Three Monsters and a Little Lady
There’s a scene in Crank II: High Voltage – I think we can agree one of the most successful sequels of all time, where Jason Statham’s Chev Chelios; a character that’s rightfully taken his place in the pantheon of cinematic icons, sandwiched between Vito Corleone and Officer Hightower from the Police Academy movies; goes hand to hand with one of the villain’s Asian henchman. Without warning, the fight dissolves into a Godzilla homage, with a man in a Chelios costume tussling with a man in a man suit. The two grapple, crash into electricity pylons, and there’s a lot of noise. It’s very funny; an incongruous movie homage dropped into an irreverent b-movie in which not a single fuck is given about realism or dramatic integrity. We enjoy this sequence and we laugh as we’re supposed to, because it exists within a film stocked with likable characters, hyper-stylised excess, and wit.
Why mention it in a review of Godzilla Vs. Kong? Because it’s impossible to sit through Adam Wingard’s film and not feel nostalgic for a contemporary monster fight that made you feel something. Why is the two minute joke in Crank superior to this – the begrudging fulfilment of a franchise obligation? Because the parody had life. It was supplementary to a movie we were enjoying.
Here, the monster fights are the film entire; the labours of thousands of visual effects animators over several months. Their wares produce sequences of scale and virtuosity – detailed destruction that nevertheless fails to convince, either as photorealistic spectacle or consequential devastation. Naval vessels capsize and break in two, skyscrapers crumble, but groups of fleeing extras aside, the requisite 9/11 porn for those who still get off on that association, there’s the eery absence of humanity. No one’s flattened or cleaved in close up. Ah, that’s Godzilla you say – harmless, wholly artificial knockabout. But the problem is there’s no humans to be found in the rest of the movie either.
Look, everyone who seeks out this flick is not interested in the human characters – that’s a given, but why give us, the stupid people, what we want? We didn’t sit through Gareth Edwards’ yawnfest because we were enamoured by the cast. We didn’t show up for this one because Kong: Skull Island or Godzilla: King of the Monsters introduced us to characters whose stories we couldn’t wait to pick up. This is a series populated by voids and no one who’s worked on it has found a way to marry the so-called Alpha Titans with Alpha humans. Still, no harm in trying, eh?
If you can remember Millie Bobby Brown’s character from King of the Monsters, first congratulations, but also great, because she returns here. Bobby Brown may only enjoy “something real” at the movies, so wouldn’t be seen dead buying a ticket for this kind of generic studio filler, but it’s curious that she, like her castmates – can’t rally themselves to give a performance. Sure, the screenplay only links the monster fights with a sliver of connective human tissue – just enough to grow a bollock on – but it’s depressing that no one in the cast was minded to show any personality. It’s possible that Brian Tyree Henry, as the film’s broad comic supplement, thinks he’s doing exactly that, but the results speak for themselves.
Godzilla Vs. Kong has scale but no depth. It’s barely a movie. The assumption has to be that it was too advanced into production when the box office for King of Monsters came in to cancel. So on they went, despite the series’ failure to produce a single memorable character or scene.
The Covid delay has prompted a couple of inserts – references to hand sanitiser, an assertion by an anonymous teen hacker that he’s only “used to hiring movies online.” Yes, that’s the world we now live in, kids. But if we’re going to get into the habit of paying top dollar for new releases, they’re going to have to work a lot harder than this to retain our attention. Shorn of the big screen’s ability to support docility inducing spectacle over story, popcorn fare may have to surprise us by reviving an old technology – the ultimate special effect – people we care about.