Certain iconic characters get rebooted so often, it can be difficult to keep up. We’ve had at least a dozen Batmans and just as many Supermans. The same can be said for Godzilla and King Kong. Kong is the older of the two, with film appearances dating back to 1933. Godzilla came later in 1954 and both have undergone numerous changes to their looks and backstories on the way to becoming pop culture mainstays. When Legendary Entertainment created their MonsterVerse in 2014, they decided to press reset yet again. At that point, American audiences likely recalled Roland Emmerich’s 1998 “Godzilla” and Peter Jackson’s 2005 “King Kong,” reboots themselves, as the freshest versions of each monster. But Legendary took them in an entirely new and shared direction.
They actually have fought on screen before, back in 1962. Please do yourself the favor of watching the trailer for this delightful relic. It is hilarious and wonderful. But back to the present. The conceit of the MonsterVerse is that Kong and Godzilla are part of an ancient group of giant Titans who share an alternate version of Earth with us tiny humans. Their solo movies did a good job of establishing that mythology and setting up the conflict to come. They also set our expectations high for expensive creature effects and a truly staggering level of municipal destruction. We’re long past the days of guys in ill-fitting costumes stomping around on model houses, and Legendary Entertainment is getting the absolute most out of 21st century computer generation. The MonsterVerse movies look incredible, and “Godzilla vs. Kong” is no exception. The easiest thing to get wrong in this kind of film is scale, and that visual error happens very rarely in this one. Both mega-beasts fit the environment in a way that feels pretty consistent and, in spite of everything else, believable.
Believability is a core issue with stories like this. I’m not referring to plausibility on the macro level. Everyone who sees “Godzilla vs. Kong” has already pre-accepted a temporary reality that includes skyscraper-sized god animals. I mean the micro level. For outlandish stories like this work, they must establish rules and remain true to their own internal logic. Creaky plot contrivances, ridiculous coincidences and rushed resolutions can strain such delicate architecture. “Godzilla vs. Kong” suffers from these sins occasionally, particularly as the script relates to its humans. The regular-sized characters spend so much time trying to explain and romanticize the motivations of the Titans, they forget to make themselves very interesting, let alone coherent. But they’re not really the point anyway. It’s the big boys we’ve come to see and when they go at it, it’s an absolute blast. I won’t spoil things by telling you who wins or confirming the name of the other famous behemoth who enters the fray. I’ll just say that over their handful of brilliantly choreographed set pieces, Kong and Godzilla brawl with a muscular, world-breaking ferocity that was almost too big for my brain to handle. It’s that physically potent. The Hong Kong title fight, in particular, is a feast of utter urban decimation. I loved every single punch of it. It did occur to me at one point that there must be thousands of humans dying way down on the ground during all of this, but the movie wasn’t dwelling on it so why should I? They’re just people.
There’s something to be said for getting exactly what you are promised. “Godzilla vs. Kong” definitely delivers on its premise and its ambitions. It’s a technical spectacle worthy of our times, and just the sort of old-fashioned escapism we’ve all been craving.