Spectacular smackdowns salvage ridiculous 'Godzilla vs. Kong' remake
"Godzilla vs. Kong" - ★ ★ ½
I am guessing that if viewers watch "Godzilla vs. Kong" on HBO Max instead of at theaters, many might be tempted to fast-forward through reams of expository technobabble, convoluted mythologies and strained replications of human emotions until they get to the good stuff: two titan creatures monster-mashing entire cities as they square off to see which one reigns as the boss beastie.
In this corner: Godzilla, king of the monsters, once played by a man in a rubber suit, now a slickly computer-animated predator emulating the fluid, menacing movements of the T-Rex from "Jurassic Park."
In the other corner: a king named Kong, now practically the size of the Empire State Building he climbed in 1933.
When these gargantuan gladiators finally get it on, "Godzilla vs. Kong" comes to spectacularly believable, Surround-Sound life -- the best reason to see it on the big screen -- unaware their brutal body slams serve as a warm-up to an even greater clash of the titans featuring a guest star from vintage 1970s Godzilla movies.
For reasons later revealed, experiments by a corrupt Apex company CEO (a delightfully devilish Demián Bichir) incite Godzilla to destroy an Apex base, killing eight people.
Meanwhile, Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), working for a monster research group called Monarch, has adopted a girl named Jia (an adorable debut by young Kaylee Hottle), a deaf orphan from Skull Island.
Ilene becomes miffed when she discovers Jia has secretly taught Kong sign language, forming a bond that serves them well during rough times ahead.
The story takes a strange Jules Verne twist when Apex hires a dull geologist (Alexander Skarsgård) to locate and enter a not-so-mythic Hollow Earth with a sedated Kong in tow.
Some welcome humor arrives in a rebel Apex engineer (Brian Tyree Henry) who espouses nutty conspiracy theories on his podcast, faithfully followed by Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), daughter of Kyle Chandler's barely glimpsed deputy director at Monarch.
A monster movie it may be, but "Godzilla vs. Kong" (a remake of 1963's cheesy "King Kong vs. Godzilla") hardly qualifies as horror.
Director Adam Wingard (who gave us the serviceable home invasion thriller "You're Next") leaps from one action set-piece to the next, uninterested in creating real scares or tension. He botches a single moment of genuine suspense when Godzilla stands on an exhausted Kong's hairy chest, and is about to hit him with a fatal blast of radioactive halitosis. But then ...
Did Godzilla simply forget he was in a fierce smackdown to the death?
Could be. After all, he possesses a disproportionately tiny dinosaur brain.
That would make this the movie's most realistic element.
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Starring: Alexander Skarsgard, Rebecca Hall, Demián Bichir, Brian Tyree Henry, Millie Bobby Brown
Directed by: Adam Wingard
Other: A Warner Bros. release. In theaters and on HBO Max. Rated PG-13 for language, violence. 113 minutes