In 2014, Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures rebooted the Godzilla franchise. They made a bold decision to put indie breakout director Gareth Edwards behind the lens. (He had only one feature under his belt, Monsters, which was a sci-fi/alien invasion film he made for about half a million.)
In contrast to the 1998 big budget and truly dire “Godzilla,” this one was a darker, more serious movie in which the titular Kaiju wasn’t even seen that much. In fact, the screenplay, written by Max Borenstein, focuses on two scientist characters, the Brodys — played by Juliette Binoche and Bryan Cranston — who don’t even make it through half of the film. Bold, indeed. But it worked, and the movie made money — about half a billion dollars — and the franchise was officially launched.
With a plan in place, the studios next released “Kong: Skull Island” (2017), which, you guessed it, introduced us to King Kong. But instead of setting this in modern time, writers Dan Gilroy and Borenstein, again, got nostalgic, taking us back to right after the Vietnam War. Bigger stars, and interestingly more Marvel actors (in “Godzilla,” Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson play husband and wife; in Marvel, they were brother and sister — Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver; in “Kong,” the main characters are played by Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, and Samuel L. Jackson, who play Captain Marvel, Loki, and Nick Fury) took the lead. Again, an indie filmmaker, Jordan Vogt-Roberts (“Kings of Summer”), stepped behind the camera, and again, the movie made about half a billion.
Like clockwork, two years later, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” appeared. This time the director, also an indie guy, Michael Dougherty (“Krampus”; “Trick ‘r Treat”), pulled double duty by also co-writing (with Zach Shields) the script. He probably was tasked with this, because he had written big budget action films before: “X2: X-Men United,” “Superman Returns,” and “X-Men: Apocalypse”). Unlike the first two films in the Kaiju series, “King of the Monsters” was a veritable bouillabaisse of Kaiju: Godzilla was joined by Mothra, a giant moth; King Ghidorah, a three-headed dragon-like creature; Rodan, a volcano-dwelling pterodactyl-like creature; Scylla, a giant squid/spider being; and the Muto, which made its appearance in Godzilla.
This was the first of the movies that I didn’t see upon release, but watched before the newest installment came to HBO Max, which is “Godzilla Vs King Kong.”
With all that foundation laid, let me knock it all down. When I saw Godzilla, I fell asleep. Yes. That happened. I kept waiting for Godzilla to show up, and got so mad after Cranston died, who was billed as the main star, that I checked out. I’ve since watched it a few times, but I’m still pretty meh about it. “Kong: Skull Island” is only slightly better. The characters are one-dimensional, yes, — Jackson’s character is like a cartoon villain; I can’t stand him — but it does have John C. Reilly’s strange character going for it, the scenery (shot in Hawaii and Vietnam) is gorgeous, and the fights with Kong and the Skullcrawlers are pretty exciting. “King of Monsters” is just horrendous. The screenplay tries to say something about the environment, but overall, it’s just a big monster smash up, which I guess, if that’s what you need, then it might make you happy. For me, it was too long; just too much energy to get through.
Now, for the absolute worst of the franchise: “Godzilla Vs. King Kong.” Borenstein is back as a writer with Eric Pearson joining in the fun; direction is handled by Adam Wingard, who is, yes, you got it, another quasi-indie horror director. (His filmography includes: “You’re Next,” “V/H/S,” “The Guest,” the “Blair Witch” reboot, and the American take on “Death Note.” All of these are largely horrible, by the way.) Why is “Godzilla Vs King Kong” a flaming can of garbage?
Let me count the ways: First, I don’t know why the powers-that-be let this soundtrack fly, but the first time you see Kong, you hear the cheesy Bobby Vinton song, “Over The Mountain, Across the Sea” playing. When I saw it, I said, out loud, “what is happening right now?” Including this song makes the film feel immediately like a parody. And, I guess that isn’t far off.
Second, the studio believed it was a good idea to include an “indigenous, deaf child” in the movie, who does nothing more than look cute and check off a diversity box. Note to studios: If you want to be inclusive, don’t include a disabled character as a side note. Don’t use it as a way to make the main character learn “a valuable lesson” and don’t use it as a prop, which is what’s happening here. If your disabled character does nothing significant — or realistically significant — don’t include it, because it looks like pandering; it’s insulting.
Third, the story. It is about the most ridiculous fever dream idea imaginable. The best way to experience how awful it is without having to watch it is to go to YouTube and look for the film’s title followed by “Pitch Meeting” or you can just go to Screen Rant’s YouTube channel, they have a ton of these “Pitch Meetings”, some of which are hilarious; some are meh. Ryan George nails this film. He’s 100% on the money.
Anyway, the film occurs in two disjointed parts: One involves a bumbling trio, comprised of the most annoying characters ever played by Millie Bobbie Brown, who was in “King of the Monsters”; Brian Tyree Henry, who plays a conspiracy theorist, and Julian Dennison, who … I guess is tagging along for comic value without providing any. (I hated the New Zealander in “Deadpool 2.” He’s not improving with age.) They are wandering around a large corporation, looking for clues. (Hint: They uncover a dastardly plot involving MechaGodzilla).
And there’s another group, played by Alexander Skarsgard, playing a “rogue” scientist; Rebecca Hall, playing Kong’s wrangler; Eiza Gonzalez, playing the daughter of an evil corporate bigwig; and Kaylee Hottle, the cute dimpled deaf indigenous child who has a “special bond with Kong.” They are all going into the “hollow Earth” with Kong to … I have no idea. Restore him to his throne? Because once he gets inside the planet, which somehow has a light source, he sits on a throne and picks up a glowing (radioactive) axe made from a creature he or one of his descendants defeated?
I’m going to be honest: Once Kong sat on that throne and raised the axe, I went to bed. I could not take anymore of this silliness. The next morning, I asked my partner, who somehow watched it to the end — even at less than two hours, he said it was a struggle — to explain what happened.
As he revealed the details, he kept saying “You made the right decision to stop watching.” I then watched the “Screen Rant/Pitch Meeting” and realized that that was probably the best way to watch this film. Just a bonafide disaster.
I know there is a lot of punching at the end, as to be expected, between Kong and Godzilla. There is also a time when Kong “dies” and they have to revive him in maybe the most ludicrous way imaginable. Then they join forces to defeat Mecha Godzilla. But really, who cares? If you read interviews with Wingard, you will realize that he had no business being put in charge. In interviews, he said that he was excited to make this film “fun,” which I guess means shockingly unwatchable. Apparently, he thought of Godzilla as the pro-wrestling character The Undertaker, and King Kong as John McClane from “Die Hard.” You can’t make this stuff up.
Will this continue? Well, consider that in Japan, they have made more Godzilla films than I can count — they even made a “Godzilla V Kong” film, AND a “Kong vs Mecha Kong” film. I’m sad to say, I endured them both — and they have showed no signs of stopping.
Someone, somewhere will love this film. It will be someone’s favorite film. I shudder to think that, but it’s true. So, even though this should put the radioactive axe in the Kaiju reboot experience, it probably won’t. As long as known actors keep signing on, and the films keep making money, they won’t stop. But they should.
If I had to rank these films, I would say “Kong: Skull Island” is the best, then “Godzilla,” followed by “King of the Monsters,” and then this flaming trashcan filled with used diapers, half eaten bags of pork rinds, and half consumed cans of Coors Lite mixed with gasoline and turpentine.
Thank you, Adam Wingard, you have officially destroyed not one but two Kaiju franchises. Gareth Edwards is probably sticking a thousand pins into a doll that looks like you; as I’m sure is Peter Jackson, who took such care to revive Kong. Sigh. Hollywood, sometimes you make me so tired.