing toward the centre of the Earth.
Speaking of speeding, Godzilla vs Kong does absolutely hurtle along. It may be colossal nonsense, but its fast and pretty and loud and colourful. And, when it comes to tent-pole escapism such as this, maybe that’s all you really need?
While I’d like to see Wingard return to smaller, scrappier pictures, that’s clearly not the path he’s on. Rumours that he’ll hurtle from this to a live-action ThunderCats movie are growing more solid by the day. So be it. If he can find a way to bring more of that bygone personality back into his big budget efforts, he might present us with some real winners on the journey to come. While this one has game, its ultimately a bit of a draw.