[Screen It]


(2021) (Rebecca Hall, Alexander Skarsgard) (PG-13)

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Sci-Fi/Action: Two gargantuan monsters battle it out as humans try to develop a weapon to kill one of them.

Following the events of 2017's "Kong: Skull Island'' and 2019's "Godzilla: King of the Monsters," King Kong and Godzilla are the last two known Titans on Earth. The great ape is being held in an immense containment facility on Skull Island -- where his only friend is deaf orphan girl Jia (KAYLEE HOTTLE) -- and that's for his protection from Godzilla whose whereabouts are unknown. That is, until he attacks a Florida facility owned by Apex Cybernetics.

Having previously seen Godzilla in action, teenager Madison Russell (MILLIE BOBBY BROWN) is certain the big lizard wouldn't attack such a place without reason, although her father, Dr. Mark Russell (KYLE CHANDLER), a specialist at the top-secret research organization Monarch, isn't so sure. A follower of Apex Cybernetics engineer Bernie Hayes' (BRIAN TYREE HENRY) conspiracy theory podcast, Madison convinces her friend Josh Valentine (JULIAN DENNISON) to help her find Bernie and prove her belief correct.

A figure who knows what's going on is Apex Cybernetics CEO Walter Simmons (DEMIÁN BICHIR). He wants to enlist Monarch geologist Dr. Nathan Lind (ALEXANDER SKARSGÅRD) to help him find a power source in what's known as Hollow Earth -- the center of the planet and the place from where it's believed Kong and Godzilla originated -- to be used in a weapon -- created and controlled by Chief Technology Officer Ren Serizawa (SHUN OGURI) -- he believes can defeat Godzilla. But he needs Nathan to convince "Kong whisperer" Dr. Ilene Andrews (REBECCA HALL) to agree to transport Kong from Skull Island to Antarctica to enter a portal to Hollow Earth and then lead them to that power source.

With Walter's adult daughter, Maya (EIZA GONZÁLEZ), tagging along to make sure everything goes as planned, Nathan and Ilene begin to move Kong and prepare for a trip into Hollow Earth. But with Godzilla sensing Kong's presence once again, all bets are off as the two titans go toe-to-toe in a series of epic-scale battles.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10

If there ever was a target viewer for the early 1960s offering "King Kong vs. Godzilla," it was yours truly. After all, and after having seen the original "King Kong" on TV, I had every book on the movie and became obsessed with stop-motion animation (which led me to special effects legend Ray Harryhausen who cut his teeth working on the Kong spin-off "Mighty Joe Young" before going on to do amazing work in other stop-motion classics).

At the same time, the very first movie I asked to see in theaters was 1972's "Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster" when I was 8-years-old. I loved every minute of it, although I'm sure my dad (my mom and sister opted out from tagging along) likely had to keep the eye-rolling and sighing under control.

And yet when I finally had the chance to see these two movie monsters battle it out (on TV, years after its initial release, because, well, I'm old and there was no other way at the time but to wait), I was disappointed. Part of that stemmed from the fact that Kong was obviously now an actor in a not particularly convincing rubber suit (to match Godzilla's visual effects mode). But the biggest issue was the tampering with the sizes of the monsters in that Kong (originally in the 50-foot tall or so range) was now as big as his counterpart.

The reason was obvious, as otherwise the battle would have lasted about as long as the cartoon short "Bambi vs. Godzilla" in that the Japanese phenomenon, at nearly 10 times the height, could easily stomp or kick the ape aside when not choosing to incinerate him with his atomic heat beam breath. Nonetheless, the film was a big hit in Japan and kept the Godzilla franchise going.

All of which has eventually led us to the rematch -- but not a remake of the original film -- between the two behemoths that serves as the fourth installment of Legendary's MonsterVerse (that began in 2014 with "Godzilla," followed by "Kong: Skull Island" and "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" several years later). And with Kong already super-sized in his latest debut (but apparently growing a bit since then), the size discrepancy has been put to rest. So, to quote boxing and professional wrestling ring announcer Michael Buffer before many a bout, "Let's get ready to ruuuuuuuummmmmbulllllll."

In that regard, director Adam Wingard's film delivers in spades. If you're hankering for two monster legends of the big screen in a battle royale amongst skyscrapers (natch) and even out at sea among large Navy vessels, then you're going to love what's offered up in the slightly less than two-hour flick. Alas, some of what screenwriters Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein have had to come up with filler between the bouts -- which is to be expected since even well staged and executed non-stop battling and large-scale destruction would get old and repetitive after a while -- isn't as fun.

That said, the moments featuring Rebecca Hall as the "Kong whisperer" and young Kaylee Hottle (who's terrific) as deaf orphan Jia work best in giving the film some much-needed humanity, at least in terms of human grounding and connection. Surprisingly, the latter is most prevalent in the relationship between the girl and the ape that definitely tugs on the old heartstrings from time to time, with both displaying more character depth than pretty much anyone else. Not that the rest are given much to do beyond being cogs in the overall storyline, while a common bond and sense of past loss among them is barely touched upon, let alone explored.

Granted, one doesn't expect much in the way of that sort of thing in a movie featuring several hundred-foot-tall monsters battling it out, although Kong is given some opportunities for viewers to feel for him. Godzilla, on the other hand, is pretty much one-dimensional, meaning only his diehard fans will be rooting for him. That said, another character from the truly campy later Godzilla flicks of old shows up and at least gives the titular figure some redeeming third act moments.

As to be expected, tech work is solid all around, with the effects being, well, a lot more special than they were back in my childhood days. Nothing great but fun to watch during the battle royale moments and definitely a step up (and proportionally corrected) from their earlier cinematic encounter more than half a century ago, "Godzilla vs. Kong" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed March 27, 2021 / Posted March 31, 2021

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