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Godzilla vs. Kong on HBO Max: How to watch

Godzilla vs. Kong is out now! Here's how to watch...

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
CNET freelancer Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
6 min read

Kaiju monster madness unfolds in the first trailer for Godzilla vs. Kong. 

Legendary Pictures

Sometimes there's no better way to escape life's challenges than by turning off your brain and watching two giant monsters battle it out. Godzilla vs. Kongas the trailer shows, pits the iconic Japanese sea monster against the enormous ape, and we are ready for it.

Monster fans in the US, Godzilla vs. Kong is out now on HBO Max (see our full HBO Max explainer here) and in some theaters. The film already opened in countries that don't have HBO Max, like Australia, but some others, including France and Japan, won't get it until May.

How and when to watch

If you have HBO Max, just tune in as you normally would to watch. Like Wonder Woman 1984, there's no extra charge above and beyond your subscription fee. Right now, HBO Max costs $15 a month.

In fact, you might already have access to HBO Max and not even know it. If you currently subscribe to HBO via your cable or satellite provider, you can probably get HBO Max without paying anything extra. We explain it in detail here, but essentially, you'll need to watch on a smart TV or streaming device -- or a Comcast Xfinity box -- using the HBO Max app and your home internet connection. 

And in December, Roku struck a deal that gives subscribers access to HBO Max. Roku users who already use the HBO app will automatically update to HBO Max. You can find more information here.

But if you want to watch Godzilla vs. Kong on HBO Max, don't wait too long. Like Wonder Woman 1984 on the streaming service earlier this year, the blockbuster movie is available for streaming only for a limited time -- a month, unless things change.

Read more: 6 best movies to stream on HBO Max

Godzilla vs. Kong basics

As you probably know, Godzilla and King Kong both have long movie and pop-culture histories. 

King Kong burst on the scene in the 1933 movie King Kong. In that film, the giant gorilla-like creature is found on Skull Island, its home, by an American filmmaker, and dragged back to the US to be exhibited. Kong falls in love with a human woman, Ann, played by Fay Wray, and inevitably breaks loose and grabs her, climbing to the top of the Empire State Building before being shot down by airplanes. But you can't keep a great ape down -- Kong returned in numerous sequels and remakes over the years, first taking on Godzilla in 1962.

Godzilla first appeared in the 1954 Japanese movie Godzilla, as an enormous sea monster powered by radiation -- thought of as a metaphor for nuclear weapons after the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The dinosaur-like monster has radiation-given powers, including atomic breath, and retreats back into the ocean after its battles. It often tramples Tokyo and kills people, but it's been known to fight alongside humanity. Kong aside, its usual opponents are fellow kaiju -- a Japanese word for giant monsters -- such as Rodan, Mothra and others. Godzilla is such a pop-culture icon that it even starred in a 1978 American cartoon, Godzilla, where it had a comedic sidekick nephew, little Godzooky.

The 2021 film

Godzilla vs. Kong is the fourth film in what's called the "MonsterVerse," a series of films about the two giant monsters from Legendary Entertainment and Warner Bros. It all started with 2014's Godzilla, which was followed by 2017's Kong: Skull Island, and then 2019's Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Godzilla vs. Kong finally brings the two biggies together to fight it out.

"In a time when monsters walk the Earth, humanity's fight for its future sets Godzilla and Kong on a collision course that will see the two most powerful forces of nature on the planet collide in a spectacular battle for the ages," an official synopsis says.

The human cast includes Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown of Stranger Things fame, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Kyle Chandler and Demián Bichir. Noted horror-film director Adam Wingard is behind the camera.

Tidbits from the trailer

The official first trailer came out in January, and immediately set a viewing record for a Warner Bros. trailer. It's easy to see why. It's almost hilarious to see the two creatures taking swings at each other like Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield in a boxing ring, but this is why the whole movie was made.

Stuart Heritage said it best in his trailer appreciation, published in the British newspaper The Guardian, writing, "We can all agree that the restrictions brought about by COVID have reinforced all the things we previously took for granted. Some miss their loved ones. Some miss the pulsating mass of warm strangers on an unplanned night out. Me? It turns out that I apparently miss the sight of a massive gorilla punching a radioactive sea monster right in the middle of its dumb face."

In one trailer scene, King Kong swings around some hapless serpenty creature, apparently called a Warbat, through the air, and smacks another hapless Warbat with it. It's all set to Here We Go, by Chris Classic, the theme song for the 2019 WWE Hell in a Cell event -- which is perfect because a pro wrestling vibe works here. The trailer seems slanted to making Godzilla the heel, but pick your favorite and root accordingly. Both the monsters have always been fairly sympathetic -- this is no Freddy vs. Jason -- so it's tough to want either of them to lose.

What we know about the plot

Does a movie with this title need a plot? Really, this isn't Citizen Kane here -- the movie is all filler up until Kong and Godzilla start duking it out. But we do know some plot lines from the trailer. In it, Kyle Chandler's character reveals, "Godzilla's hurting people and we don't know why." So humanity turns to its other giant monster, Kong, and somehow relies on the ape's special bond with an orphaned girl named Jia to set up the battle.

The MonsterVerse has introduced a secret government agency called Monarch, and the giant monsters in this world are called Titans. Various other Titans have been introduced in earlier films, and it looks like we meet a few more in this film. A Twitter account run by someone going by Kaijuologist shared images of three toys from the new movie that seem to represent new creatures.

Warbats are the winged serpenty characters that Kong gets his mitts on in the trailer. 

There's a new gargoyle-like character called Hell Hawk. 

And the disturbingly named Skull Crawler is new, too.

We don't know if Warbat, Skull Crawler and Hell Hawk get involved in the Godzilla-Kong fight, if they're seen in flashback, or what, but you can never have enough monsters.

What to watch while you wait

You can certainly figure out what's going on in Godzilla vs. Kong even if you've never seen a movie with either monster in it before. But both monsters have long film histories that are readily available to catch up on if you want a refresher.

The natural films to watch first are the three MonsterVerse movies, which reset King Kong and Godzilla for this new saga. The 2014 version of Godzilla started it all. You can rent or buy that film on Apple TV, Amazon Video, YouTube, Fandango and other services. Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla: King of the Monsters are both free to watch on HBO or HBO Max, or available for rental or purchase on other sites.

You can also catch up on older Godzilla and Kong movies. HBO Max has a healthy library of them, including the 1954 original Godzilla and the 1933 original King Kong. Also worth mentioning: The 1988 Godzilla remake, starring Matthew Broderick, has been riffed by the jokesters at RiffTrax, Mystery Science Theater 3000 alums Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett. For $3.99, you can buy their soundtrack of jokes that go along with the film and sync it up with your copy of the movie.

The 1962 film, King Kong vs. Godzilla, in which the monsters duke it out for the first time, is harder to find. We couldn't find any way to stream it online, but you can buy it on DVD or Blu-ray for home viewing at various online stores. (Spoiler: That film ends with King Kong heading back to Skull Island, but Godzilla, though unseen at movie's end, doesn't seem to be dead, either, because how depressing would that be?)

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