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.

Review: ‘Land’ (2021), starring Robin Wright and Demián Bichir

February 9, 2021

by Carla Hay

Robin Wright in “Land” (Photo by Daniel Power/Focus Features)

“Land” (2021)

Directed by Robin Wright

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in rural Wyoming, the dramatic film “Land” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one Latino and some Native American) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A depressed, middle-aged widow, who is grieving over the loss of her husband and son, decides to isolate herself in a remote mountain cabin without knowing a lot of basic survival skills.

Culture Audience: “Land” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in a movie about coping with grief where the acting is better than some of the plot developments.

Demián Bichir and Robin Wright in “Land” (Photo by Daniel Power/Focus Features)

The dramatic film “Land” is a lot like the rural mountainous area that serves as the backdrop of this story. There are peaks and valleys and a lot of spaces to fill in between, with some parts handled in a rougher way than others. “Land” is the feature-film directorial debut of actress Robin Wright, who also stars in the movie, which had its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

“Land” features a lot of scenes of her Edee Holzer character in solitude and sometimes dealing with dangerous elements of the terrain. The performances of Wright and co-star Demián Bichir (the two actors who have the most screen time in the film) elevate “Land” to make it easier to watch this mostly grim and sometimes uplifting movie. It’s a solid directorial debut from Wright, who manages to bring emotional gravitas to a character who remains an enigma for almost the entire movie.

“Land” is supposed to take place mostly in Wyoming, but the movie was actually filmed primarily in Moose Mountain in the Canadian province of Alberta. As a director, Wright displays talent in how striking and immersive she can make the movie’s scenes look, physically and emotionally. (Bobby Bukowski was the cinematographer for “Land.”)

Where the movie needed improvement most was in the screenplay written by Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam. The story dips a little too much into some formulaic “life in the wilderness” tropes before trying to throw in some tearjerking sentimentality during a certain part of the movie where it’s expected. Still, there’s enough to hold people’s interest for anyone curious to see how the movie ends.

The beginning of “Land” shows Edee (whose name is pronounced “ee-dee”) in a therapy session. The therapist asks Edee, “How are you feeling right now?” Edee replies, “I’m feeling like it’s really difficult to be around people because they just want me to get better. Why would anybody want to share it that? They can’t anyway.” The therapist says, “But that means you’re alone with your pain.”

Edee is about to be “alone with her pain” for a lot of this story. The next thing you know, she’s packed up a U-Haul, thrown away her cell phone, and headed to a run-down remote cabin in the mountains. The previous owner was an elderly man who passed away years ago. The person renting out the property is a man named Colt (played by Brad Leland), who meets her at the cabin to make sure that Edee has what she needs to move into the place.

Edee knows that the house hasn’t been cleaned or repaired in a long time, but she tells Colt that she doesn’t care. She also asks Colt to have someone pick up the rental car with the U-Haul. Colt expresses concern that Edee would be in this isolated area without a car, but she assures him that this is how she wants to live. Colt also asks Edee if she knows how to take care of herself in this rural environment, but she shrugs off his doubts. Edee also makes it clear to him that she wants to be left alone.

It turns out that Edee is woefully unprepared for what she experiences in this mountain area. Cleaning up the cabin (which has no indoor plumbing or electricity) is easy compared to dealing with freezing temperatures, finding fresh food, and being on the alert for the occasional wild bear. (You can easily predict how the bear scenario goes.) Edee doesn’t even know how to chop wood or go fishing when she starts living at the cabin, but she learns how through trial and error.

During her period of complete isolation, Edee has flashbacks to three very important people in her life: Her husband Adam (played by Warren Christie), their son Drew (played by Finlay Wojtak-Hissong) and Edee’s sister Emma (played by Kim Dickens), who’s close to Edee’s age. Emma was the one who recommended the therapist whom Edee was seeing before Edee decided to leave her old life behind and go “off the grid” to live in solitude.

As soon as the flashbacks start about Adam and Drew (who’s about 7 or 8 years old in the flashbacks), it’s obvious that they have died and that’s why Edee is so depressed. The flashbacks show that Edee and Emma had a very close relationship, but their closeness wasn’t enough for Edee to overcome her depression. An incident is shown that indicates that at one point, Emma was afraid that Edee might harm herself.

Why was Edee so unprepared to be in this rural environment? It turns out she kind of has a death wish that’s not really suicidal, but more like “I’m going to rough it in the wilderness, and if I can’t handle it, oh well …” But there are moments, such as when she has a bear encounter and some other near-disasters, where she does show a will to survive.

Edee is very aware that she’s ill-prepared to last long in this environment unless she knows how to catch her own food. During the harsh winter, there are no plants or fruit to eat. And through a series of circumstances, all the non-perishable food that was in the cabin is now gone.

Therefore, during a brutal winter, Edee begins to starve and almost freeze to death. She eventually collapses from hunger and hypothermia in the living room of her house, and she wakes up at night to find that a man and a woman have come to her rescue. The man’s name is Miguel Borras (played by Bichir) and the woman is a nurse named Alawa Crowe (played by Sarah Dawn Pledge), who gives Edee the necessary medical treatment because Edee refuses to be taken to a hospital.

It’s revealed later in the movie that Edee was found because Miguel had passed by the house when he had gone hunting earlier that day and noticed that smoke was coming out of the house’s chimney. When he passed by later that evening after his hunting trip, he noticed that there was no smoke coming from the chimney, so he went to investigate. When Miguel saw an unconscious Edee in the house, he called Alawa. Miguel and Alawa know each other because as part of his job, he delivers water to the Native American reservation where she lives.

Alawa voices her suspicions to Edee in asking her why Edee is avoiding being around people. Edee assures Alawa and Miguel that she’s not an outlaw or someone who’s trying to hide for shady reasons. Alawa still looks skeptical, but Miguel is more compassionate and understanding. He offers to help Edee recover at home instead of taking her to a hospital. Alawa reluctantly agrees.

After Edee recovers from her near-death experience, Miguel comes back to her house (against her wishes) and tells her that he wants to teach her how to hunt and trap animals for food. (This is not a good movie to watch if you’re a hardcore vegan or vegetarian, although nothing gets too graphic in the hunting scenes.) Miguel tells Edee that after she’s learned these skills, he will leave her alone.

And it should come as no surprise that Edee and Miguel end up becoming close, and she lets him hang out with her longer than she originally expected. There are many scenes of them forming a gradual friendship while Miguel teaches Edee how to catch her own food. Miguel has a German Shepherd named Potter as his constant companion, and Edee grows fond of the dog too, even though she told Miguel that she’s more of a cat person.

Eventually, Miguel opens up to Edee and tells her that he’s a widower whose wife and daughter were killed in a car accident. Edee remains vague about her past when she interacts with Miguel, and she will only say with pain in her eyes, “I had a family once.” Toward the end of the movie, it’s revealed how Edee’s husband and son died.

Miguel is the type of person who offers sage advice in the way that people do in movies like this one, where the right person comes along at the right time. He’s a true gentleman who doesn’t try to take advantage of someone who’s living in isolation. Some of his dialogue can be on the corny side, such as when he lectures Edee about her starvation collapse: “Only a person who’s never been hungry would think starvation is a good way to die.”

But there are some whimsical moments that lighten the mood, such as a running joke that Miguel and Edee have over how off-key he is when he sings Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” which seems to be one of his favorite songs. Edee also affectionately gives Miguel the nickname Yoda, in a nod to the wise and prophetic “Star Wars” character. She’s shocked when Miguel tells her that he’s never seen a “Star Wars” movie.

To its credit, “Land” does not fall into a “romance novel” cliché trap of having a woman being “rescued” by a handsome stranger, and then they fall in love and live happily ever after. That’s not to say that Edee and Miguel don’t have a deep emotional connection. But having them go down a “romance novel” route wouldn’t ring true, since Edee has a lot of self-healing to do and isn’t ready to jump into another serious relationship.

However, some details of “Land” also needed more authenticity. Throughout the movie, Edee is dressed a little too much like a catalogue model for outdoorsy clothing when she’s supposed to be someone who’s given up on life and wants to be alone. Why bother dressing up if she doesn’t want to be seen by anyone? Edee’s “no makeup” look and unfussy hair look realistic, but her clothing sometimes does not.

Those are minor flaws though, because the rapport between Edee and Miguel is what makes this movie worth watching. Because it takes a while to get to that point, some viewers might find “Land” to be a little too slow-paced in the first third of the movie. There’s not much about Edee’s background that is revealed, although it’s implied that Emma is Edee’s closest living relative.

The blanks aren’t completely filled in, and that’s probably because scenes were cut from the film. The Internet Movie Database page for “Land” lists several cast members playing characters who weren’t in the movie. It appears that there were more flashback scenes that didn’t make the final cut. Overall, “Land” is more of a somber character study of grief than a tension-filled wilderness saga, with enough glimmers of hope and empathetic performances that prevent the movie from being completely depressing.

Focus Features will release “Land” in U.S. cinemas on February 12, 2021. The movie’s VOD release date is March 5, 2021.