I’ve been a Godzilla fan for (literally) as long as I can remember; watching the Showa-era Godzilla movies (1954-1975) on TV as a kid, collecting the toys, model kits and enjoying the later Heisei and Millennium-era Godzilla movies (1984-2004) as soon as I could buy them on video or catch them in theaters. I even attended the Hollywood premiere of “Godzilla: Tokyo SOS” in 2004. More recently I caught a theatrical presentation of 2016’s “Shin Godzilla” for a one-night only screening at a local theater. Of course, I’ve also seen the 1998 Roland Emmerich “Godzilla” (not a fan) as well as the newer American-made G-films (2014-present). I’m not throwing this out there to tout any special Godzilla credentials; my opinions on the Godzilla movies are no more or less valid than those of a casual fan. The only difference is that I’m old enough to see a very familiar pattern that keeps repeating; each new series of G-films begins very earnestly, and then quickly evolves (or devolves, depending on one’s taste) into colorful, increasingly silly spectacle.
The original 1954 “Gojira” (before it was heavily re-cut into “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” for American consumption) was a morose meditation on the dangers of the atomic bomb. Made by filmmaker Ishiro Honda a mere nine years after the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the movie is truly devastating at times (a tearful mother promising her two huddled children they’ll soon join their dead father as Gojira rampages…). Watched without the obtrusive Raymond Burr-framing footage added to the American version, the movie is a monster movie classic on a par with the original “Frankenstein” or “Dracula,” but with the added horror of real-world relevance. I’ve had the privilege of seeing the original uncut “Gojira” at the NuArt Theatre in LA back for the franchise’s 50th anniversary in 2004, and it was a powerful experience. This would be the only time the Godzilla series would ever be so hard-hitting. For its raw power and post-Hiroshima horror, “Gojira” stands alone in the Godzilla movie canon.
Following that first film, Godzilla would be seen duking it out with giant moths, giant lobsters, robot doppelgängers and other silly creatures as a “guardian of the Earth.” The film that stood on the cusp between atomic-horror and child-friendly entertainment was 1962’s “King Kong vs. Godzilla,” which (coincidentally) was also the first Godzilla film to be shot in both color and widescreen. Clearly Toho Studios sought to expand its “Godzilla” audience. It’s no surprise that each new batch of Godzilla movies, including the latest American relaunch series, has gone on a similar trajectory to broaden their appeal. After Gareth Edwards’ 2014 nuclear energy allegory of “Godzilla” proved successful, Legendary Pictures & Warner Bros would test the waters with a slightly less impactful tale regarding the dangers of climate change with “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (2019). That sequel, along with the 2017 “King Kong” reboot, “Kong: Skull Island,” would usher in a united, Marvel universe-style series of keiju-eiga (‘giant monster’) movies that would become increasingly lightweight as well…
*****GIANT MONSTER SPOILERS AHEAD!!*****
“Godzilla vs. King Kong” (2021).
Director Adam Wingard (“Death Note”) continues to loosen the belt of the new American Godzilla franchise, following writer/director’s colorful monster extravaganza “King of the Monsters” (2019). This latest entry begins as a de facto sequel to “Kong: Skull Island” (2017) as well, with the giant ape penned up in a jumbo-sized holodeck dome by the Monarch group, to keep the world safe from the simian’s unchecked strength and to keep it safe from detection by other ‘titans’ as well (namely Godzilla, who’s still at large).
Note: “Monarch” is the Legendary Pictures’ Godzilla franchise’s answer to the Heisei Godzilla series’ (1984-1995) “G-Force”, which was an international organization designed to keep the giant lizard in check. For Legendary’s multi-monster crossovers, Monarch is tasked with reigning in all of the ancient, giant “titans” which could easily dominate this alternate Earth.
Kong is fully aware that he’s in an artificial enclosure (he’s no dummy), and he grows a bit restless (piercing his artificial ceiling with an improvised javelin). His anger is mitigated through his friendship with a hearing impaired little girl from Skull Island named Jia (Kaylee Hottle, in a terrific performance). Jia faithfully brings Kong little gifts, and has even secretly (shhh!) learned to converse with the huge ape in sign language, much like the real life gorilla, Koko (1971-2018).
Note: Many Japanese keiju-eiga (giant monster) movies feature a special child who has a special connection to the creature, either psychically or with empathy. This was seen very acutely in the Gamera movies, as well as the Heisei and Millennium Godzilla films as well. The child is usually an audience avatar who reflects the widening youthful audiences of most successful keiju-eiga film franchises. So to those who balk at the presence of young Jia as a “Mary Sue” in this film? I would remind them that such a character is, in fact, a staple of the subgenre.
The orphan Jia has since been adopted by Monarch scientist Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), who is almost envious of the easy, intuitive bond between her adopted daughter and the object of her research. Jia seems to leapfrog over the labored analyses of the Monarch scientists who are tasked with taking care of Kong in his holodeck-habitat.
Note: Rebecca Hall was excellent in the real-life story, “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” (2017). A real-life biopic of William Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman, who enjoyed a boundary-pushing ménage à trois relationship with his wife and mistress.
Meanwhile, over at the Pensacola, Florida facility of the worldwide Apex Cybernetics Corporation, low-level company engineer and conspiracy-theory podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) provides the engine for the movie’s comic relief. Bernie is trying to unravel the big “Hollow Earth” mystery project that his company is pouring money and manpower into. Sneaking into a section of the lab, he tries accessing computers for which he’s not authorized before Godzilla comes ashore and ruins everyone’s day by targeting a suspiciously specific rampage against Apex’ Pensacola facility. Bernie makes it out alive, but chronicles his up-close and personal encounter with Godzilla for his podcast, which reaches the ears of Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), the plucky teenaged protagonist from the previous movie. Madison’s mother Emma (Vera Farmiga) was the disgraced Monarch researcher who seemingly aided and abetted the monsters in their last assault five years earlier, while her father Mark (Kyle Chandler) is still a key member at Monarch. The Russell family lost a young son to Godzilla in his first appearance, so you could say they’re somewhat personally motivated in their work.
Note: Millie Bobby Brown, is also (of course) the young star of Netflix’s wildly popular “Stranger Things” where she plays former lab subject-turned-liberated teenage superhero “Eleven.”
Madison and her nerdy friend Josh, aka “Tap Water” (Julian Dennison, of “Deadpool 2”) seek out conspiracy podcaster Bernie under the assumption that he’s the real deal, after all. Tracking him down by his sanitation habits (he bathes with mass quantities of bleach), they located the reclusive Bernie and agree to join him on his Quixotic quest to get to the bottom of the great mystery project that drew Godzilla to raid Apex’s facility at Pensacola.
Note: The character of Bernie has one foot in the past (the time-honored role of Godzilla movie comic-relief) and the present (his obsession with government conspiracies). The original 1962 “King Kong vs. Godzilla” was, in fact, the first to feature an overt comic relief character. With his refusal to drink tap water, bathing in bleach and other ridiculous fits of paranoia, Bernie fits right into the modern cultural zeitgeist. Unfortunately, after January 6th’s ugly far-right coup attempt on the US Capitol (based on deliberately false information perpetrated by then-president Trump) conspiracy theorists don’t quite look as harmless or silly as they did in the 1990s with “The X-Files.” That said, Brian Tyree Henry gives the character a lot of charm and humor, easily nabbing the best lines of the movie.
Sneaking into the devastated aftermath of the Pensacola Apex facility a bit too easily (this isn’t “Ocean’s Eleven”–it’s a G-flick) the newly formed Scooby gang ride an elevator down to ‘level 33,’ where Bernie noticed a hunk of hidden tech right before Godzilla’s attack. Taking his two teen believers there, they quickly discover the mystery tech has been moved to Apex headquarters in Hong Kong. Their next decision is one of those things you only see in movies, as the trio smuggle themselves into a large cargo container destined for Hong Kong…
Note: Once again, I can practically hear eyes everywhere rolling at the admittedly ridiculous implausibility of the trio’s sneaking into a top secret facility and smuggling themselves into a cargo container for a (presumably) long voyage to Hong Kong (without passports, money, food, etc). Think of this sequel as slightly weightier than a Spy Kids movie, and you’ll get its tone. Once again—you are watching a movie about a giant ape about to brawl with a radioactive dinosaur which breathes blue energy beams. In for a penny, in for a pound…
Meanwhile, the shady head of Apex Cybernetics, Walter Simmons (Demian Bichir, doing his best Bond villain audition) seeks to recruit disgraced scientist/author Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard). At Simmons’ side is Ren Serizawa (Shun Oguri), the son of the late Japanese scientist who gave his life reactivating a dormant Godzilla with a nuclear weapon in the previous film. Simmons and Serizawa believe Nathan’s crackpot theories about a habitable layer between the Earth and its core, which may be the birthplace of the titans. Simmons is specifically interested in a theoretical power source of near-infinite energy believed by Nathan to be located in this “Hollow Earth.” When Nathan asks how Simmons intends to reach Hollow Earth through the gravitational shearing, Simmons tells him they’ve got it covered with the invention of special HEAV vehicles which can withstand the magnetic forces between our Earth and Hollow Earth. This new ‘journey to the center of the Earth’ will be more like traversing a spacetime wormhole than falling down an infinite well.
Note: Serizawa, both Ren and his father Daisuke, were named after the tormented, eyepatch-wearing Oppenheimer-like scientist of the original “Gojira” (1954), played by Akihiko Harata. The original Serizawa was caught in a love triangle between the film’s hero Hideto Ogata (Akira Takarada) and Emiko Yamane (Momoko Kochi). Like the character in 2019’s “King of the Monsters,” the original Dr. Serizawa also sacrificed himself to save the day, but instead of reviving Gojira, the first Serizawa used his deadly “oxygen destroyer” to kill the creature. 1954’s Serizawa chose to die with his creation to ensure that the secret of his awesome weapon would die with him. As I said earlier, 1954’s “Gojira” was a very different kind of movie.
With Kong sedated and chained onto the deck of a massive aircraft carrier for a journey to Hollow Earth via the North Pole, Nathan gets his first real look at the giant ape and is awed by the sheer scale of the creature. Nathan is then met by Simmons’ daughter and on-site corporate executive, Maya (Eiza Gonzales) and realizes she is every bit as ruthless as her old man. Maya only cares about one thing—reaching the Hollow Earth and nabbing the energy source for her dad’s top secret project. Maya has all the corporate boardroom brawler cliches; power suit, arrogance, sunglasses, haughtiness, etc.
Note: Yes, Maya is a walking-talking corporate cliche, but the human characters in most Godzilla movies tend to be simply drawn stereotypes (nerd, scientist, military guy, hunter, etc) anyway. Anyone expecting “The Big Chill” with dinosaurs will be woefully disappointed.
Meanwhile, the sedated Kong is forced to live in heavy iron restraints on the deck of the aircraft carrier. The poor animal is able to pluck fish from the ocean in order to sustain itself, and it can sit up and lie down, but little else (I don’t even want to imagine how they deal with his waste disposal issues). The crew is desperate to get him to the North Pole, where it’s hoped he can reconnect with the ‘lost world’ beneath the Earth’s crust and find a new home.
Note: While the film’s CGI visual effects look a bit too colorful and unrealistic at times, the expressiveness of the new Kong’s face is truly remarkable. The CGI ape’s ability to convey emotion is orders of magnitude better than the stupid-looking frozen grimace on the patchy Kong suit worn in both the original 1962 Toho film as well as its sequel, “King Kong Escapes” (1967), which this new film borrows elements from as well (see: supplemental info below this column).
As the journey dredges on, a miserable Kong is exposed to the elements as rain pours down upon him. Jia empathizes with the large ape and goes onto the deck to reassure him that it’s going to be okay. She begins to sign to him, and much to the surprise of Ilene and the officers on watch, the giant ape responds to her in perfect sign language as well. Jia has made the breakthrough that her adoptive mother and team have thus far failed to achieve—communication. Jia touches the ape’s giant forefinger and returns inside of the ship. Ilene then confronts her adopted daughter on why she failed to mention her ability to communicate with Kong. With a shrug, Jia simply explains that Kong wanted to keep their communications a secret.
Note: Of course, apes learning sign language has precedent, both in real life and cinematically. The ‘talking gorilla’ Koko (1971-2018) learned sign language, and demonstrated that the great apes are indeed, very intelligent and feel all the same emotions as human beings (something that is plainly obvious to most animal lovers). Sign language usage was also seen throughout the rebooted “Planet of the Apes” movies, beginning with 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” and ending with 2017’s “War for the Planet of the Apes.” Even as a longtime fan of the original POTA movies (and 1974 TV series), I can safely say that the rebooted trilogy was far better than the sequels that followed the original “Planet of the Apes” (1968).
Before long, ship’s klaxons go off as an incoming object is detected on sonar. Although the ships in the escort fleet tried to stay clear of known Godzilla travel routes, Ilene knew that transporting a titan might very well attract the attention of another titan, and it has—Godzilla. Despite proving himself as a ‘guardian of the Earth’ in the last movie, the big G is no longer trusted following his ‘inexplicable’ attack on the Apex Cybernetics facility in Pensacola. The ships in the fleet assume a hostile posture and begin firing their weapons at the massive, seafaring reptile…
Note: You’d think after the countless rounds of ammunition wasted on Godzilla, humanity would realize that conventional weapons simply don’t work on the creature. As the Japanese films of the Millennium series deduced, Godzilla is capable of “super regenerative” abilities; its outer skin is like a constantly replenishing biological armor. Godzilla’s jagged spine breaching the surface of the ocean also reminds me of the menacing shark fins seen in the JAWS movies.
The sequence that follows sees the two titans slugging it out, with the cold-blooded, atomic fire-breathing dragon seemingly at an advantage over the warm-blooded ape. Released from his shackles to defend his human friends, Kong throws his all into the combat. Taking their battle onto the deck of the carrier, the humans inside the ship are tossed about like so many pennies in a kid’s piggy bank. Realizing that his human friends are in danger, Kong realizes that he can forfeit by ‘playing dead,’ thus allowing the reptilian titan to believe he’s won the battle. One problem remains, however; Godzilla is also attracted to the energy signature of the ship itself—it too, will have to ‘play dead’ in order for Godzilla to ignore it.
The captain of the carrier agrees to Ilene and Nathan’s plan to cut the ship’s power signature and play dead. It works. Godzilla swims away, as Kong feigns unconsciousness on the deck. Realizing they can’t risk turning the ship’s engines back on without attracting Godzilla for Round 2, Nathan asks Ilene if Kong would mind air travel instead…
Soon, Kong is seen cradled in a large net, which is suspended by a fleet of massive transport helicopters. They soon arrive at the North Pole, near the site where Apex and Monarch have partnered to create their gateway to the Hollow Earth between our planet’s crust and core. Kong is released from the large net and his furry body is soon frosted with snow. Jia is encouraged by Ilene to sign Kong and tell him that it’s believed the portal he’s facing might lead him “home” to others of his “family.” That bit of encouragement does the trick, and the giant ape thrusts himself into the portal, with several HEAV vehicles powered up in pursuit. Jia, Ilene, Nathan and Maya are onboard one of the HEAVs.
Note: The image of Kong being flown by helicopters to the North Pole is right out of 1967’s “King Kong Escapes” when both biological Kong and his mechanical opponent MechaKong are flown by helicopters to mine for a rare substance beneath the ice. While the rare energy source is slightly different in the new film (and in a different location), the idea of using Kong to help the bad guys find it is identical. In both films, the energetic new element gives off a blue glow as well.
Kong manages to breach the Earth’s crust, withstanding both the intense gravitational stresses as well as the null gravity zone penetrating the two worlds. Objects suspend in this zone, and will either fall upward or downward, depending on how they’re pushed. Once Kong and the three HEAVs get their bearings, danger is afoot as Kong immediately battles large, winged serpentine creatures, relishing the freedom of open air combat again, as he enjoyed on Skull Island. Everywhere around them, the rocks give off an eerie blue glow from beneath their outer layers…this is the mysterious energy source that Maya has come for—everything else to her, including Kong and the Monarch team, are expendable.
Note: The movie’s wildly fantastical conceit of a “hollow Earth” actually has its roots in sci-fi fantasy, with Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” (1864); a story which imagined a hollow, habitable prehistoric world at the Earth’s core. Such a premise is even more ridiculous when we see that inner-world bathed in bright sunlight (!). While geology, mining, magnetic field measurements and ground radar imaging have long debunked any such fanciful notion ages ago, the movie’s conceit does have lineage in 19th century science fiction, however ridiculous it seems today. True, “Godzilla vs. Kong” is not going to win any points for accurate geological science, any more than the producers of Star Wars will win a NASA contract to build X-wing fighter fleets. You either buy it for the movie’s sake, or you don’t.
Soon, Kong finds giant stone temple of some kind, with the large image of a hand etched into its outer wall. Placing his hand onto the etching, the wall begins to move, and the giant ape forces it the rest of the way… leading him into a massive stony throne room apparently built to his dimensions. It’s here where Kong truly is King. Kong also finds a large battle axe with a glowing tip powered by the same energy source everywhere within Hollow Earth. Kong gleefully uses to axe to slay a couple of flying serpents, which he delights in eating, much to the group’s disgust. With all eyes on Kong, Maya’s eyes are on the prized energy source …
Note: Kong’s battle axe is very similar to Thor’s hammer in both mythology as well as the Marvel comics and films: it’s both a weapon and an amplifier of the wielder’s own power. This is a smart addition to the Legendary “Titan” cinematic universe, since both the 1962 original movie and this film’s battle on the aircraft carrier proved that Kong needs some kind of weapon to wield against the atomic fire-breath of Godzilla. An ape fighting an atomic dragon, no matter their relative scale, would probably be more than a bit lopsided.
At Apex headquarters in Hong Kong, both Simmons and Serizawa have hit a dead end with their new ‘top-secret’ project—a giant robotic doppelgänger of Godzilla soon dubbed MechaGodzilla (in keeping with the tradition of keiju-eiga mechanical monster counterparts). In tests, the mechanical monster’s laser weaponry and other devices seem to work, but they lack the power necessary for sustained operation. Simmons hopes that the anticipated discovery of a new power source within Hollow Earth will solve the giant robot’s energy consumption issues…
Note: Mechagodzilla was also known as “Kiryu” in the Heisei and Millennium Godzilla movies, from 1992’s “Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II” through 2003’s “Tokyo SOS.”
Gifted with his father’s genius, Serizawa has also found a new way to pilot the robot using DNA neural interfaces housed inside the giant skull of the slain King Ghidora, the menacing, three-headed dragon Godzilla only narrowly defeated in the last film. After carefully exiting their newly arrived cargo container, Bernie, Madison and Josh discover Mechagodzilla (confirming Bernie’s greatest fears) as well as an entranced Serizawa, working the neural interface to Mechagodzilla from within the severed skull of King Ghidora. While Serizawa is hooked into the neural interface, he is unable to see or hear anyone outside of his link to the robot, thus he is unaware that he is being watched.
Note: Yeah, I know… there’s no logical reason why the neural interface has to be housed inside of a skull from one of Ghidora’s heads, except that it looks cool—like something out of a high-end 1990s video game arcade. That said, the idea of using dead monster DNA to assist the artificial intelligence of MechaGodzilla was an idea first used in 2002’s Millennium-era “Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla.” Predictably, this had the same result it does in this film, as the dead monster DNA causes the robot to function independently of a human driver, wreaking havoc upon humanity.
Things get a lot more complicated very quickly as Godzilla, sensing the energy signature of the robotic titan, comes ashore in Hong Kong. The rumbling of the behemoth dinosaur’s arrival is so intense that it causes vibrations felt in Hollow Earth. Quickly surmising what’s happening, Maya quickly transmits the scans of the energy source to Apex Cybernetics HQ, where she hopes her father’s team can quickly replicate it in Hong Kong to activate Mechagodzilla and use it to destroy the real Godzilla. Not giving too flaming farts for her Monarch comrades, she commandeers the HEAV for herself before Ilene, Nathan and Jia realize what she’s done. She doesn’t get very far, however, as Kong sees the fleeing HEAV and crushes it within his giant hand. Jia then signs for Kong to help them.
Note: Yeah, you knew Maya wasn’t going to last long, right?
Godzilla raises hell in Hong Kong, trashing the city’s modern neon-drenched skyscrapers like the proverbial bull in the china shop. This is what Godzilla fans used to live for—the rampage of Godzilla trashing an iconic city, whether it’s Tokyo in the countless Japanese Toho films, or New York in 1998’s ill-fated “Godzilla” reboot.
Note: Godzilla trashing cities are what audiences pay to see. Some of the Godzilla “suitmation” films (where the monsters are guys in rubber suits) sometimes saved money on expensive miniatures by having Godzilla fight his opponents in open fields somewhere on a remote tropical island or a remote Japanese island, like Hokkaido. Certainly it was a lot less hassle to build miniature mountains with a generic cyclorama sky backdrop than it was to build painstaking miniature cities which had to be perfectly demolished on the first take; if not, they had to rebuilt for subsequent takes. While I certainly appreciate the CGI cities and visuals of more recent Godzilla films, there was a certain primal satisfaction that came with seeing a guy in a rubber Godzilla suit trashing a detailed miniature city—almost a cathartic release.
Before Hong Kong takes too much of a beating, Godzilla is met by a furious Kong, wielding his battle axe from Hollow Earth. The two throw down, as Godzilla uses his furious atomic breath—only to have it redirected back to him via the reflective blade of Kong’s battle axe. Smart! The big ape is much smarter than he appears. As the battle rages on, Kong is flung hard into a building, and his massive heart begins to slow, as the combat takes its toll on the large primate…
Note: I appreciate Kong’s having a bit of ‘heart trouble’ during the battle; it reinforces the notion that, despite his strength, the giant ape is still mortal. This is a little detail often missed in keiju-eiga films, as creatures are seen surviving devastating attacks that would’ve easily killed anything biological (also looking at you, superhero movies…).
With Kong temporarily out of action, Godzilla is free to resume his rampage. Meanwhile at Apex HQ, Bernie, Madison and Josh are (finally) captured by the company’s seemingly incompetent security forces and brought before Mr. Simmons. Meanwhile, Serizawa has decoded the specs of the energy source transmitted to him by Maya before her, um… untimely demise. He quickly duplicates the power source (don’t ask—movie) and places a substitute of it into Mechagodzilla. He hooks himself back into the neural interface headgear and fires it up, but there is a problem; the giant cyborg rejects the user interface, sending electrical feedback into the connections, and electrocuting the helpless Serizawa. The rebellious DNA components of the interface were taken from Earth’s extraterrestrial foe, King Ghidora.
Note: This is the same scenario longtime Godzilla fans saw in 2002’s “Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla,” when the pilot’s interface to the G-Force built robot was overridden by the original 1954’s Gojira’s DNA, housed within the creature’s artificial brain. Once activated, Gojira’s ‘soul’ wanted revenge against the humans who sent its mortal coil to a watery grave in the 1954 original.
As Simmons meets with the three mischievous intruders in the control booth overlooking Mechagodzilla, he arrogantly speechifies (in the best Bond villain tradition) about the monstrous machine’s abilities just as it begins to move—it’s glowing red eyes trained on him. When Bernie and the kids gesture for Simmons to turn around, he realizes he’ll be joining his daughter in Hell very soon. The crap officially hits the fan as the rampaging Mechagodzilla is now fully activated and operating independently…
Bernie, Madison and Josh barely make it out of Apex HQ with their lives as the complex dissolves into pandemonium, following the escape of Mechagodzilla, who quickly seeks out Kong and Godzilla within the skyscrapers of Hong Kong. With Kong’s heartbeat continuing to ebb, Nathan comes up with a plan to jumpstart it back into working order with the help of some Apex tech. Placing the massive electrical generator onto Kong’s chest, they shock the primate’s heart back to life and he roars into action— still nursing one hell of a grudge against Godzilla. Not yet realizing that Mechagodzilla is on the scene, Kong soon gets up to speed, through Jia’s signing. Godzilla is now engaged in pitch battle against the mechanical monstrosity and Kong realizes he needs to assist his former dino-foe.
Note: Gotta hand it to the producers of this movie—keeping Mechagodzilla’s presence in the movie a secret for as long as they did was a minor miracle. Even the images of the new Mechagodzilla I’ve seen on searches were mostly fakes or fan art creations. Keeping such a big secret like that is a hell of an accomplishment in the internet era.
Kong jumps in and joins the Godzilla-Mechagodzilla fray, gleefully tearing the robot’s limbs and head off with renewed glee and vigor (and to think he just had his heart restarted, too). The two biological titans rid humanity of Apex’s pesky killing machine, with Kong holding the dead robot’s head like a trophy belt won in a boxing match.
Note: If I have any nits with the final battle, it would be that too much of the action is very dark and shadowy (or over-drenched in neon); so much so that it’s hard to make out specific action at times. Another nit is that Godzilla himself feels a bit underused, as the lion’s (or ape’s share) share of both screen time and audience sympathy is showered upon Kong. While I have nothing against the Kong character (the 1933 movie is a classic), Godzilla is my main draw, and I just wish we got to see a bit more of him, that’s all. He is the king of monsters, after all…
Realizing they have defeated their robotized enemy, Godzilla and Kong square off one last time; but instead of battling it out once again, the two alpha titans give each other a good loud roar, as a sign of mutual respect, before going their separate ways. Soon dawn breaks over Hong Kong as Godzilla returns to the open sea, and Kong returns to his new home in Hollow Earth.
Note: Having the two titans unite against MechaGodzilla, a somewhat well-guarded secret, was a nice way to skirt around the question of which titan would ‘win’ the titular matchup. Even the 1962 movie ended in something of a draw, despite rumors that the Japanese and American cuts featured alternate endings with one or the other monster ‘winning.’ I’ve seen both the Japanese and American cuts, and they each end the same way; a draw. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet—except my column, of course. Always believe that (tee-hee).
With the titans reaching an apparent detente, Bernie, Josh and Madison are reunited with Ilene, Jia, Nathan and Mark from Monarch. Soon, Kong is in a habitat very much like the large holodeck containment dome seen at the beginning of the film. Pulling back a bit, we realize that he is actually “home” at Hollow Earth, standing ready to assist his human friend Jia and her kind whenever needed.
Note: Have to say, I waited through the credits and was more than a bit surprised to learn that there was no post-credits coda as we saw in the previous Legendary Titan movies. No worries…post credits scenes are often overrated, anyway.
Mechagodzilla’s Earlier Models.
While arguably one of the worst-kept secrets on the internet, the addition of a new Mechagodzilla to “Godzilla vs. King Kong” makes for a nice way both to solve the titular titans’ rivalry as well as add a powerful new punch to the third act. This latest form of Mechagodzilla comes from a long assembly line of much mechanical monster doppelgängers. The first giant monster to receive the Mecha-clone treatment was, in fact, King Kong (not Godzilla) in the 1967 Japanese-American coproduction “King Kong Escapes” (aka “King Kong’s Counterattack”), which was an indirect sequel to 1962’s “King Kong vs. Godzilla.” Mechakong, the tireless robotic answer to organic Kong, was built to mine a rare energy source in the North Pole for the nefarious rulers of a fictional country (who are now the Apex Corporation in the new film).
Coproduced by the team of Rankin/Bass (yes, the same guys who made the stop-motion Christmas movies), the movie features American actors Rhodes Reason (stage name much?) as “Commander Nelson” and Linda Jo Miller as the Faye Wray-esque “Lt. Susan Miller.” In addition to the a giant robotic ape for Kong to destroy atop a tall radio tower in Japan (much like the Empire State Building in the 1933 “King Kong”), the movie also featured the T-Rexish “Gorosaurus” and a giant sea snake as other foes for Kong. The scene of Mechakong being flown into the North Pole by a fleet of choppers to mine for a rare atomic energy source are directly referenced in the new movie. The energy source hidden in the ice of the North Pole is also referenced, as the greedy Apex corporation also seeks a similar new power source from “Hollow Earth” (Kong’s home), accessed through a wormhole like conduit beneath the North Pole.
Note: “Star Wars” fans might also appreciate the cool hover car (aka “air car”) driven by Commander Nelson in “King Kong Escapes,” which looks like a heavier, Studebaker-version of Luke Skywalker’s cooler convertible. Both vehicles remind me of the hover car driven by Soviet cosmonauts on Venus in the Russian space epic, “Planet Bur” (1962).
1974 would mark the first appearance of MechaGodzilla in, of course, “Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.” In its first appearance, we see what appears to be Godzilla trashing an Tokyo power plant. Emitting an unusual shrieking sound (not his signature trombone roar), the fires raging around Godzilla burn off his skin and reveal the mechanical monstrosity underneath. In both Showa-era Mechagodzilla movies, the mechanical robot had visible rivets all over its body as well as a rapidly rotating head that could be used a forcefield generator-weapon as well. In both films, Mechagodzilla was created by ape-like “black hole aliens” who sought to use the mechanical monster to conquer Earth. In the movies, Godzilla receives assistance from other keiju-eiga creations, including the mythical King Caesar (a bizarre, dog-eared creature that’s more silly than imposing) and the plesiosaur-like Titanosaurus, a long-necked semi-aquatic dinosaur.
The Heisei and Millennium series films would bring back Mechagodzilla in a major way, beginning with 1993’s “Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II.” The movie reimagined Mechagodzilla as a creation of G-Force, the agency tasked with studying and, if possible, neutralizing Godzilla. The robot combines with the G-Force vessel Garuda for a united attack against Godzilla and Rodan. Lots of colorful action, as well as the birth of Baby Godzilla, who becomes an important player in the Heisei series later on, eventually replacing its father when the legendary monster is killed in 1995’s Heisei-era swan song, “Godzilla vs. Destroyah”, one of the best Godzilla movies ever made (of any series) since the 1954 original, in my humble fan opinion.
“Godzilla against Mechagodzilla” (2002) is a film from which the current “Godzilla vs. Kong” borrows heavily; particularly the idea of fusing organic DNA within the Mechagodzilla robot, with predictably disastrous results. In the 2002 film, G-Force uses 1954 Godzilla’s recovered bones from the ocean floor in the robot’s creation. When the machine hears the cry of the current Godzilla, the organic DNA somehow overrides the robot’s pilot inputs, and it becomes sentient. Only by eliminating all of the original Godzilla’s DNA from the device does G-Force once again regain control of their robot. A rebuilt Mechagodzilla is used in the only direct sequel within the Millennium series, “Godzilla: Tokyo SOS” (2003), the immediate followup to “Godzilla against Mechagodzilla.” Now that the sleeker, more serpentine Mechagodzilla is part of the Legendary Godzilla canon, it would be interesting to see if some variant of the robot (or its technology) is used in a future sequel.
Summing It Up.
“Godzilla vs. Kong” is, like most movies in the Godzilla canon, a thoroughly watchable popcorn movie. While its story is not terribly innovative (more a rejiggering of elements from previous Toho movies), there is more than enough action, eye candy, humor and scientific preposterousness to keep one entertained. Yes, the human characters are easily overshadowed by the monster action, but this is a design flaw inherit in most Godzilla movies, almost from their inception—it’s certainly not unique to this film. Even Godzilla himself is a bit upstaged by Kong in the movie, which happens sometimes. It’s hardly the first time one of Godzilla’s opponents stole the spotlight. While not as solid as Michael Dougherty’s “King of the Monsters,” 2021’s “Godzilla vs. Kong” is a crowdpleaser keiju-eiga flick, neither more nor less. Take a good look at the posters, trailers and publicity materials for the movie and you’ll see that the film delivered exactly what it promised.
“Godzilla vs. Kong” can be currently streamed in HD via HBO Max (at no extra streaming charge) until April 30, 2021. To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current coronavirus pandemic. The current number of COVID-related deaths in the United States are around 549,000 as of this writing. Meanwhile, several vaccines have been developed and inoculations have began in earnest (I myself have just received my second shot of Moderna vaccine as of this writing), but it will take time for herd immunity. Even with vaccines, the overall situation is far from safe. Many questions remain regarding the coronavirus variants, or if vaccines fully prevent unwitting transmission from an asymptomatic carrier. So for the time being, please continue to practice social safe-distancing as often as you can, wear masks in public, and avoid overly crowded outings as much as possible. “Godzilla vs. Kong” is also playing theatrically, and many theaters promise COVID-safety for their screenings, but the CDC guidelines currently don’t advise indoor dining or indoor theaters, so please bear that in mind.
Take care and be safe.
3 Comments Add yours
Fantastic recap, as always. I appreciate your writing skill AND especially.. your humorous captions to the screenshots. I’m also grateful for the references to the older Godzilla movies, of which I’ve seen many. I watched every incarnation as a kid, as Godzilla took on the Smog Monster, and even flew through the air by holding his tail somehow. But I have missed the Millennium series and will now visit them thanks to you.
As for this movie, I loved the monster battles as well, especially the ocean fight, where Godzilla showed his fins like a shark, and even had a ship towed by anchor as the clearest homage to the barrels of JAWS. In this Monarch series, Godzilla hasn’t been a clear protagonist until the end of King of the Monsters. It seemed he could take or leave the ant-sized people running underneath his destruction. But Kong was more likeable, and became in this movie, someone to root for. I recall Godzilla being the enemy in the first Raymond Burr movie, only to become Rocky in the later ones. Kong, in this film, had a little of the personality that Godzilla did back then, without the drop kicks that always made me laugh. The humanization of Kong talking to the little girl made this movie more emotionally resonant for me, and therefore more engaging.
I thought the sub-plot about the kids working with the podcaster was confusing, and careened way too far from reality to hold this fantasy together. How could Millie look at a ‘download complete’ status bar in the Apex Lab and KNOW something was wrong? How could they possibly convert information about the new energy source immediately into a working self-generating power? That went too far beyond plausibility to maintain itself as a part of the storyline.
As I recall, the older Godzilla movies were really about humanity’s fight against the threat and that was it. I thought that a simpler, clearer way to go, as they did in the fantastic SHIN GODZILLA film. In that movie, there was even room for some satire about bureaucracy, and for the ‘national identity confusion’ of having to DEPEND on the US using nukes to stop Godzilla, destroying Japan once again. But, this was a B movie, and not a mega-summer blockbuster hit.
For me, Kong’s emotional IQ was what made it all work, and made this the best of the recent batch of films.
As a question, my family and I were discussing the issue of whether there was a clear winner, as stated in publicity surrounding the movie. My wife thought it was a draw. My son and I thought that Godzilla won the round at sea, Kong won the first round in Hong Kong, but then Godzilla won the last round before the Mecha fight, where he put his foot (?) on Kong’s chest and then walked away. Godzilla was the clear winner. What do you think?
Second, I wonder who wrapped that AXE for Kong? It looks fashioned. Does Kong have that kind of intelligence? Maybe it had to do with the ruins shown under the sea in Godzilla’s lair in the last movie?
I also can’t stop thinking they should bring in the Gargantua brothers for another war in this universe.
I would LOVE to see the Gargantuas (aka “Frankensteins” and “Bigfoot Gaira”); I geeked out loud when I saw their brief flashback in “Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla” (2004).
Thanks again for reading and for the kind words! Always appreciated!