Godzilla Vs. Kong Review

Legendary Pictures “MonsterVerse” has all been building to this: Godzilla vs. Kong! Although 2014’s Godzilla seemed like a self-contained reboot, once Legendary acquired the rights to the King Kong character it became obvious where things were headed: a modernized clash of the two most famous giant monsters in all of movies.

Of course, Godzilla and Kong have done battle before, in Toho’s 1962 film King Kong vs. Godzilla. It was one of the earlier Godzilla films, and not one of the better ones in hindsight (the Kong suit looks like it was stitched together from roadkill), but it was one of my favorite movies as a very young tyke, and instilled my love of giant monsters from an early age. So with the two literal giants set to face off once again, this time in a film that could take advantage of modern technologies to give the behemoths the epic showdown they deserve, I’ve been looking forward to this Godzilla vs. Kong for quite some time now.

2017’s Kong: Skull Island introduced the Kong half to this Cinematic Universe (the only one outside of Marvel that I feel has been any kind of successful), while 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters went crazy with fanservice by including Mothra, Rodan, and Godzilla’s big bad, King Ghidorah. And now, it all comes to a head in Godzilla vs. Kong, which provides fans (and my inner child) the epic showdowns they’ve been waiting for, though sadly not without its share of bumps in the road.

The first of such bumps is shown during the opening credits, no less. As is series’ tradition, the opening credits are accompanied by news clippings and the like informing the audience of the histories and current states of the monsters (or “Titans” as they’re called in the MonsterVerse). And we quickly learn that Godzilla and Kong are the only known Titans remaining on Earth’s surface. This retcons the ending of King of the Monsters, which had other Titans roaming the Earth, but bowing to Godzilla as the “Alpha Titan” after he defeated King Ghidorah, with that movie’s end credits informing us that some Titans were “converging on Skull Island,” implying that Kong may be getting his own following of monsters to do battle with Godzilla’s band. But no, let’s forget about that. It’s just Godzilla and Kong now for some reason (not even Rodan returns, which sucks double for me because he was my favorite as a kid). So that’s kind of disappointing right off the bat. Don’t promise your audience something in one movie if you can’t deliver on it in the next.

The biggest of the bumps in the road for Godzilla vs. Kong, however, is a returning flaw from many giant monster movies: too many human characters. More specifically, too many human characters who are just uninteresting.

Some might say this is a problem with American Godzilla movies (and it is), but honestly, I’ve watched some of the Japanese Godzilla films and also got bored by how long we often have to wait in between monsters. It’s just that it’s probably a more persistent issue with American films on the whole. The recent Tom & Jerry movie – to name an example outside of the giant monster genre – spent more time on its humans than it did with the melee between cartoon cat and mouse that people actually crave from that franchise.

I understand the reasoning behind this. The people and studios making these movies want to keep audiences invested, and feel that a human element is needed for viewers to have something to identify with for that investment. I get it, but I think movies have failed pretty consistently in trying to hit the balance with human characters and, say, the giant monsters fighting each other that we all came to see.

The funny thing is, the 2014 Godzilla film that kicked off the MonsterVerse actually got the human part right (at least at first), with a human character played by Bryan Cranston giving the film an emotional core that made sense… and then it killed him off before Godzilla even showed up, and the focus shifted on a bunch of other humans who weren’t nearly as interesting (that particular film didn’t even have enough monster action to make up for it). Imagine if Bryan Cranston’s character had stuck around as the recurring human character between these films, and we still got the epic Godzilla showdowns on top of it. One great human character to focus on whenever the monsters settle down. The lost potential is depressing.

Instead, these movies can’t stop adding more and more human characters, very few of which are worth the screen time given to them. Millie Bobby Brown’s character Madison Russell from King of the Monsters returns, and is the only returning human character other than her father (played by Kyle Chandler, though he’s more of a cameo this time around). To be fair to Millie Bobby Brown, she’s a great actor, and having her be the returning hero makes sense. But her character here feels like she’s on a sidequest that, frankly, feels completely unnecessary to the movie as a whole. Worse still, she’s saddled with two insufferable sidekicks this time around: One is Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), a paranoid conspiracy theorist podcaster, and Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison), one of Madison’s friends who… is just kind of there. I mean no offense to the actors here, but Madison’s new sidekicks really just feel like unnecessary comic relief.

“The movie would have been just fine without these guys.”

They aren’t the only humans though! Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) is a cartographer from Monarch (the Titan research group of previous entries) who is studying the “hollow Earth” gobbledygook introduced in the series. Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) is a Monarch anthropological linguist studying Kong. Jia (Kaylee Hottle) is a young, deaf orphan from Skull Island’s Iwi tribe, Ilene’s adopted daughter and friend of Kong (and probably the human character you care most for). At the very least, this other group of humans actually feel like they push the plot forward. If Millie Bobby Brown’s character had to return, maybe the filmmakers should have found a way to fit her into this second group, and just streamline the human plotlines.

Then we also have Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir), the founder of Apex Cybernetics, a technological company trying to find a way for humans to reclaim Earth from the Titans, his daughter Maia (Eiza González), who accompanies the Monarch scientists, and Walter’s sidekick/henchman, Ren Serizawa (Shun Oguri), the son of Ken Watanabe’s character from the previous two Godzilla installments of the MonsterVerse.

Gee, do you think that’s enough characters? And all that for a plot that should be pretty straightforward: Godzilla has been at peace with humans ever since defeating King Ghidorah and becoming the alpha Titan (or King of the Monsters, if you will). As stated, the remaining Titans have either been “defeated” or have returned to their subterranean slumber, with Kong still residing on Skull Island, which is now under a “containment center” by Monarch. That is, until one day, Godzilla begins destroying human cities unprovoked by the presence of other Titans.

Godzilla’s sudden rampage has Madison trying to find answers, which leads her to seek out the aforementioned conspiracy theorist podcaster (because that’s the kind of person you want to turn to for valid, reasonable answers), with her other goofy friend in tow. Meanwhile, Apex Cybernetics, who have suffered some severe blows during Godzilla’s destruction, recruit the Monarch scientists for a voyage into the hollow Earth to find some nondescript power source that may help them fix Earth’s Titan problem. So the Monarch team extracts Kong from their containment center in hopes he can instinctively lead them into hollow Earth.

Look, it’s bonkers nonsense, which is fine (though it feels a world apart from the 2014 film that started things off). But if bonkers nonsense was what we were going for in a movie called Godzilla vs. Kong, maybe focus more of that bonkers nonsense on Godzilla and Kong, and less on the humans.

Let’s make one thing clear, when Godzilla vs. Kong hits its stride, it’s really entertaining. The visual effects are great, and most importantly, the fight scenes between its two iconic giants are tremendous fun. Like I said, my love of giant gorilla fighting nuclear dinosaur goes back to my youngest days, so it would be hard for me not to be entertained every time the two monsters clash and knock over entire cities (on that note, I also like how the film points out the cities are evacuated by the time Godzilla and Kong use them as battlefields, so it goes against the Zac Snyder method of using the idea of mass death as part of its spectacle). The movie even had me giggling and clapping with how effective its monster battles are. The first encounter is pretty unique in that Godzilla and Kong do battle at sea, with Kong standing on aircraft carriers to fight the more water-savvy Godzilla. And later – without spoiling too much – Kong even goes into battle equipped with a weapon. And if seeing Kong with weapon in hand out for Godzilla’s blood doesn’t bring a goofy grin on your face, well I don’t know what will.

The issue is that there just isn’t enough of these scenes. This is Godzilla vs. Kong, after all. I think it’s safe to say no one is here for the human characters, but that’s where too much of the runtime goes. Again, I can understand the desire to have a little bit of everything: attempting good story and characters to go with the giant monsters clashing, but we can just never seem to get the right balance. It’s also kind of a bummer how the American approach to Godzilla movies has to be either dead serious at the expense of the monster action (Godzilla 2014), or just fully embrace the sillier aspects of Godzilla to the point where you can’t care for the human characters. It’s another case of finding the right balance.

Imagine a film that could pull off both the fun spectacles of giant monsters fighting each other (like Kong: Skull Island, King of the Monsters and this film), and the human drama Bryan Cranston brought to the early parts of the 2014 film when it just has to shift its focus to the humans witnessing said epic battles and facing their consequences?

We still have to wait for such a film. In the meantime, Godzilla vs. Kong does at least deliver where it counts – with its giant ape having some fun smackdowns with its nuclear dinosaur – but it sorely needs even more of just that. If you’re going to take Godzilla vs. Kong into the realms of pure nonsense, then give us more of the nonsense we came to see, and less of the nonsense of annoying sidekicks and conspiracy theorists.


Godzilla: King of the Monsters Review

Shared “Cinematic Universes” are all the rage these days, after Marvel did an unprecedented job at tying together so many different franchises sharing connected narratives. While other studios are trying – and failing – to play catch-up with Marvel’s accomplishments, there is one other Cinematic Universe that is actually working: Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros’ “MonsterVerse,” which seeks to reunite the worlds of Toho’s Godzilla monsters with those of King Kong.

There are a few key reasons why this MonsterVerse is succeeding where so many other Cinematic Universes introduced in Marvel’s wake have failed: The first is that Toho established shared universes with their characters some time ago, with iconic monsters like Mothra and Rodan having their own features before they went toe-to-toe with Godzilla. The other reason is that the MonsterVerse has thus far not aimed any higher than it needs to. Whereas the DC Extended Universe tried to catch up with Marvel all at once and predictably failed because of it, and Universal’s ill-fated “Dark Universe” collapsed before it could even begin, the MonsterVerse isn’t biting off more than it can chew.

So far, the MonsterVerse has kept things simple. Godzilla over here, King Kong over there, with the two set to clash in the follow-up to King of the Monsters, and any future films being dealt with one at a time. Its simple, short-term goals have helped the MonsterVerse stay afloat, instead of crumbling like one of the buildings Godzilla is bound to come into contact with in an attempt to replicate the MCU.

While the overall franchise is the only other working cinematic universe of today, the individual pieces of the MonsterVerse unfortunately can’t claim to be as well made as those Marvel provides. 2014’s Godzilla – in an attempt to take things seriously – focused far too much of its time on the human drama, to the point that its titular lizard only had a handful of minutes on screen. 2017’s Kong: Skull Island poised a reverse dilemma, with fun creature combat but flat human characters. Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the third film in the MonsterVerse, suffers from similar faults as Skull Island, and even doubles down on them. It’s because of the weak human characters and their flimsy narratives that I can’t say that Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a good movie in the traditional sense. But because of how generous the film is with its giant monster action and spectacle – not to mention the fanservice for long-time Godzilla fans such as myself – it’s an undeniable fun time.

Appropriately taking place five years after the previous Godzilla, King of the Monsters has seen the giant, atomic reptile go into hiding after his grudge match with the duo of “MUTOs” in the previous film leveled San Francisco. During the gargantuan scuffle, a married couple of scientists, Mark and Emma Russel (Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga) lost their son. The couple drifted apart after that, with their daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) living with Emma, who became a researcher for Monarch (the government organization who has secretly been studying “Titans” such as Godzilla and King Kong for decades). Meanwhile, Mark’s grief lead him to alcohol for a time, before he picked himself up and continued his research studying animals.

Emma is currently studying one of the seventeen-plus hibernating Titans discovered after the events of the first film. This particular Titan is Mothra, who soon hatches into its larval form, which makes for the perfect opportunity for Emma to test her “ORCA” device, which can emit frequencies that can alter a Titan’s behavior. Just as Emma activates ORCA and soothes the rampaging Mothra, a group of eco-terrorists – lead by Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) – invade the facility, kill the scientists, and take Emma and Madison hostage, taking the ORCA with them.

With his family hostage, Mark is recruited by Monarch scientists – including Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), returning from the 2014 film – to track down Jonah, save Mark’s family, and prevent Jonah from awakening any more Titans with the ORCA. Things become more complicated, however, when Jonah uses the ORCA (and a good deal of explosives) to free a particularly powerful Titan frozen in Antarctica. This Titan is King Ghidorah, the three-headed, lightning-spewing golden dragon who – in any Godzilla continuity – has served as Godzilla’s archnemesis. But King Ghidorah soon proves to be a greater cataclysm than even Jonah had imagined, as it uses its immense power to begin awakening the rest of the world’s Titans all at once (including Rodan, the secondary antagonist monster of the film). With Ghidorah threatening the entire planet, Monarch looks for a way to aide Godzilla (Ghidorah’s natural enemy) in defeating the dragon in a desperate attempt to save the Earth.

As I said, the plot is incredibly silly. The artfulness of the 2014 film is thrown out the window in favor of all-out monster action. That’s perfectly fine in most respects, as I believe a Godzilla film can do just fine prioritizing the giant reptiles kicking each other’s ass. With that said, there are certain elements of the plot that do unfortunately play out as more stupid than silly.

First and foremost, the human villain’s plot seems shaky at best. I can understand that he’s an environmental extremist who’s trying to destroy human influence to let nature take over. But unleashing ancient, atomic giants seems like the opposite of helping the planet. I suppose I can write off Jonah as a crazy old man on a suicide mission of sorts, but a less forgivable element in the villain scenario takes place with a twist at the end of the film’s first act, when (without spoiling too much) it’s revealed that Jonah has an accomplice. This accomplice is presented as the more “human” of the villains, but in trying to bring out sympathy in their bonkers plan, it just makes the character feel like a directionless mess. It may have been easier to stick with the crazy old guy and the gold dragon, as far as villains are concerned (and my boy Rodan, of course).

Another disappointment comes in the form of the main human hero. Though Kyle Chandler works in the role of Mark Russel, the role doesn’t have a whole lot to work with. The way the film ties his backstory into the events of the 2014 film is interesting, but as a character, he doesn’t have a whole lot going for him. Despite the advertisements presenting Millie Bobby Brown as the human star of the film, the Madison character seems strangely underutilized.

This has actually been a weird trend with this MonsterVerse. Bryan Cranston was made out to be the star of the 2014 film, but he was killed off before Godzilla even found his way into the picture. In Kong: Skull Island, John Goodman only lasted until about the halfway point. Now here in King of the Monsters, the character who feels like they should be the main character has more of a bit part, while the actual main character isn’t particularly memorable.

I think there are just too many human characters all around, to be honest. On top of all the ones I’ve already mentioned, there are others still, such as Dr. Rick Stanton (Bradley Whitford), a scientist who’s supposed to provide comic relief, but just kind of seems to be there. Again, this film doesn’t spend as much time on the humans as the 2014 film, yet it features considerably more of them. With so many humans and so little time dedicated to them, most of them come across as paper thin. Hopefully future films in this crossover franchise will hold back on the number of human characters a little bit, so that we can have a couple of memorable human characters coexisting with the giant monsters we all came to see.

With all these complaints though, I’d be an absolute liar if I said I wasn’t grinning ear-to-ear several times during the movie. Because if you have a soft spot for giant monsters duking it out, Godzilla: King of the Monsters delivers just that, and in spades. While the 2014 film had a slow burn leading up to Godzilla (which is fine), and then often cut away just as he was about to fight the other monsters as a means to tease the audience (not so fine), King of the Monsters doesn’t waste any time with reintroducing us to Godzilla and Mothra. And when Ghidorah and Rodan come into the picture, the movie delivers plenty of them as well. With most of Toho’s mainstay monsters in the film (sans MechaGodzilla and Gigan), the film lavishes the opportunity to utilize them at every turn, with each subsequent clash between monsters outdoing the last.

King Ghidorah, it should be noted, gets extra special treatment. Mothra is almost always depicted as “the good monster,” while Rodan has set aside its differences with Godzilla to help fight other monsters like Ghidorah on a few occasions. King Ghidorah, on the other hand, has always been Godzilla’s ultimate foe. And King of the Monsters presents Ghidorah as just that. It never fails to hype up the three-headed dragon as nothing short of the ultimate evil that all other monsters fear. The film pays such great respects to Godzilla’s nemesis, that you wonder if he was director Michael Dougherty’s favorite monster growing up, and now is all too happy to fanboy out about him within his own movie (and I mean this in the best way).

As someone who absolutely loved Godzilla as a kid, I was pleasantly surprised with how much earnest fanservice King of the Monsters provides. While the 2014 film tried to be as grounded as this material could possibly be (which is admittedly an interesting take in and of itself), King of the Monsters fully embraces the more ludicrous aspects of the franchise, never once feeling embarrassed by its source material. We get subtle nods to past Godzilla films (Monarch classifies Ghidorah as “Monster Zero,” just as he was labeled in the original continuity, with Godzilla himself being “Monster Zero-One,” and Rodan “Monster Zero-Two”), as well as direct adaptations of Godzilla lore that the 2014 film may have avoided (yes, King Ghidorah is from outer space). We get plenty of references to Skull Island and King Kong himself, to remind audiences of his impending clash with Godzilla. And perhaps best of all, we actually get the Godzilla theme music!

The special effects used to bring these monsters to life is impressive, but its how much King of the Monsters relishes in the opportunity to have them duke it out, destroying entire cities in the process, that truly delight (in an unnecessary but much appreciated detail, the film makes a point that the cities have been evacuated before the monsters make their way to them, so it thankfully doesn’t relish in the casualties of it all in the way films like Man of Steel did).

Not too long ago, Avengers: Endgame showed the world that you can have deep, complex characters amidst fantastic action and franchise fanservice. So it may be disappointing that in this day and age when the MCU set the standard for blockbusters, the MonsterVerse still hasn’t been able to weave strong characters into the spectacle of it all. King of the Monsters may not be the thoughtful and poignant franchise blockbuster that Endgame was by any stretch of the imagination. But damn it all if it isn’t a whole lot of fun.


Godzilla: Monster of Monsters Review

It really shouldn’t be that hard to make a good Godzilla game. Okay, that’s perhaps an unfair statement, because actually making any game is a hefty endeavor. But in regards to concept, why would it ever be difficult to figure out what a Godzilla game should be? You have one giant monster fight another giant monster and there you go, a Godzilla game! But for whatever reason, it took developers a long time to figure out the obvious when it came to thinking of an idea for a game starring the king of the monsters. Such is the case with the NES’s Godzilla: Monster of Monsters which, despite having a few unique ideas at its disposal, is far more complicated and tedious than it needs to be, and is bogged down all the more thanks to some utterly baffling game design choices.

In Godzilla: Monster of Monsters, players take control of Godzilla and Mothra, as they make their way across shoot-em-up stages and face off with other monsters. Sounds simple enough, but here’s where things get weird: the game is presented as a kind of board game. Godzilla and Mothra make their way across a game board, with the different spaces leading to a short stage, and the enemy monsters having a turn of their own. When the good and evil monsters come face-to-face, they do battle with each other. More enemy monsters are added with each new board, and Godzilla and Mothra can gain levels like an RPG by defeating more boss monsters.

Okay, so far it doesn’t sound so bad. Why Godzilla needs to be presented as a board game is anybody’s guess. But hey, combining the board game setup with RPG and fighting elements is original at the very least. Godzilla and Mothra even play differently; with Godzilla moving two spaces on the board at a time compared to Mothra’s four, and Godzilla attacking with his claws and his devastating laser breath, while Mothra spits a projectile and can drop her wings like bombs (strangely, the special moves are used by pressing the Start button, with the Select button pausing the game).

Here’s where things start to go haywire, however. During your turn, you can only move one of the monsters at a time! And when I said the spaces on the board have their own stages, I meant every space on the board! So basically, a turn consists of moving one of your characters a few spaces, and then playing a stage in which you’re constantly being bombarded with enemy fire, and there’s often no definition between what’s in the background and what’s in the foreground (many obstacles, such as volcanos, appear to be in the background but must be destroyed before your character can walk past them). And how do you finish a board and move on to the next? By making your way to the opposite end of the board and completing its final stage, naturally.

The stages themselves may not be particularly long, but when you have to play through one for every space you land on, combined with the limited movement of your characters on the game board, the process becomes beyond tedious.

Things get even weirder when you realize your fights with enemy monsters have time limits. If you fail to defeat a monster during the fight, you’ll have to wait for another round to finish them off (thankfully, they retain any damage you did to them previously). But if you fail to defeat them two or three times, they’ll run away from the board (complete with hilariously translated dialogue boxes explaining the details of the monster’s cowardice), which means you miss out on gaining a level or two.

Here’s where the flaws go from obnoxious to game-breaking: In order to progress through the game, your surviving monster or monsters have to make it through the board’s end level. That may sound like it makes sense, but if both of the player monsters are alive, they both have to make it through the finish, which doubles down on the already tedious process. So if you think you’re being clever by strategically moving the slower but more powerful Godzilla into the path of enemy monsters to take them out while you have Mothra dart for the finish line, sorry. No dice. They both have to get through the finish line, which means you have to go through every stage on every space you land on!

Now, you can take a bit of a shortcut… if you purposefully get one of your monsters killed in one of the levels or against a boss. But that puts you at a huge disadvantage should your surviving monster have to go up against multiple monsters in order to progress (like the bosses, your damage also stays intact, unless you find enough healing items in a stage). But if one monster dies early, you can get the other to the end and both of your characters will be back on the next board. It’s just a risky game to play.

Don’t think that process will work in reverse though. If you manage to get one monster through the board, you can’t have the monster that’s left on the board die, because then it’s game over. The game would still be pretty bad even if the progression were more streamlined, but I can safely say it wouldn’t be nearly as bad if you could just move on by having one monster reach the end! If the player reached the end of the board, that’s all that should matter. The game really gives off the impression that the developers just didn’t think all these details through.

Godzilla: Monster of Monsters is one of the many early examples of developers overthinking what a Godzilla game should be. Although the board game and RPG elements have a bit of originality to them, the gameplay featured in the stages is just too bland, and the process of getting through it all is simply beyond arduous, making the whole thing go from a missed opportunity to a flat-out bad game.


Kong: Skull Island Review

Though the giant monster genre may not exactly be a critical darling, there are at least two giant monsters in cinema with legacies so strong that even the more prudish film-lovers show them a degree of respect. One of them is Godzilla, who has seen a recent return to form in both his native Japan with the acclaimed Shin Godzilla, as well as making a splash with western audiences with his 2014 American reboot. The other iconic giant monster is King Kong.

While the original 1933 King Kong may not wow today’s audiences with its special effects, it remains heralded for how much it pushed filmmaking techniques forward, as well as its genuine storytelling prowess. It’s still entertaining, and is held in such high regard that its remakes in the 1970s and 2000s were seen as big deals, with the filmmakers behind those remakes (particularly Peter Jackson and his enjoyable-but-overly-long 2005 film) showing a great deal of respect to the source material.

Now we have another reboot of the King Kong franchise in the form of Kong: Skull Island. Though unlike the previous films, this is not a remake of the 1933 movie. Instead, it’s a reimagining of the Kong mythology that serves as a means to not only reintroduce Kong, but also to combine his world with that of the 2014 Godzilla, to create a shared cinematic universe between the behemoths.

Of course, this isn’t the first time cinema’s two most famous giants coexisted. Toho once made their own King Kong Versus Godzilla in the 1960s, which delighted the Hell out of me when I was very young. Of course, today, King Kong Versus Godzilla can only be enjoyed in an ironic sense, as the film’s special effects were laughably bad even in their day, and it’s not exactly a movie that had a strong narrative to fall back on.

Still, King Kong Versus Godzilla established my love of giant monsters from an early age, and now I’m ecstatic that the two legendary monsters have the chance to have an epic encounter worthy of their names.

The good news is that Kong: Skull Island doesn’t just serve as a means to prep Kong up for his inevitable encounter with Godzilla (though it does that, too), but also makes for a highly entertaining film in its own right.

“The film features numerous awesome creatures besides Kong.”

What struck me as kind of funny is how different the tone is in Skull Island than it was in the 2014 Godzilla film. In the 2014 movie, the film really tried to treat Godzilla with nothing but reverence (sometimes to its detriment, as Godzilla only had a handful of minutes of screen time). It was a serious, dramatic film, and a mostly good one (albeit with some great flaws). But here, Kong is only treated with reverence in select moments. For the most part, Skull Island just wants us to have fun and to show how badass King Kong is. The plot has serious elements, but the tone of the movie is a lot more focused on action, comedy, and fun than Godzilla was.

Personally, I don’t mind that. So many blockbusters these days try to be so dark and edgy, that a genuine good time seems increasingly rare. Though I respect Godzilla’s efforts for trying to present things as serious as possible to respect its titular lizard, Kong: Skull Island serves as a nice counterbalance to it. This is a movie all about having a fun time, and it succeeds.

“Tom Hiddleston seems to be cosplaying as Nathan Drake for the majority of the film.”

Kong: Skull Island takes place shortly after the Vietnam War (making it a prequel to Godzilla). Bill Randa (John Goodman) is a leading member of the government organization Monarch, and is leading an exhibition to the mysterious Skull Island, under the pretense of mapping out the island. He recruits a tracker in James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a photographer in Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and Lieutenant Colonal Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) along with his with entire squadron, who are to escort the mission.

Naturally, it’s anything but an easy ride, as Skull Island is surrounded by perpetual storms, and shortly after arriving, many of their helicopters are downed by the giant ape known as Kong. The surviving members of the group (namely the main characters) then meet up with Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), a cooky and eccentric US soldier who’s been stranded on Skull Island since World War II.  The group then plans a way to escape from the island, all while surviving the many dangers it entails, the most prominent of which being vicious, reptilian monsters dubbed “Skullcrawlers.”

It’s silly and simple, yes. But it’s also a lot of fun. The special effects are great, the action scenes are exciting, and the film is a lot more generous with its giant monster fights than the 2014 Godzilla film. Not to mention John C. Reilly gets some terrific comedic moments and one-liners.

“Confirmed: John Goodman makes any movie better.”

Admittedly, the film has its flaws. Namely, the characters are all pretty stock, and pretty much fit into their generic adventure movie roles. It’s a shame, because the film features some great actors, but they only have so much to work with in regards to their characters. John Goodman especially seems underutilized, much like Bryan Cranston was in Godzilla (though admittedly Goodman has a better showing than that).

It’s as if both the 2014 Godzilla and this film showcase the good and bad of both of their approaches to the material. While Godzilla focused too much of its time on the humans at the expense of the giant monsters we all wanted to see, Kong: Skull Island spends so much time on its action that its characters are never allowed to become anything more than archetypes. Hopefully future films in this crossover franchise will learn to find a good balance between entertainment and depth.

Still, Kong: Skull Island is tremendous fun. It delivers solid blockbuster entertainment, and serves as a fitting introduction for King Kong’s placement in this new shared Monsterverse (King Kong is much larger than he’s ever been, with the film making a point to mention that he’s “still growing,” as to make him a worthy opponent to Godzilla). The wait for future giant monster showdowns is looking promising, and hopefully the inevitable encounter between King Kong and Godzilla will be one for the ages.