For years I’ve had a recurring dream where I’m surrounded by people and something important is happening. I’m supposed to solve some major problem and that the people around me are important, but I have no idea who they are, or what’s going on. Just as I’ve pieced together what’s happening and devised a plan, the rules either change, or I wake up.
This is also the experience I had watching Godzilla vs. Kong. Even strong familiarity with the series will leave viewers uncertain of what’s happening in its latest entry. Godzilla vs. Kong is two separate movies, smashed together to create the feeling of one. It never coheres, and is so overloaded with characters and exposition that nothing connects either. Adam Wingard’s film skimps on titan beatdowns as well as character arcs, mostly in the service of confusing, unimportant lore.
The first of the two storylines is Kong’s: he’s living in a biodome under the care of biologist Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her ward Jia (Kaylee Hottle), a native of Kong’s former home, Skull Island. Ilene, Jia and Kong are conscripted by scientist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) for an expedition funded by biotech magnate Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir) to the center of the Earth, which houses the dimension Kong comes from, as well as a valuable power source Simmons wants to get his hands on.
Standing in their way is Kong’s blood enemy, Godzilla, who’s drawn to him like an ancient grudge-powered magnet. Once thought to be humanity’s protector, Godzilla runs into problems of his own after attacking Simmons’ company’s Florida headquarters. Godzilla’s human pal Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) is certain there’s a reason for the big lizard’s behavioral change. She tries to find it with the help of her friend Josh (Julian Dennison) and a conspiracy podcaster (Brian Tyree Henry). As promised, Godzilla and Kong eventually encounter each other, with combative results.
The two titans don’t duke it out for the first time until almost 40 minutes in. Considering the time it takes to get to the match-up we’re here for, it’s odd that all the table setting does nothing to communicate what we’re seeing and why. There are so many different storylines in Godzilla vs. Kong that Wingard and the movie’s team of screenwriters spend only a minute or two introducing a character or advancing one plot before zooming off to the next one. The lack of context makes it feel like we should know all of these characters from previous films, but of the major players, only Brown’s Madison and her dad Mark (Kyle Chandler) are returning. The rest are totally new.
It’s true that nobody goes to a movie like this for the human drama, but even by an action metric, Godzilla vs. Kong is a disappointment. There are three big fights over two hours, two of which happen in the last 30 minutes (at least they’re fun). The rest of the time, we’re stuck with a befuddling jumble of plots and dialogue that feels less like a script and more like a word cloud. You’d be forgiven for forgetting the characters’ names; several of them, including Dennison’s Josh, could be entirely removed with no impact. The film is a mess, but knowing Wingard is capable of better, and that this series can be (and has been!) better makes it even more of a letdown.
“Godzilla vs. Kong” is in theaters and on HBO Max Wednesday.