GODZILLA vs. KONG (2021)

Expectations are high as the clash of the titans is anticipated to jump-start the box office when “Godzilla vs Kong” opens in theaters this week. The special effects are fantastic and director Adam Wingard — who came highly recommended by Peter Jackson — delivers the action that moviegoers are expecting. Add a terrific cast that includes Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall and Kaylee Hottle who steals the show, the fourth film in the Legendary MonsterVerse isn’t concerned with flawed science (but then neither was “Jurassic Park”), it exists to bring you the matchup of the century — move over Rocky and Apollo.

Two years after “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” and four years after “Kong: Skull Island,” the two titans are pitted against each other as predicted in a scene during the end credits of the 2019 Godzilla film where a cave drawing revealed the two battling it out. It seems the rivalry between the monsters’ ancestors existed long before man.

The story written by Eric Pearson (“Thor: Ragnarok”) and Max Borenstein (“Kong: Skull Island,” “Godzilla”) doesn’t waste any time laying out the case as to why these two alpha giants must fight. Godzilla, once regarded as man’s savior, is now attacking Florida (it has nothing to do with spring breakers pretending that COVID doesn’t exist). The kaiju’s main target in the “Sunshine State” is the APEX Corporation headed by techie Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir) who may or may not have done something to make Godzilla very angry. For a clue, you have to go back to the 14th film in the Godzilla franchise.

Meanwhile, on Skull Island we see Kong chillaxin’ while taking showers underneath waterfalls and communicating with his best friend, a young deaf girl named Jia (Hottle) who carries a homemade Kong doll. She communicates with the big ape via sign language while capturing the hearts of both Kong and the audience. Hottle, who comes from an all-deaf family, steals each scene. This may be her first feature, but the young actress (who was 9 at the time of filming) is a natural in front of the camera. Hottle impressed Skarsgård who learned to sign specifically so he’d be able to communicate with his costar.

Hall plays Dr. Ilene Andrews, aka “The Kong Whisperer,” Jia’s adoptive mother who studies Kong while making sure he remains safe from the outside world. A giant invisible biodome shields Kong from Godzilla’s scent keeping him under lock and key, but in one scene, Kong constructs a spear out of a giant tree and hurls it at the sky breaking a hole in the biodome. Yeah, you can’t pull a fast one on this giant ape. Kong knows he is a prisoner in his own home.

Skarsgård is a welcomed addition to the franchise as Dr. Nathan Lind, a true believer in the Hollow Earth theory that suggests a land of the lost exists at the core of our planet where Kong’s ancestors originated. Recalling Edgar Rice Burroughs, Lind leads an expedition to the planet’s core accompanied by Kong who they’re hoping will lead them to a power source strong enough to defeat Godzilla. I feel like “Thor: Ragnarok” writer Pearson came up with the idea of giving Kong a charged-up weapon he can wield against Godzilla to even the odds. It’s fun watching Kong swing the giant ax as if it were Mjölnir, the hammer of the Thunder God.

It only takes 40 minutes for Wingard to kick the action into high gear as Godzilla and Kong meet face to face for their first battle over the ocean. From here the film keeps the pace up never slowing down to give the audience a breather. Brown returns as Madison Russell, Godzilla’s No.1 fan who still has faith the giant lizard is mankind’s protector, despite his recent rampage in Florida. Kyle Chandler makes a brief appearance as Madison’s father, but in this film, she’s aided by Julian Dennison as her sidekick Josh and Brian Tyree Henry as conspiracy theorist Bernie Hayes who has a pretty good idea about the shady dealings going down at APEX headquarters, which explain Godzilla’s 180.

“Godzilla vs Kong” deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible (think IMAX) to gaze in wonderment at the special effects. But those still not comfortable venturing out to a theater can catch the titan battle at home on HBO Max. The cast is first-rate, but as expected, they are overshadowed by Godzilla, Kong, and … Oops, I almost let the cat out the bag. The science mumbo jumbo in the film is flawed, but then again no one is here for the plot. Wingard delivers the action-packed matchup of the century.

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Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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