Review: ‘Godzilla vs. Kong,’ starring Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Julian Dennison and Demián Bichir

March 29, 2021

by Carla Hay

Godzilla and King Kong in “Godzilla vs. Kong” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures)

“Godzilla vs. Kong”

Directed by Adam Wingard

Culture Representation: Taking place in various other parts of the world, the action flick “Godzilla vs. Kong” features a racially diverse cast (white people, African Americans, Asians and Latinos) who are part of the scientific community, corporate business or are underage students.

Culture Clash: Gigantic monster enemies Godzilla and King Kong cross paths, while some greedy corporate people want to exploit the monsters’ power sources in order to make deadly weapons.

Culture Audience: “Godzilla vs. Kong” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of “Godzilla” and “King Kong” movies and don’t care if the story is badly written, sloppily directed and populated with hollow human characters.

Alexander Skarsgård, Rebecca Hall and Kaylee Hottle in “Godzilla vs. Kong” (Photo by Chuck Zlotnick/Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures)

The tedious and atrociously made train wreck that is “Godzilla vs. Kong” probably will please people who have extremely low standards for action flicks. But considering that several superhero movies have proven that action movies can be entertaining spectacles with distinct and memorable characters, there’s really no excuse for why “Godzilla vs. Kong” stinks more than any toxic excrement that can be expelled from these fictional monsters’ bodies. “Godzilla vs. Kong” is the epitome of a “cash grab” film that lazily exploits the nostalgic brand names of beloved creature feature films. In “Godzilla vs. Kong,” the filmmakers do almost nothing to create intriguing characters that can exist in a cinematic art form.

Directed by Adam Wingard and written by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein, “Godzilla vs. Kong” takes an annoying amount of time building up to the inevitable fight scenes described in the movie’s title. The filmmakers inexplicably overstuffed the movie with a lot of characters that barely do anything except act egotistical (if they’re the villains) or look anxious (if they’re the heroes). The human characters who are involved in the most action and decision making in the movie are reduced to spouting idiotic dialogue that makes the monsters in the movie look more intelligent.

Yes, it’s another movie about a creature that threatens to destroy the world, while humans think they can stop the destruction in time, and the greedy ones think they can get rich off of this crisis. That’s pretty much the plot of every movie about Godzilla, King Kong or other giant monster. Pitting two supersized titan monsters against each other should raise the stakes even higher, but “Godzilla vs. Kong” fails in delivering an enjoyable story and has an ending that falls very flat. The movie’s visual effects from Luma Pictures are adequate but not outstanding.

“Godzilla vs. Kong” begins with King Kong living in a biodome on Skull Island, where he is being observed by scientists for research. Leading the team of scientists is Dr. Ilene Andrews (played by Rebecca Hall), who is a single mother to an adopted deaf/mute daughter named Jia (played by Kaylee Hottle), who’s about 9 or 10 years old. Apparently, Ilene cares more about her research than the safety of her underage daughter. Jia is allowed to be in many completely dangerous situations that would be more than enough for child protective services to get involved.

But dumb movies like “Godzilla vs. Kong” pander to the lowest common denominator by showing people with horrific parenting skills and acting as if nothing is wrong with it. And if that means making it look like kids should be allowed to be in the line of fire and actively fighting these monstrous and deadly creatures, then so be it. Kaylee and some of the other underage characters in “Godzilla vs. Kong” are portrayed as having uncanny knowledge and skills that the adults don’t possess. It’s just more pandering to a kiddie audience or people with a child’s mentality.

The movie (which was filmed in Hawaii and Australia) jumps all over the place in a haphazard manner, but here are the main locations in the film:

  • Skull Island, where King Kong lives until he’s brought out of hiding for reasons explained in the movie. It’s also where Ilene and her daughter Jia live until they decide to travel to wherever Kong will be relocated.
  • Apex Cybernetics, a high-tech corporation in Pensacola, Florida, is involved in cybertechnology related to military defense weapons. The CEO of Apex is a typical money-hungry villain named Walter Simmons (played by Demián Bichir), who has a conniving daughter named Maya Simmons (played by Eiza González), who wants to take over the business someday. Walter’s loyal right-hand henchman is Apex chief technology officer Ren Serizawa (played by Shun Oguri). Apex also has an engineer named Bernie Hayes (played by Brian Tyree Henry), who ends up becoming a whistleblower.
  • Monarch Relief Camp, also in Pensacola, is the temporary home of refugees who were displaced by the destruction caused in the 2019 movie “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” It’s where divorced dad Mark Russell (played by Kyle Chandler), a former Monarch animal behavior and communication specialist, works to help refugees. Mark has a headstrong and independent teenage daughter named Madison (played by Millie Bobby Brown), who wants to follow in his footsteps as scientist who studies animals.
  • Denham University of Theoretical Science is a think tank in Philadelphia where the workaholic and underappreciated Dr. Nathan Lind (played by Alexander Skarsgård) is working on a top-secret theory/experiment. Aren’t they all in movies like this one?
  • Hong Kong, where some of the characters in the story take a rocket, because apparently it’s not enough just to have transportation by planes, ships, trains or automobiles.
  • Tokyo, because you shouldn’t have a Godzilla movie without Godzilla fighting in Tokyo.
  • Hollow Earth, a place somewhere below the earth’s surface that was discovered in “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” This location also plays a major role in “Godzilla vs. Kong.”

In “Godzilla vs. Kong,” King Kong somehow got access to a javelin (it’s never explained how), and like an Olympic champ, he throws it at the sky while he’s on Skull Island. The javelin pierces the biodome ceiling, so that’s how King Kong finds out that the world he’s been living in has been hermetically sealed.

You know what that means. King Kong becomes restless because he knows he belongs somewhere else. It isn’t long before Ilene and the rest of the scientists find out that King Kong has literally cracked their carefully constructed façade.

Ilene comments about King Kong to a co-worker named Ben (played by Chris Chalk): “The habitat is not going to hold him much longer.” Ben replies, “We need to think about off-site solutions.” Ilene then says, “The island is the one thing that’s kept him isolated. If he leaves, Godzilla will come for him. There can’t be two alpha titans.” Oh yes, there can, or else this movie wouldn’t exist.

The decision is made to move Kong out of Skull Island. King Kong is tranquilized and strapped to a cargo ship. And you just know that tranquilizer is going to eventually wear off. Somehow, Kong’s energy is sensed by Godzilla, who comes out of hibernation from deep in the ocean. Godzilla goes on a rampage in trying to find Kong. It’s all just filler until these two creatures face off against one another.

What does this have to do with Apex? The company has discovered a subterranean ecosystem that’s as “fast as any ocean light.” It has an energy life force that Apex wants to find in order to make a weapon that will defeat Godzilla.

Nathan, a former Monarch employee, says that he tried and failed to find the mysterious Hollow Earth entry. He believes in genetic memory, a theory that says all titans share a common impulse to return to their evolutionary source. Nathan wants to tag along with Ilene and her crew to find the power source that’s in Hollow Earth.

But since “Godzilla vs. Kong” isn’t interested in keeping things simple with only essential characters, there are more people who want to get to Hollow Earth too. There are the Apex villains, of course. And then there’s a motley trio that’s meant to be the movie’s comic relief but they end up saying a lot of corny lines and getting into stereotypical slapstick predicaments.

This trio consists of Apex engineer Bernie, who’s decided he’s going to expose Apex’s dastardly plans; teenage Madison, who apparently skips school so she can save the world in “Godzilla” movies; and her schoolmate Josh Valentine (played by Julian Dennison), who’s the type of character that Dennison is known to play in movies: a sarcastic brat. Josh is also the clownish “klutz” of the group who’s prone to be more terrified than the others. Meanwhile, Bernie sometimes acts like he’s a uttering lines that were rejected from a bad stand-up comedy act.

How did Bernie get mixed up with these kids? Bernie is the host of a podcast called the Titan Trade Podcast, where he spouts “insider” conspiracy theories about Apex but doesn’t reveal his true identity. Even though Bernie’s voice and his irritating motormouth personality would be recognizable to his Apex co-workers on this podcast (Bernie makes no effort to disguise his voice), the movie wants people to believe that Bernie’s been able to keep his podcast identity a secret while he’s spilling confidential company information to the world.

“Something bad is going in here,” Bernie warns in one of his podcast episodes. He says that he’s going to download evidence of a “vast” corporate conspiracy. “It’s more than a leak. It’s a flood,” he adds. “And this flood is going to wash away all of Apex’s lies.” And with that announcement, Bernie essentially tells the world that he’s a company whistleblower, without thinking that the company could possibly catch on to his exposé plan before he actually does it. So dumb.

Madison listens to the podcast and essentially drags a reluctant Josh along when they meet Bernie. Madison uses Josh because he has a car and she doesn’t. As if to put an emphasis on how Bernie is the “out of touch” adult in this trio, he has a very outdated flip phone that he uses a lot in the movie. It might be some type of weird irony that a guy who works as an engineer at a highly advanced tech company doesn’t even have a smartphone, but it just makes Bernie look even more dimwitted, considering all the benefits of a smartphone that he would need on this mission.

Because “Godzilla vs. Kong” is meant to be a family-friendly film, there are the obligatory sappy moments to make it look like this isn’t just a movie with fights and explosions. Jia has an emotional bond with King Kong that’s intended to tug at people’s heartstrings, because somehow she’s taught him sign language without her mother knowing. Ilene eventually finds out, but you have to wonder how much of neglectful parent Ilene must be if she let her daughter spend enough time alone with King Kong that Ilene didn’t know that Jia has now become King Kong’s personal American Sign Language tutor. Kids these days.

And while this awful movie whips around from place to place like flea in search of a mangy dog, somehow the filmmakers forgot to have any meaningful story arc for Madison’s father Mark (who was a protagonist in “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”), who is completely sidelined in “Godzilla vs. Kong.” The parents in this movie are insultingly portrayed as incapable of making truly effective decisions unless the kids show them the right way.

There’s nothing wrong with precocious kid characters, but not at the expense of making the adults with years of scientific knowledge look clueless next to kids who haven’t even graduated from high school yet. The movie completely undervalues and dismisses the life experiences of adults whenever the kid characters are in the same scene. It’s why “Godzilla vs. Kong” has the mentality of video game or a cartoon instead of a live-action movie.

“Godzilla vs. Kong” doesn’t even bother giving the villains anything memorable about their personalities, which is what all worthwhile “good vs. evil” stories are supposed to do. Heroes often have bland, interchangeable personalities, but villains are the ones who are supposed to get the biggest audience reactions in these stories. And audiences like to see some of the clever ways that villains make mischief. None of that happens in “Godzilla vs. Kong.”

There could have been so much improvement to the movie’s lackluster human interactions if the villains were compelling. Walter is very generic, Ren doesn’t talk much, and Maya is a completely unnecessary character. All of the actors in “Godzilla vs. Kong” give performances like they know they’re in a movie where they don’t have to show much acting talent and it’s all about the paychecks they’re getting.

As for the Godzilla vs. King Kong fight scenes that come too late in the movie, they are extremely predictable but at least better than the witless dialogue that the audience has to endure whenever the movie’s scenes focus only on the humans. In order for a monster movie to have the most impact, viewers should care not just about the fight scenes but also about the people whose lives are in danger. And in that regard, “Godzilla vs. Kong” stomps out a lot of humanity to distract viewers with CGI action that isn’t even that great in the first place.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “Godzilla vs. Kong” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on March 31, 2021. The movie was released in several countries outside of the U.S. on March 25 and March 26, 2021.

2019 Academy Awards: performers and presenters announced

February 11, 2019

by Carla Hay

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga at the 76th Annual Golden Globe Awards on January 6, 2019. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced several entertainers who will be performers and presenters at the 91st Annual Academy Awards ceremony, which will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. ABC will have the U.S. telecast of the show, which will not have a host. As previously reported, comedian/actor Kevin Hart was going to host the show, but he backed out after the show’s producers demanded that he make a public apology for homophobic remarks that he made several years ago. After getting a  firestorm of backlash for the homophobic remarks, Hart later made several public apologies but remained adamant that he would still not host the Oscars this year.

The celebrities who will be on stage at the Oscars this year are several of those whose songs are nominated for Best Original Song. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper will perform their duet “Shallow” from their movie remake of “A Star Is Born.” Jennifer Hudson will perform “I’ll Fight” from the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary “RBG.” David Rawlings and Gillian Welch will team up for the duet “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from the Western film “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” It has not yet been announced who will perform “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from the Disney musical sequel “Mary Poppins Returns.”** It also hasn’t been announced yet if Kendrick Lamar and SZA will take the stage for “All the Stars” from the superhero flick “Black Panther.”

Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Philharmonic do the music for the “In Memoriam” segment, which spotlights notable people in the film industry who have died in the year since the previous Oscar ceremony.

Meanwhile, the following celebrities have been announced as presenters at the ceremony: Whoopi Goldberg (who has hosted the Oscars twice in the past), Awkwafina, Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Tina Fey, Jennifer Lopez, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Amandla Stenberg, Tessa Thompson Constance Wu, Javier Bardem, Angela Bassett, Chadwick Boseman, Emilia Clarke, Laura Dern, Samuel L. Jackson, Stephan James, Keegan-Michael Key, KiKi Layne, James McAvoy, Melissa McCarthy, Jason Momoa and Sarah Paulson. Goldberg and Bardem are previous Oscar winners.

Other previous Oscar winners taking the stage will be Gary Oldman, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney, who won the actor and actress prizes at the 2018 Academy Awards.

Donna Gigliotti (who won an Oscar for Best Picture for 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love) and Emmy-winning director Glenn Weiss are the producers of the 2019 Academy Awards. This will be the first time that Gigliotti is producing the Oscar ceremony. Weiss has directed several major award shows, including the Oscars and the Tonys. He will direct the Oscar ceremony again in 2019.

**February 18, 2019 UPDATE: Bette Midler will perform “The Place Where Los Things Go,” the Oscar-nominated song from “Mary Poppins Returns.” British rock band Queen, whose official biopic is the Oscar-nominated film “Bohemian Rhapsody,” will also perform on the show with lead singer Adam Lambert. It has not been revealed which song(s) Queen will perform at the Oscars.

February 19, 2019 UPDATE: These presenters have been added to the Oscar telecast: Elsie Fisher, Danai Gurira, Brian Tyree Henry, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Keaton, Helen Mirren, John Mulaney, Tyler Perry, Pharrell Williams, Krysten Ritter, Paul Rudd and Michelle Yeoh.

February 21, 2019 UPDATE: These celebrities will present the Best Picture nominees: José Andrés, Dana Carvey, Queen Latifah, Congressman John Lewis, Diego Luna, Tom Morello, Mike Myers, Trevor Noah, Amandla Stenberg, Barbra Streisand and Serena Williams.

Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson and ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ team untangle secrets of their groundbreaking movie

October 6, 2018

by Carla Hay

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Jake Johnson, Lauren Velez, Shameik Moore, Brian Tyree Henry Bob Persichetti and Peter Ramsey at the “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” panel at New York Comic Con in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Sony Pictures)

The animated film “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” was one of the most talked-about revelations at the 2018 edition of New York Comic Con in New York City. Not only were fans given a huge surprise treat by seeing the first 35 minutes of the film before the panel discussion took place, but those in the audience who saw the sneak preview were also raving about it. Simply put: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (which opens in theaters on December 14, 2018) has the makings of being an award-winning hit.

The movie also represents the first time on the big screen that Spider-Man will be played by characters other than Peter Parker. The main Spider-Man in “Into the Spider-Verse” is Miles Morales, a half-Puerto Rican, half-African American high schooler from Brooklyn, who almost reluctantly becomes the masked webslinger under the mentorship of Parker. The trailers for the movie indicate that Morales’ love interest Gwen Stacy will also take on the persona of Spider-Gwen, plus there are other variations of Spider-Man in this movie’s alternate universe. (No spoilers here.)

After getting rapturous applause following the sneak preview, several members of the “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” team took to the stage for a discussion panel. They included Shameik Moore (voice of Miles Morales); Jake Johnson (voice of Peter Parker); Lauren Velez (voice of Rio Morales, Miles’ mother); Brian Tyree Henry (voice of Jefferson Davis, Miles’ father); producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller; and directors Bob Persichetti and Peter Ramsey. Here is what they said:

Christopher Miller, Phil Lord, Jake Johnson, Shameik Moore, Lauren Velez, Brian Tyree Henry, Bob Persichetti and Peter Ramsey at the “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” panel at New York Comic Con in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Sony Pictures)

Phil and Chris, how did you get involved in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”?

Lord: When Sony came to us and said, “Wouldn’t it be cool to do Spider-Man as an animated movie?” And the first thing we thought was, “Yeah, that would be awesome to see a comic book come to life, but wouldn’t it be the seventh Spider-Man movie? It would have to feel like something super-fresh.” So we said we wouldn’t want to do it unless it was Miles Morales’ story.

Miller: It seemed like they really wanted us to do this, so we could make some demands. And so, we used the fact that this story had been told a lot of times to our advantage, because the expectation now is, “How can we do it differently?”

The visuals are stunning. Peter and Bob, can you talk about the visual approach and how the story is set in Brooklyn?

Ramsey: As Phil said, this was a chance for us to really lean into a medium that was made for Spider-Man … How can we take advantage of a medium that has been visually expressive for so many years and tie it into the original source material? And so, we started to lean into flash frames and visuals that are really reminiscent of drawings, but we had to figure out a way to do it with a computer, which is its own giant task.

And then separately, we’ve seen the Peter Parker story. We know. We haven’t seen the Miles Morales story. Brooklyn is such a character. There are so many things that were born out of New York: hip-hop, graffiti, Miles. How do we view the movie with a character that is the city? Each borough has its own flavor.

Persichetti: The great thing for us, as filmmakers, is that the stars all kind of lined up, and we were in a situation where we had producers/creators—Phil [Lord]  and Chris [Miller]—who had a vision, and a studio that said, “You can do that,” even though they didn’t know what we were going to do.

Every step along of the way, everyone on the team pushed as far as they could into his idea of using animation to be more expressive, be like a comic book, honor the original source, and to try to bring New York 2018 to life in a way that everybody in the audience can understand, so everyone can go through this experience in Miles’ shoes. Hopefully, we got it right.

Ramsey: And I think the secret was we didn’t tell them how bold of a visual approach we were going to take until it was too late to change it.

Jake Johnson and Shameik Moore at the “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” panel at New York Comic Con in New York City.   (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Sony Pictures)

Shameik, what was it like to inhabit the Miles Morales character?

Moore: I can relate to the upbringing we’re looking at. I’m not actually Latino, but I feel the spirit. I’m very excited. When I was younger and I first saw Miles Morales, I was like, “Dude, there’s a black Spider-Man out there.”

I wrote it down in a journal filming this movie called “Dope.” I said, “I am Miles Morales. I am Spider-Man.” And two years later, I got the opportunity, with these guys. We made an amazing movie. It really is a crazy thing.

Jake, what can you say about the Peter Parker character in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”?

Johnson: It’s Peter Parker at 40. Peter Parker who’s a little chubby. Peter Parker who’s a little depressed. I just saw [the movie] this morning. It’s just so exciting, and I’m fired up to be in it.

Jake, how would you describe the relationship between Peter Parker and Miles Morales?

Johnson: They become partners in crime. They become unlikely friends. There’s a little bit of “The Karate Kid.” They end up needing each other to get out of a situation, and they become friends along the way.

Bryan Tyree Henry at the “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” panel at New York Comic Con in New York City.   (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Sony Pictures)

Brian, how would you describe your Jefferson Davis character as Miles’ father?

Henry: It reminded me of my father. I was raised by my father for … most of my formative years—junior high through high school—puberty, mostly. My father was a Vietnam vet, and there was this kid he was trying to raise. Looking at the [the movie], I was like, “Oh, that’s what he was going through!” I didn’t think I was that bad, but I was off the chain!

There is nothing more important to me than to see a black boy and his father. We’ve seen the single mom trying to bring up a teenage boy to be a man, but it’s really nice to see … Miles Morales has both of his parents. He’s bilingual and raised in Brooklyn. His mom works in a hospital, and [his father] is a cop.

He had a damn good upbringing. We made a good man! It’s important for everyone to see that Miles is part of that. It was very important for me to be part of that, to be someone trying to raise [Miles] right and make him a decent man … And to play the husband of Lauren Velez? I jumped at the chance. Our son is the bomb! It’s an honor to be on this panel with all these creators. And Miles is “dope.” See what I did there?

Shameik Moore and Lauren Velez at the “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” panel at New York Comic Con in New York City.   (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Sony Pictures)

Lauren, can you talk about your Rio character, who’s Miles’ mother?

Velez: This is my first animation [project] ever. I had no idea what to expect at all. I’m floored by everything. I’m floored by the storytelling, the visual style. Is that animation? Look at the depth of that. So much if it is beyond what I expected. I really have the most amazing family.

My son [Miles] is so dope and my husband is amazing. I’m the daughter of a cop [in real life], and seeing this [movie] made me think so much of my own family and growing … [Miles] doesn’t come from a broken home. He comes from a real stable, professional parenting environment and parents who want the best for him, and want him to achieve his highest potential. That’s why they’ve sent him away to a school that is better for him but is still diverse; he’s not completely away from his world. All of that I thought was so important.

And the bilingual aspect of it. I’m Nuyorican, and I think Miles is such loving, wonderful son on the cusp of manhood. I feel like [Rio] supports him in moving toward being the man she wants him to but still wants to nurture him and hold on to him and take care of him. I think, secretly, she thinks his art is so dope, and she supports that.