Monsters smash cities and each other in GODZILLA VS KONG, in theaters and on HBO Max.

*** out of ****
Rated PG-13
(for intense sequences of creature violence/destruction and brief language)
Released: March 31, 2021, in theaters and on HBO Max
Runtime: 113 minutes
Directed by: Adam Wingard

: Alexander Skarsgård, Rebecca Hall, Millie Bobby Brown, Kaylee Hottle, Brian Tyree Henry, Julian Dennison, Demián Bichir, Kyle Chandler, Eiza González, Shun Oguri, Lance Reddick

Playing in theaters and on HBO Max

Three films into the rebooted Warner Bros. Monsterverse, here’s how the scorecard stands:

Godzilla and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (the first and third entries) are relentlessly conventional, if slickly produced, with the latter adding corny family melodrama. (Well, cornier.)

Kong: Skull Island (an early-70s set prequel to the modern-day Godzilla flicks), was, by contrast, notably superior (and infinitely more fun) with its inspired mix of gonzo blockbusting and cinematic scale.

Now comes Godzilla vs. Kong — the fourth chapter in the series, and first to boast a big showdown between the two apex titans — and, predictably, it lands somewhere between the two extremes. Conventional to its core yet brandishing just enough bizarro chutzpah, this big budget B-movie is the best to feature Godzilla so far.

One of the benefits of the Monsterverse compared to, say, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that it’s much easier to enter into at any point. While each story is interconnected, it’s all far less intricate. A few lines of basic exposition gets the viewer caught up on whatever they need to know, and even those backstory nuggets aren’t necessary.  Nobody’s going to get lost by plot intricacies or lingering narrative through-lines. 

That benefit is also a weakness of the series, one that keeps things fairly simplistic and rote. The genre beats are familiar as are the parent-child blowups, ones that strike even against the backdrop of cataclysmic crises (Jeez dad, why won’t you trust me about Godzilla?! GYAH!). The same certainly applies here.

As such, plot summaries are unnecessary. What you see is what you get. We’re here for a Giant Monster Smackdown, after all, and Godzilla vs. Kong certainly delivers the goods — not once, not twice, but three times (at least), doling out smash-em-up, city-obliterating set pieces more consistently than its predecessors.

It also expands the series mythology with a completely ridiculous bit of sci-fi nonsense called “Hollow Earth” (yes, it’s absurd even for a movie about giant monsters), but it’s also what gives this ride some added juice in the second act, along with much-needed intrigue and mystery (not to mention new visual possibilities).

The Hollow Earth A-story plot (driven by Kong, who’s the more interesting of the two titular beasts) is distinctly more satisfying than the B-story, one that follows a trio (led by returning ensemble co-star Millie Bobby Brown) on a mission to infiltrate and sabotage the secret headquarters of Apex Inc., the evil tech conglomerate that’s responsible for having stirred the heretofore dormant Godzilla back into a raging frenzy.

Director Adam Wingard assembles it all with high energy and colorful spectacle (if not creative invention), capped with a finale fueled by Michael Bay ballistics. Still, even with an added third-act twist, nothing is as satisfying as the simple adrenaline thrill of seeing Kong connect his fist on a swift right punch to Godzilla’s jaw. Even that, despite being available at home on HBO Max, is best enjoyed on the biggest screen (and audio system) possible.

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