Australia is not quite yet in a post-covid world. Firstly there was a recent minor outbreak in Queensland and also the vaccine roll-out has been slow and erratic. Having said all that, the Greater Sydney area is increasingly shifting to an even more relaxed attitude. A mask mandate for public transport was relaxed earlier in the week and government incentives are being offered to visit restaurants and theatres. Cinemas have been open for several months but with limited films being released internationally, they have taken to showing older films.
Through luck, geography, circumstances and a not-great-government being notably better than usual, Australia escaped the worst of the pandemic, although Sydney and Melbourne both had some major lockdowns after outbreaks. Is it safe though to go to the movies? Including yesterday, I’ve gone exactly twice since early in 2020. The last film I watched pre-pandemic was Knives Out, which was a positive way to quit my cinema habit. I went to see Wonder Woman 84 on Boxing Day, picking a small independent cinema in which everybody wore masks.
In Australia, yesterday was Good Friday and it’s one of the few public holidays when shops are closed. Cafes and cinemas are open though but as early autumn weather is mild and the school holidays are two weeks long and it’s a four day weekend, lots of people head off on holidays. While I’m willing to see risk visiting a cinema, I’m much less keen on visiting one of Sydney’s large, crowded shopping malls, even if community transmission is low to non-existent. So yesterday was a smart day to visit a big multiplex, because aside from the cinema and a few restaurants, the shopping mall it was in was closed.
It was a big cinema theatre and not very busy. I was the only person I noticed wearing a mask but I had about eight rows to myself. I figured that if I was going to watch a very big ape hit a very big lizard, I should do so in front of a very big screen and as close as possible. This was a wise choice.
Of all the US versions of Godzilla I’ve seen, this one was the most in tune with the Japanese Toho movies. I’ve seen many of the Japanese Godzilla films but only a fraction of the total and often I was drunk or half asleep (because it was late, not because the film was boring), so I won’t claim to be a Godzilla expert. The key for a true Godzilla movie is the plot shouldn’t matter but it should be crammed with weird ideas that flow easily across sci-fi and fantasy tropes. Godzilla v Kong delivers that in sufficient quantity.
Ostensibly, the film is a sequel to Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Kong: Skull Island but there’s no hard continuity here. The film expects you to know who the monsters are and that all the characters know who the monsters are without explanation and also that Godzilla is a city destroying ‘titan’ but is still basically on the side of goodness (with just a little bit of massive death toll). The only major character continuity between this film and its predecessors is Millie Bobbie Brown is in both. She’s now at high school in Florida, which puts her close to events when Godzilla surprises every one with an apparently unprovoked attack on a high-tech AI research facility. Meanwhile, a kooky podcasting conspiracy theorist has infiltrated the said high-tech AI research facility and has discovered things going on. Convinced that Godzilla must have been provoked somehow, Millie Bobby Brown’s character (who has a name but honestly, it doesn’t matter) teams up with her school friend Julian Dennison (the kid from Hunt for the Wilderpeople) to find the podcaster and discover the truth.
Meanwhile, the same high-tech AI company are involved in helping a researcher discover the secret of the Hollow Earth. Like I said, this is a film that just goes straight to the bargain bin of wacky ideas and is so pulpy that it thinks Edgar Rice Burroughs is cutting edge. Add in the conspiracy theorist podcaster and it feels more of a discordant note in our current age of Qanon, because all of the wacky ideas turn out to be true. The plan to get inside the Earth requires a titan to guide anti-gravity equipped futuristic space ships through a hole in Antarctica because…look, it doesn’t matter why. The only semi-tractable giant monster available for that task is King Kong, currently confined on Skull Island under the care of the giant-monster-looking-after agency Monarch and specifically being looked after by actress Rebecca Hall and her adopted daughter Kaylee Hottle, who is death and the last surviving member of the tribe of people who used to live on Skull Island (it’s skipped over very quickly but a natural disaster that was maybe in the last Godzilla film destroyed the island?). Are you with me? None of this is spoilers, the film rattles through this very quickly.
OK, where was I? The plan is to ship Kong to Antartica but they have to do that quietly because the rule is that big monsters have to fight each other because all the giant monsters are rivals (except Mothra I guess but Mothra doesn’t appear in this film – sorry Mothra fans). All of this (waves hands at the chunks of info-dump) is just a set-up so that Kong and Godzilla fight early on in the film. The cast, the screenwriters, the producers and everybody in the cinema know that the ONLY reason anybody has got out of bed to do this thing is to see Godzilla and King Kong punch each other. There is no subtext or if there is, King Kong punched it as well and then Godzilla blasted it with radioactive laser breath.
I won’t detail the ensuing plot twists, other than to say that Mecha-Godzilla turns up as well.
Visually, the film delivers and on the key metric of King Kong punching Godzilla, it also delivers. The rendition of the magical land where all the monsters come from that they call (capital case) Hollow Earth is wonderfully done. It is a topsy-turvy fantasy world in which gravity does weird things and absolutely wanted to applaud how it looked and was animated. If you are a Pellucidar fan or just love that whole lost world vibe, then I recommend seeing how a modern film can take that idea and update it in a nonsensically credible way.
We don’t get to stay there very long because, Godzilla attacks Hong Kong (1. not a typo 2. he was provoked) and burns a hole from Hong Kong down to the centre of the Earth, which King Kong then jumps down to get from the centre of the Earth to Hong Kong. I’ll re-iterate, they get King Kong to jump down a hole to get to Hong Kong.
Now, in the ensuing fight obviously millions of people would actually end up dead. Hong Kong is a very densely packed city, most people live in high-rises, and the surrounding hills are very steep and there is nowhere to easily flee to on foot. If you stop and think for even a moment about the number of people that would actually die in the kaiju-smackdown, it would be on a scale of one of the worst disasters ever. If you do spend time thinking about that, then you really can’t enjoy the film. Mind you, if you have come along to a Godzilla film and are not expecting to see a city smashed to bits, then you may not be familiar with the genre.
We’ll assume that Hong Kong’s kaiju-disaster preparedness is absolutely top notch and somehow, everybody gets away safely from the many, many tower blocks that get smashed. You either suspend disbelief on this point or walk away at the horror of the film. There’s not really a middle course. The film acts like it is mainly just property damage and people frightened, so we’ll go with that. SOMEHOW, very few people die except for some baddies.
The structure is very much a Godzilla film but of the two monsters, all the character sits with Kong. I found the monster design and however they animated him (I assume motion capture) to be excellent. Kong was full of personality and has a connection with Kaylee Hottle, which allows her to talk to him using sign language (I assume ASL). Kong is the central character and the film begins and ends with music-soaked visuals of Kong living in his home. Kong just wants to live a quiet life, hanging out in the forest and spending time with his friend. All his troubles just arrive from stupid people messing with him and rival kaiju getting all macho about who gets to be king of the monsters.
Anyway, the film has a happy ending. OK, it has a happy ending just so long as we assume that SOMEHOW millions of people didn’t die in Hong Kong, which they didn’t because otherwise that would be horrible and the film would be treating the deaths of millions flippantly, so everybody got out of those buildings just fine.
Elsewhere in the world, I believe you can watch the film via streaming services. A (minor) downside of the pandemic being less of an issue here is that Australians and Kiwis can only watch it at the movies.