Returning to the cinema (2021 edition)/Review: Godzilla Vs Kong

I can’t quite believe how long it’s been since I posted anything on here – probably the longest since I started this blog back in 2013, and did a few nonsense posts. In total, it was eight months (give or take) between cinema visits, given that Cineworld closed all its sites even when other chains were open last year. It’s been weird, very weird – I’ve not stopped watching films or anything, but it’s not quite the same at home as it is in the cinema.

But you don’t need to hear all that again, you know it and we’ve all been through it! Suffice to say, returning a fortnight ago in mid to late May was exciting – though my initial experience (which I can give a little bit of leeway to the company for) was not what I wanted from my first trip back. Namely – despite everything, Cineworld Witney demanded people print a paper ticket off instead of using the smartphone app (why?!), made us queue outside (understandable), but then managed to have a broken projector that took nearly an hour to fix.

Normally, that wouldn’t have been an issue – but sitting in an auditorium surrounded by people (and Cineworld considers sitting directly behind someone enough distance), many of whom were chatting/laughing/eating without masks on, was a grim experience. The film eventually did start (minus trailers and ads, thank god) but no compensation was forthcoming for anyone who’d waited it out. I had considered leaving (with the Unlimited card I’d not have lost out), but stayed – others left around the 45 minute mark, and I can’t blame them.

A sight I missed a lot more than I thought I had this time around!

Still, here I am with no COVID a fortnight on, so it wasn’t the disaster my anxious brain was screaming about while I was sat waiting! But it’s worth noting, if you’ve not returned yet, that unless you’re fully vaccinated it’ll feel like this until you are. It was a little scary, quite bizarre to feel anxiety in a situation we’re all so used to, and hilariously unprofessional from the cinema (but then as I say – it was their second day back, and many of the staff will have been furloughed that entire time).

But hopefully (and I really, REALLY hope this), cinemas are now back and will not need to shut again. As we all get the two jabs, I would hope and imagine that the small flow of people returning becomes a flood – and with a backlog of huge blockbusters waiting to be unleashed on us, I hope to be updating this blog a lot more often again. I’m sure that I won’t have the same naff experience next time, and with my first jab this weekend I’ll feel a damn sight more comfortable next time anyway!

So what did I make of the film I went back to see? Godzilla vs Kong couldn’t be any more on the nose as a short, succinct title unless it were called Monster Smash. There is literally nothing more you’d probably need to be told about the film if you had no idea about it – I got quite a few incredulous responses from family when I said what I’d gone to see!

Following on from 2014’s Godzilla, 2017’s Kong: Skull Island and 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, this film unites the two giant creatures in one ridiculous film – one that knows EXACTLY what it is and how little seriousness with which to regard itself. Kong, much bigger than in the ’70s when we first met him, is now kept safe in an enclosed Skull Island by the films’ big corporation Monarch, while Godzilla remains the king having destroyed his opponents in the 2019 battle royale.

Here however, the giant lizard starts lashing out at certain places worldwide, leaving casualties in his wake and confusion at why he’s turned on humanity. Monarch brings out the big guns in Kong, and while the two big guys fight it out in a three round bout, the puny humans establish an underlying conspiracy as well as a ridiculously nuts, sci-fi fantasy twist that – had it been revealed in the original, very serious film in this series – would have been laughed out of town. After King of the Monsters though, it’s the perfect and absurd way to escalate this franchise into a less realistic and more heightened canon, and I LOVED how stupid it was.

I’m not going to waste much time discussing the actors because nobody here is memorable, nor would they have expected to be. Standouts include a hilariously against type Alexander Skarsgard, who revels in being a scientific nerd and shows his comedic side, while Rebecca Hall ends up being the more serious, parental role as Kong’s overseer (and adoptive mum to Skull Island’s last living native, portrayed very well by the young Kaylee Hottle, whose touching connection to the big ape gives the film a surprisingly emotional core).

Outside this three, the returning Millie Bobby Brown marauds around behaving like the teen with all the answers, dragging The Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s Julian Dennison along for the ride as her bemused, comedy sidekick. Their subplot, alongside conspiracy theorist Brian Tyree Henry, is weaker but also provides many of the answers to the underlying plot, as well as the laughs (this is as fun as Henry has been in anything I’ve seen him in – the film seems to have given some more serious actors a chance to demonstrate their comedy chops).

Beyond that, we’re into evil stereotype roles and basically pointless appearances, namely Kyle Chandler’s absent dad/head Monarch bloke, Demian Bichir’s benevolent CEO and spoilt daughter Eiza Gonzalez. But the actors do all seem in on the joke – namely that they’re all window dressing for the main event. Plotwise, as mentioned, it gets absurd but also very Harryhausen – I felt like director Adam Wingard (working on the screenplay by Eric Pearson, Max Borenstein, Terry Rossio, Michael Dougherty and Zach Shields) took to this approach like the genre fan he clearly is (he directed Captain America-style horror classic The Guest and family horror You’re Next).

The effects were surprisingly excellent, though the lighting is nothing to shout home about as a result. At times, the overwhelming level of CGI made the imagery a bit saturated and plasticky, but when the film ventures to a changed world, Ben Seresin’s lighting gets a chance to shine with fantastic and bizarre scenery, as well as creatures. The two protagonists meanwhile are tweaked from their previous appearances, Godzilla seemingly having a more emotive face (what a weird thing to say about a CGI lizard), while Kong builds on Andy Serkis’ excellent work across CGI simian performances to give our big ape friend a more human feel amid the punches.

And my god, the punches. These two go to town on each other, and the effects somehow make it feel substantial and weighty – Hong Kong gets absolutely mullered, the US’s aircraft carrier fleet is hilariously emasculated, and all manner of wounding and injury occurs. Is there a winner? You’ll have to watch the film to find out, but suffice to say it all packs a punch. This is helped big time by the music of Junkie XL aka Tom Holkenborg, whose concussive boomy scores have soundtracked some of the DC universe nonsense as well as the peerless Mad Max Fury Road. His love for drums knows no bounds, but big brassy themes harking back to the earlier entries in this series punctuate the percussion well.

A quick note on the editing too – despite it all being CGI and at an unimaginable scale, Josh Schaeffer and Wingard excellently stage the action so that you’re always aware of what’s going on and where, which I must admit I wasn’t expecting from something this mega. It’s surprising to be able to follow action like that, but also it appears to be a trend that dovetails nicely with CGI getting better, motion capture giving heft and weight to pixels and an understanding from directors (at last) that showing us something from a distance slowly is far superior to shaky cam bullshit.

All in all, I’d see another entry in this madhouse franchise. I respect that it’s got to this point from the self-serious Godzilla, and all power to the studios and filmmakers who’ve got it to this knowingly ridiculous point. As a re-entry to the world of cinemas and the cinematic experience, what more could you want beyond a glossy, shiny blockbuster filled with nonsense but filtered through a huge screen and intense sound systems. It’s what the cinematic experience was made for, and Godzilla vs Kong was a great way to return.

(PS – interestingly, this was one of the films released by Warner Brothers to streaming at the same time as cinemas. Given what I’d warned about in December, it was interesting and very heartening to hear how much money this made in cinemas worldwide, which might yet mean that these two historical cinematic beasts – despite fighting one another – may have been the dream team in terms of bringing cinemas back and tempering studios’ appetites for streaming releases over cinematic ones. Watch this space!)

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