Someone at Warner Bros. needs to learn the value of taking time. Since the halcyon (and pre-published) days of the Wizarding World, the studio has demonstrated a tendency to rush their franchises. Despite 2014’s superb “Godzilla” and 2017’s impressive “Kong: Skull Island,” the subsequent installments, 2019’s “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” and now Godzilla vs. Kong suffer from the same problem as the DC Extended Universe: Rushing to cram in too much, which leads to most elements being underdeveloped.
It may seem strange to complain about the plot of a film that is built around gigantic monsters fighting. But the principal flaw of Godzilla vs. Kong is an excess of plot, resulting in a film that feels flabby despite being under two hours long. The flab is noticeable early on because holes in the narrative rapidly appear. Despite becoming King of the Monsters at the end of, well, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” his Immense Radioactiveness Godzilla leaves humanity alone. That is until he attacks tech company Apex’s facility in Pensacola, Florida, because he knows they are up to no good, somehow. Lacking titan intuition, the audience must rely on the wisdom of conspiracy podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry, “Widows”), a somewhat loopy employee of Apex. He tells us, and Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown, reprising her role from “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”) that something is afoot at Apex. Godzilla’s attack sets up the least interesting narrative strand as Madison, her friend Joshua Valentine (Julian Dennison, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”) and Bernie investigate the goings-on of Apex.
With Apex filling the role of shadowy organization, the no-longer shadowy organization Monarch, the common element throughout this franchise (MonarchVerse? No, that sounds silly) which documents the titans has Kong inadequately contained on Skull Island, because otherwise he and Godzilla would fight and that isn’t nice. That is until Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård, “The Kill Team”) explains to Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall, “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women”) that Kong can lead humanity to an almighty power source found deep in the Hollow Earth, because that’s a thing. Cue a king-sized (geddit?) operation to shift the big ape to the Hollow Earth’s front door.
These disparate plot lines do converge, but director Adam Wingard’s management of them is cumbersome at best, especially as the final act rushes to a pair of anticlimaxes without suspense or build-up. This clumsiness highlights why this film is a mess — it is too much too soon. Much like “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” the different threads of Godzilla vs. Kong could have been expanded into three separate movies. A measured build-up to a climactic battle between Fuzzy and Scaly (as no one is calling them); a measured exploration of the Hollow Earth thread rather than it just being a thing; and the other part which we won’t spoil but does include a namecheck that could induce eye-rolls as easily as air punches. More care and attention across three films could have built up the cinematic universe and the interconnections of the various titans and locations. Instead, we get one overstuffed movie that rushes through its plot beats and set pieces, all of which lack impact.
The human characters are thinly drawn, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but could have been solved by focusing on the plot line that most involves the monsters. A perilous voyage across the sea that must avoid the world’s largest oceanic predator (no, not “The Meg,” keep up) could have been tense and gripping, perhaps exploring the futility of humanity in the face of nature’s indifference (paging Gareth Edwards, we miss you!). Instead, Godzilla vs. Kong exacerbates the problem that affects all entries in this franchise to varying degrees: Overexplanation. Godzilla will come for Kong, who bows to no one, and they have an ancient rivalry, because reasons. Slimy executive Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir, “The Nun”) knows things about power, technology and taking crazy risks, because of course he does. Sometimes, less is more.
When the film actually focuses on the titular titans, which is what we came for, we do get some monster for our moolah. Kong is charmingly rendered, and his interaction with Jia (Kaylee Hottle) is genuinely affecting and recalls the touching interactions that previous iterations had with Fay Wray and Naomi Watts. More of this could have given the film greater emotional heft. Meanwhile, Godzilla is certainly there, but pretty much as an overdone menace with the grandeur and awe that he inspired in 2014 largely lost. A major mistake is anthropomorphizing the two beasts too much: A wicked smile at one point and a nod at another make them too relatable. Monsters are at their most monstrous and impressive when they are other, unknowable and beyond us. Wingard thankfully removes the excessive rain of “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” allowing us to at least see the eponymous creature confrontation. In this regard, Godzilla vs. Kong does at least deliver on space, scale and impact, with the humans usefully integrated into the monster mash. Plus, the film shows further potential for the MonsterVerse. It just would have been nice to take a bit more time getting there.