Stockwell review: ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ delivers blockbuster punch as local cinemas reopen

Since everyone wants to be in pictures, we have seen many people from all walks of life break into movies, even going on to have very successful careers. Only recently, however, do we see the opposite with movie stars transitioning into different professions. Most go into politics, and on this date in 1986, Clint Eastwood was elected mayor of Carmel, California. I bet that really made his day.

I am not sure if you got the joke, but I was feeling lucky that maybe you would.

In other news, as the state begins to open up, the McHenry Downtown Theater is now up and running, and the Classic Cinemas Woodstock theater plans to reopen April 15, and the McHenry Outdoor Theater on April 30. That is great to hear for those of us who are fans of going to see movies on the big screen. Please check those theaters’ websites for protocols, but it is exciting as we start to get back to “normal.”

Speaking of normal, the horror genre has undergone the biggest shift in content over the years, and is starting to come back to its roots with monster movies. Warner Bros.’ MonsterVerse, which started with “Godzilla” in 2014, then “Kong: Skull Island” in 2017, finishing with “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” in 2019, is partly responsible for this movement.

The fourth installment, “Godzilla vs. Kong,” was dual-released on March 31 in both theaters and streaming (HBO Max), and delivers what the movie industry desperately needs: a big-screen blockbuster. It figures that it would take two titans of cinema lore to lead the way.

Set five years after Godzilla’s triumph over King Ghidorah, we find Kong relaxing in a peaceful valley on Skull Island. After his morning routine, he eventually comes in contact with a young Iwi native (and the last) named Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who communicates with him via sign language. When Kong strips a tree and throws it into the sky, it is revealed that he is being held captive in a Monarch containment facility on the island.

Halfway across the globe, Godzilla attacks (yes, that’s right, attacks) a facility owned by Apex Cybernetics, and no one can explain why. Back on Skull Island, Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) is the adoptive mother of Jia as well as the main caretaker of Kong, who believes they have to keep Kong in the facility to keep him away from Godzilla.

When Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) is recruited to go into Hollow Earth (where the Titans come from) to help them bring Godzilla under control, he figures Kong is the best asset they have. He convinces Andrews to allow Apex and their team to bring Kong to Antarctica (where an entrance to Hollow Earth is) in order to help save the world. Of course, that puts Kong on Godzilla’s radar, and a collision course is set.

I usually don’t like to start with the negative parts, but there are a couple minor issues that hamper the film as a whole.

First off, the story is very, very simple. The film is written by a host of writers, led by Terry Rossio, the Disney alum who gave the world “Aladdin,” “Shrek” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Godzilla is terrorizing the planet, and the only possible police officer is Kong. Why Godzilla is doing this happens to be very vague, really the only “mystery” to the thin plot. We do need the two titans to collide, so we have to give the opposing forces reasons to act the way they do. It is very difficult to accomplish this when your two main characters don’t talk.

Oddly enough, they happen to be the two best acting performances in the film. Kong does have more of a personality than Godzilla, but that has been consistent since the beginning and isn’t really a cause for concern.

Hall and Skarsgard are good actors, but there is no development, nor reasons for their actions. Hall is Kong’s babysitter, but it is never explained why or how she comes to that position. There is a brief moment of exposition where she explains how she ends up with Jia (which is admirably done by the talented Hottle), but neither gets to flex their acting chops because of lack of depth to their characters.

Millie Bobby Brown reprises her role of Madison, and Brian Tyree Henry is Bernie Hayes. Again, both are decent actors, but the situations they get into are because they are “Scooby-dooing” what is happening with Godzilla and the conspiracy theories behind Apex. Kyle Chandler is back again as Dr. Mark Russell, but his main contribution to the film is to be absent as his daughter goes after Godzilla.

However, let’s face it – we didn’t expect a thought-provoking story or critically acclaimed acting. We wanted to see the big boys duke it out and that they do. The fight sequences are, in a word, awesome.

Cinematographer Ben Seresin and the visual effects team deliver grand-scale battles. The ship/ocean fight is excellent, the Hong Kong one will bring up your heart rate. A combination of modern-day effects and a throwback to the original “Godzilla,” it is certainly a crowning achievement in the film.

Watching it on a small TV screen is powerful, so a trip to the theater might rock the house. Despite the lack of story or memorable acting, the film is exciting and fun and definitely worth the watch. This is a film that will rekindle the desire to see movies on the big screen, which is probably the whole point.

The 113-minute film is rated PG-13, a fair rating. Outside of the violence, there’s not much else at issue. It is a movie that can be enjoyed by any age – and they will enjoy it. Get a pizza or two and curl up at home, or mask up and head to a local screen to see it.

Whatever food you decide on, be sure to include Kong and Godzilla’s favorite vegetable: squash.

Happy viewing!

• Jim Stockwell is a tenured instructor of film and broadcast journalism at McHenry County College, teaching Introduction to Film, Advanced Film and Introduction to Public Speaking.