Full disclosure: I saw Godzilla Vs. Kong in the movie theater and I fell asleep for a few minutes in the second half. I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss anything important, but who knows? I think the fact that I was able to fall asleep in such a loud, action-packed movie says quite a bit about the movie, actually. But maybe I missed something that would have changed my opinion. Maybe.
In any case, as the headline of this post suggests, I was not a fan of Godzilla Vs. Kong. I didn’t much care for Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, either, though I did find Kong: Skull Island to be quite fun. Weirdly, both Godzilla Vs. Kong and Kong: Skull Island have the same Rotten Tomatoes score—a fresh 75%. That makes no sense to me.
While Kong: Skull Island had a pretty focused, engaging story with plenty of action and some top-notch performances, Godzilla Vs. Kong is a total disaster of a movie, with chaotic pacing, too many characters and too much going on from one moment to the next while, paradoxically, nothing really happens. But if I had to pinpoint the film’s biggest problem I would say it’s this:
This is a movie with tons of plot and very little story.
Now, people have discussed plot vs story before, in many different ways. I’ve heard story described as the timeline of events, with plot being the way those events are structured to make sense. E.M. Forester makes this distinction in his collected essays, Aspects of the Novel:
‘The king died and then the queen died’ is a story. ‘The king died, and then the queen died of grief’ is a plot.”
That’s perhaps the most famous example of the difference between story and plot. I would like to offer up a slightly different distinction. I think I would say “The king died and then the queen died and this is why it matters” is the story. A good story and plot work together to tell us “The king died from poisoning and then the queen died when she was killed by mistake, drinking from a poisoned cup and we should care because revenge is a dangerous business that can make even a noble-minded prince do terrible things.”
Plot is the skeleton that gives story shape. Story, on the other hand, is the heart—it’s the why. A story should convey meaning. Stories make us think and feel things. The plot may get us from point A to point B, but the story helps us understand why it matters.
The excellent movie Saving Mr. Banks helps us understand that Mary Poppins was never a story about a nanny saving the children, it was a story of a nanny saving their father who was a proxy for author Pamela Travers’s own father, who died of alcohol abuse. The plot of Mary Poppins is how that film is strung together; the story is not merely a timeline of events, but the deeper meaning behind those events. Mr. Banks is not the same man by the end of the film, thanks to Mary Poppins helping show him what truly matters.
Godzilla Vs. Kong has loads of plot. Godzilla destroys a big research facility for a giant, nefarious corporation. They decide to take Kong to a magic tunnel that leads to the Hollow Earth—a magical realm at the center of the planet where the Titans come from. Godzilla and Kong want to fight each other because of reasons. The bad corporation is building Mechazilla so they can stand a fighting chance against these monsters. Millie Bobby Brown and her sidekicks do some ridiculous sleuth work.
But who cares? What is the point of this story? Frankly, the bad guys look like good guys to me. Godzilla and Kong duke it out in the middle of a bustling metropolis. Surely countless thousands die as they wreak havoc on everyone. Maybe creating a robot that we can control to stop these Titans is a good idea (like basically the entire premise of Pacific Rim). I’m still not sure why or how Mechazilla gains sentience immediately and turns on his creators. That all happens so fast it’s barely explored.
The rivalry between Godzilla and Kong is also just kind of stupid. It’s stupid in the same way that Batman vs Superman was stupid. You’re just supposed to sort of accept that they’re going to fight one another at every opportunity and then, in the end, when they realize their common enemy is Mechazilla, they join forces. Is that the point of the story?
Millie Bobby Brown’s character, Madison Russell, and her two pals Bernie and Josh, have the most pointless story in this pointless film. Madison and Josh listen to Bernie’s podcast which is all about Apex Cybernetics—the corporation building Mechazilla—and through their crazy awesome detective skills they track him down in like four minutes. Somehow nobody at Apex has discovered who this guy is despite his rather distinct voice, but Kid Geniuses figure it instantly. Then they’re able to basically get all over the world, breaking into Apex’s facilities with ease, discovering Mechazilla and ultimately helping out in the big fight at the end. But was any of that even remotely necessary? The only thing this subplot achieves is showing us Mechazilla, but the movie could have done this simply by showing scenes with the “bad guys” and saved us all twenty or thirty minutes of ridiculous, boring nonsense.
The Hollow Earth bit was better, partly because I genuinely like Kong and the relationship he has with the little girl, Jia. But my god what a waste of potential. A whole movie could be made about Hollow Earth and its monstrous denizens and weird, sloping horizons. But they race in and race out as fast as possible.
This bit was also marred by some deeply stupid character choices. Maia Simmons, daughter of Apex CEO Walter Simmons, is tasked with finding the energy source that fuels Godzilla. Once they find this, she gets into an argument with the two scientists—Nathan Lind and Ilene Andrews—who just now realize they’ve been taken for suckers. Instead of just saying “too bad, now let’s go” she has her goons point their guns at Andrews, Lind and Jia. Clearly, Kong is not happy about this and her and her men. I’m not sure what she thought would happen.
This is a movie very much in the same vein as Jurassic Park. It’s a movie about technology and hubris and how pride cometh before the fall. But where Jurassic Park was economical in its storytelling and featured a small cast of characters, Godzilla Vs. Kong is a globe-trotting epic with an outsized cast and a deeply silly script. Jurassic Park was actually suspenseful; Godzilla Vs. Kong is just tedious. And the story of greed and hubris that leads to the Jurassic Park’s downfall is never too on-the-nose. Unlike the mustache-twirling villainy of Walter Simmons, Hammond is a likable man and an optimist. His vision for Jurassic Park is almost quaint, and certainly born out of a genuine desire to create wonder and awe. His hubris is not malicious and Hammond feels like a real human being because of it. Meanwhile, Nedry is motivated by pure greed. He doesn’t mean to let the dinosaurs out of their cages, but his actions have unintended consequences. Greed and stupidity make for a dangerous combination.
Jurassic Park is a story about these various real people with real flaws and shortcomings, some of whom rise to the occasion and use their courage and wits to overcome long odds. Godzilla Vs. Kong is a story about . . . what exactly? Monsters destroying Hong Kong and we’re supposed to think that the real bad guy is Apex Cybertronics for trying to stop them?
There are some good monster vs monster scenes, of course, and the special effects are phenomenal. But special effects only go so far these days. Big fight scenes can’t make up for the rest of the movie’s problems.
Godzilla Vs. Kong is too long, too boring and I just don’t care about 99% of the characters. If this had been a movie about Jia and Kong it would have been a thousand times more enjoyable. The reason Bumblebee is the best Transformers movie is exactly because it does just that, stripping away all the other crap and focusing on characters. It’s the story of a girl and her robot rather than just another massive epic sci-fi action movie with lots of explosions. Even action movies about giant robots should have characters we care about and a compelling story. Or, if that’s not going to happen, why not just make a fun movie about monsters fighting? Why drag it down with so much plot, so many characters, so much crap we don’t care about and jokes that never quite land?
I liked the new Mortal Kombat movie despite it having a pretty bad story precisely because I feel like it leaned into the combat and video game silliness in a fun way. The story barely matters in a movie like that. If Godzilla Vs. Kong had just leaned into the fun and cut back on all the setup and pointless side stories, I might have liked it better. If it had the focus of Kong: Skull Island I would have liked it better.
Alas, it’s a bloated mess from start to finish and I could care less who lives or dies. Really, other than Kong and Jia every other character could have died and I wouldn’t have cared one single iota. Good riddance.
2/5 diablos. Not nearly as diabolical as one would hope from a monster movie.
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