Godzilla vs. Kong review: Monster smash now available to rent or buy
If you missed the movie on HBO Max, you can enjoy the city-smashing carnage at home.
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Jennifer BissetFormer Senior Editor / Culture
Jennifer Bisset was a senior editor for CNET. She covered film and TV news and reviews. The movie that inspired her to want a career in film is Lost in Translation. She won Best New Journalist in 2019 at the Australian IT Journalism Awards.
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Keen to see legendary monsters Godzilla and King Kong fight it out until at least one major city lies in ruins? You're in luck. Godzilla vs. Kong delivers exactly that. Dazzling action, colorful Tron-like neon lights, a pulsating electronic score and at least one standout performance from a human character set this surprise hit sequel above earlier films in the monster-mashing series.
Godzilla vs. Kong is now available to rent or buy on digital platforms, with the 4K and Blu-ray disc home release following on June 15. Deliberately less gritty than previous entries in the franchise known as the MonsterVerse, which began with 2014's Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Kong offers a crowd-pleasing entry that definitely brings home the spectacle. The best part? It's under two hours!
Like all current Warner Bros blockbusters, the film was available for a 1-month release on streaming service Max, and will return to the HBO streaming service for no extra fee at some point in the future.
Wisely shedding a few characters from 2019's Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the latest monster bash-up focuses on a seemingly straightforward mission: Find Kong a new home, because there can't be two apex titans living on Earth's surface. The fabled Hidden World is the answer, bringing scientists played by Alexander Skarsgard and Rebecca Hall together to escort Kong to the not-so-mythical realm's entrance. Tagging along is deaf orphan Jia, played by a ridiculously adorable Kaylee Hottle, who can communicate with the giant gorilla.
Bogging down events is Team Godzilla. That includes Millie Bobby Brown, who played daughter-of-scientists Maddison Russell in the previous flick; Julian Dennison of Deadpool and Hunt for the Wilderpeople fame; and indisputable comedic standout Brian Tyree Henry as a podcast-running whistleblower. His subject? Evil Tech Company Apex Cybernetics, linked with stirring the of-late peaceful Godzilla into a blue-eyed frenzy.
Everything plays out exactly as already predicted in the trailer's YouTube comments. The plot merely connects rounds 1, 2 and 3 of Godzilla and Kong's head-to-head, and you might be pleased to note that director Adam Wingard gives you a definitive winner. (When you think about it, the victor isn't at all surprising.)
Wingard's effort expands Godzilla's usual stomping grounds from overcast, constant-night cities overlooking oceans to the more mystical terrain of the Hidden World. Yet with CGI galore, this journey to the center of the Earth imagines few distinguishable features to lift it from the vortex of generic fantasy.
The MonsterVerse's paper-thin human characters have always been superfluous. Yet even with the sidelining of Kyle Chandler's worried dad and the dropping of Zhang Ziyi's possibly quite useful mythologist altogether, the additional characters barely do more than react to the quarrel taking place over their heads.
While the dialogue has much improved, including hit-and-miss one-liners, exposition is repetitive and Apex Cybernetics founder Walter Simmons (Demian Bichir) delivers his ideology like he's in Westworld (thankfully, his biggest speech is swiftly interrupted by one of the monsters).
You feel a little sorry for Godzilla: This is very much Kong's film. Godzilla can't catch a break: He totaled something like eight minutes of screen time in the first of the franchise and is almost immediately positioned as the bad guy here. A now adult Kong, with a grizzly beard, has developed a personality. He's kind to orphan Jia and observes a morning routine involving yawning comically and unabashedly scratching his butt. Kong's perspective resonates given his closeness to the human species, but still -- weirdly -- Godzilla seems underserved.
Thankfully, the final battle pulverizes your senses so much you forget where you are. Wingard finds new perspectives to showcase the enormity of the two behemoths, spending a short stretch roller-coastering along with Kong to both thrilling and sickening effect. While the action here is occasionally disjointed and hard to follow, particularly in scenes involving water, it's mostly comprehensible, and especially spectacular in the yellow, green and purple lights of a vibrant Hong Kong. (Miraculously, no civilians appear to get hurt.)
A different film would've seen Wingard allowed to bring the horror, dark-wave soundtrack and black humor of his indie films like The Guest and You're Next. But a few of his signature touches help usher these iconic monsters into their promised shared universe. If you're craving a truly dazzling blockbuster and are able to catch it in the cinema, Godzilla vs. Kong will satisfy. (Should you wait through the end credits? Short answer: No. Well, maybe.)
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