Godzilla vs Kong appears targeted at two audiences: those who love giant monsters punching each other, naturally, but also conspiracy theorists – or at least, those with an appreciation for conspiracy theories. Though the stars on show here are very much the aforementioned giant monsters, the smaller human cast is led by a pair of conspiracy theorists. There’s Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), an employee of a robotics mega-conglomerate who runs his own conspiracy theory podcast and steadfastly refuses to drink tap water. We also have Nathan (Alexander Skarsgård), whose geology career seems to have been somewhat derailed by him publishing a poorly-received book about an alleged ‘hollow earth’.
Since this is a blockbuster movie, of course each of these men’s wild beliefs are shortly proved 100% true. Granted, Bernie’s suppositions that his employer, APEX, is up to no good are not especially surprising when said employer is helmed by Demián Bichir operating with the nefarious dial turned to eleven. And perhaps when you live in a world dominated by continent-spanning kaiju, the notion of a gravity-defying chasm filled with exotic beasts and a prophesised source of immense energy … isn’t all that far-fetched.
Godzilla vs Kong’s investment in conspiracies goes beyond its confirmation of such wild theories, however. The whole film – the fourth in a loosely knitted-together franchise that commenced with Gareth Edwards’ excellent Godzilla in 2014 – is buoyed by the kind of narrative logic familiar to anyone who’s spent any time in a conspiracy theories forum. We bounce from nonsensical plot point to nonsensical plot point – Godzilla is mad now, only Kong can save us, quickly let’s shut down the ships so Godzilla goes away, etcetera – with hasty lip service paid to the notion of logic.
Nothing really makes sense, but those responsible for the screenplay – all five of ‘em – make a point of offering up a half-hearted explanation of why this silly thing is happening now. None of it holds up to a moment’s reflection (which isn’t necessarily a problem; plot holes aren’t the huge issue YouTube believe they are), but it all has the tenor of a conspiracy theorist who – once they’ve accepted one ludicrous idea – finds themselves going along with increasingly ridiculous proposals due to their inability to appeal to authority or accept conventional logic.
For the purpose of setting up a theme-park-ride of a film that launches from one CGI-festooned action setpiece to another, this is …actually, pretty great? Godzilla vs Kong’s predecessor, the execrable Godzilla: King of the Monsters (a film that has only curdled in my memory more the more I think about it), suffered from a bio-terrorist plotline that was dumb, uninteresting and a drag on the film’s attempts to muster monstrous spectacle. By zipping – ludicrously – through a patched-together plotline, Godzilla vs Kong reminds its audience to switch their brain off and just enjoy the show.
Ah, but here is where I find myself dissenting to the apparent critical consensus that Godzilla vs Kong is an enjoyable bit of nonsense. While the effects for those monsters fights – and there’s plenty of them – are impressive enough, I was disengaged for the entirety. I credit to this to the conspiracy theory mode of storytelling, ultimately. While this does allow for the film to avoid dragging out its runtime with drawn-out scenes of our heroine (Rebecca Hall) resisting the hero’s call or a guy in a labcoat offering a monotone explanation of the film’s undercooked pseudoscience, it conversely leaves everything feeling a bit…weightless.
That’s a problem when the film is about fuck-off-huge monsters punching each other. Compare to Edwards’ Godzilla; sure, it’s not as ‘fun’ as Godzilla vs Kong, but its sense of scale and significance lent every moment of disaster true weight. When Godzilla unleashed his (her? their?) fire breath, it sent the audience into spontaneous applause; nothing here is presented with enough importance to get an analogous response.
Not that director Adam Wingard isn’t trying. Wingard knows his way around smaller scale genre films – I still rate both You’re Next and The Guest – and I can see why his attempt to adapt that to the kaiju genre has worked for others. Wingard, ever a weeaboo, draws heavily from Neon Genesis Evangelion’s depictions of mecha-on-monster fights in his storyboarding (to the point of cribbing an entire scene from the anime’s eighth episode) – and why not? Of course, the problem with this approach is that Evangelion’s creator, Hideaki Anno, has already made his own Godzilla film (2016’s Shin Godzilla), which outperforms Wingard’s efforts in every respect. That’s my theory, anyway.