I don’t mean to belittle dumb movies. Some of my favorite movies are dumb. But Godzilla vs. Kong is steeped in a special kind of concentrated studio inanity. It stinks of dumb. It is the most profoundly stupid “vs.” movie since Batman vs. Superman. It’s not even worthy of Syfy’s Animal X vs. Animal Y movies, which can at least pretend they’re being deliberately campy. Godzilla vs. Kong is so profoundly dumb that it doesn’t even know it’s dumb.
I should point out here that I adored the last Godzilla movie, and it had its share of dumb. Remember when Vera Farmiga decimated the human population because reasons? I mean, at least Thanos was doing some math. But Vera Farmiga decided to turn loose 17 giant monsters to raze the world’s cities and kill millions of people because…the monsters would leave behind radiation to make plants flourish? Someone correct me if I have that wrong. Of course, she paid for her sins. She had to sacrifice herself at the end of the movie to save her daughter. If you raze cities and kill millions, you can’t just say you’re sorry. You must also die a noble death, preferably saving a child in the process. That’s the moral calculus of Hollywood.
Godzilla vs. Kong is incapable of moral calculus. Or even moral math. Or even math. It’s too dumb to make any meaningful points, or even plot points. Instead, it opts for a magical axe, TRON spaceships, and a little deaf girl with a tear rolling down her cheek as she tells King Kong, in sign language, “Godzilla not enemy”. At one point, the three-headed Monster Zero from the last movie is retconned as being telepathic. For plot reasons. Don’t ask. You’ll just be disappointed. But Godzilla vs. Kong explains that each of Monster Zero’s heads is telepathic “because its necks are so long”. I’m not making that up. That’s actual dialogue. The movie feels the need to explain Monster Zero’s telepathy as biologically mandated by long necks. For instance, if a giraffe or Elizabeth Debicki had multiple heads, their heads would need telepathy to communicate with each other. That’s the kind of dumb you get in Godzilla vs. Kong. Profoundly inane plot elements without the shame to hide themselves or the self-awareness to lampshade themselves. There’re just out there, treated as if they were explaining or justifying something, as if they were necessary.
So you get the magical axe, the TRON spaceships, the little girl with the persistent tear shining wetly on her cheek, telepathic links, a fusion defibrillator, a couple of overweight comedic relief sidekicks, a conspiracy, a new evil corporation, a hot lady villain in a tight outfit, a shameless ploy to excite the Chinese box office, and a handful of recognizable actors who look confused. Dumbness abounds, glommed onto everything like papier-mache made from the copious studio notes that obviously poured into the production. Not the dumbness of an auteur, which Warner Brothers bestowed upon us when they let Zack Snyder have a Justice League do-over. But the dumbness of a soulless corporate widget assembled from a half-assed script that can barely stitch together CG sequences and a cast of confused actors who look like they would rather be anywhere else.
To be fair, some of the CG sequences are thrilling enough, even if they aren’t integrated very well with the rest of the movie. One of the last movie’s strengths was how every CG sequence had its own sense of character. All of them directly related to the human scale, interacting with human events, cool hardware, and diverse settings, with distinctive creatures and sound design to die for. It absolutely justified seeing it in a theater. But here are just monsters punching each other to little effect while the rest of the movie waits for them to finish. The first sequence, played among a carrier fleet, knows enough to riff on Jaws and The Poseidon Adventure. But those two and a half examples of cleverness are an anomaly. Because from then on, the CG sequences get more ridiculous, more untethered, and more irrelevant. You’re going to be really silly if you went to a theater to see this.
Consider the resolution of Godzilla vs. Kong. The huge climactic battle, which is just a lot of bumping into skyscrapers, is resolved by the stupidest inadvertent technical “oopsie!” since Anakin Skywalker pushed a button in the first Star War prequel. This movie thinks you can hack a computer by pouring a drink into it. That’s how it resolves a putatively epic conflict between two titans of soulless corporate inanity and their existential threat to humanity. Bzzt, zap, sizzle, password accepted! Humanity saved! “Cheating bitch,” Kurt Russell mutters through his thick Antarctic beard. Actors pretend to cheer triumphantly.
The final insult is the lack of any indication that Warner Brothers has any long-term interest in any of this. Maybe it’s for the best. Maybe we can’t trust them to turn this franchise over to someone with the last movie’s sense of delight, or wonder, or at least curiosity. At the end of Godzilla vs. Kong, no one finds Thor’s hammer or Monster Zero’s head. No one implies that Mothra will be back. Mecha-Godzilla is squandered. No newspaper clippings hint that there are developments afoot. Eventually, the credits are just the credits.
But first, it all comes to a close with King Kong released into the wild where he can be studied by caring scientists. Just as we met King Kong early in the movie with a couple of old timey songs, we leave him with “The Air That I Breathe” by The Hollies. Don’t even, movie. As if. I don’t know what Warner Brothers paid for that song, but I do know they didn’t earn it. Besides, Lynn Ramsay locked up that song a few years ago in You Were Never Really Here. I guess that means it’s a fitting song, because that’s how I feel about Godzilla vs. Kong. Within a week, it will disappear into a black hole of forgettably vapid studio product. It was never really here.