For me, seeing Warner Bros. "Monsterverse" come to life has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. The original movie from 2014 by Gareth Edwards is one of my favourite monster films of all time, and I often grab the opportunity to defend it against its critics. It's intense, well put together, excitedly paced and most importantly, presented a menacingly new portrayal of the titular titan.
Conversely, the follow-up, 2019's Godzilla: King of the Monsters is arguably one of the worst monster movies I've ever seen, trading any sort of narrative depth for completely inane character development, while the action itself seemed poorly choreographed and unevenly constructed. It was a train wreck, and a big one.
So, the stakes are high now, with the first phase of this universe coming to a head with Godzilla vs. Kong, where these two iconic beings must go up against one another, anchored against a human backdrop with a cast consisting Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall and Kyle Chandler.
Particularly in King of the Monsters, it was the human element that let the film down, giving us a jumbled, overexposed and downright silly plot about eco-terrorism, and while this does directly link to the events of the previous film, it's much more forgiving in this particular regard. Trust me, there's bad dialogue here, and overwrought exposition to boot, but director Adam Wingard takes a lot less time to realise that what we're exclusively here to see is Kong and Godzilla beating each other up.
But for the sake of it, let's summarise the plot. So, Godzilla has turned from a saviour and protector of the human race to its adversary, and without any real explanation why. With the world still reeling after the giant battle between Godzilla and Ghidorah, the organisation Monarch goes after the one shot they have at either calming or taking down this rampant alpha predator - Kong. And so they fight, and that's pretty much it.
Sure, geologist Skarsgård and anthropological linguist Hall are trying to understand Godzilla's rampancy, and Millie Bobby Brown once again gives a rather mediocre performance as Madison Russell, but overall, and again, Wingard understands we're not there to see these humans mingle, and so their general involvement has been cut down a tad. They're still there - sadly, but they're... less there.
Hall and Skargård do give off pleasant performances though, and they are the film's central anchors, so it's not a terribly acted piece overall. But it does seem like the movie understands what it wants to be, and focuses its attention on Kong, who comes off as a more well-rounded character than any of his human counterparts, which is equal parts impressive... and depressing.
And so they fight, almost exclusively, for two hours. And how tremendous fights they are. Unlike King of the Monsters, Wingard has more command of his craft, his positioning and his pacing, and so the various bouts between the two are extremely tightly choreographed and exquisitely framed.
It looks good too, with pretty detailed CG animation all-round, but with a slightly larger frame, there's room for both spectacle and a more neatly positioned boxing match. There's even some pretty thoughtful use of colour and contrast to make sure that we understand the scale, and it never seems to run out of ideas to make the fights refreshing.
In some way, it is still a shame to see Wingard surrender completely to B-movie thrills. Most fans, and critics it seems, are thrilled to see Godzilla vs. Kong self-identify as nothing but pulp, but to me, Godzilla from 2014 does prove that you can make a menacing monster movie, with a slightly overindulged self-serious plot, without being complete nonsense. All of that is missing here, as the movie leans more heavily into a wrestling match, with some unwanted noise surrounding it.
But, with all that said and done, Godzilla vs. Kong is a return to form for the franchise, and, at the very least, proof that Warner Bros. can make thrilling monster mash-ups. How the future looks for the Monsterverse is hard to say, but this conclusion is, if nothing else, entertaining.