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: ‘Weathering With You,’ an animated romance from Japan

January 15, 2020

by Carla Hay

"Weathering With You"
“Weathering With You” (Photo courtesy of GKIDS)

“Weathering With You”

Directed by Makoto Shinkai

Available in the original Japanese version (with English subtitles) or in a dubbed English-language version.

Culture Representation: This Japanese animated fantasy film takes place primarily in Tokyo, with teenagers as the lead characters and adults as supporting characters.

Culture Clash: In this alternate and supernatural world, underage teenagers who live on their own try to find their identities and independence, while sometimes clashing with adults who might try to control or exploit them.

Culture Audience: “Weathering With You” is a family-friendly film that will appeal mostly to fans of Japanese anime and romantic animated films.

“Weathering With You” (Photo courtesy of GKIDS)

“Weathering With You” is an old-fashioned love story wrapped up in a modern setting with futuristic and sci-fi/supernatural elements. This charming animated movie (written and directed by Makoto Shinkai) was Japan’s official 2019 entry for the Best International Feature Film category for the Academy Awards—and it’s almost the polar opposite from Japan’s 2018 entry: the bleak drama “Shoplifters,” which was about a group of thieves from different generations who live together. Interestingly, both movies do have something in common. The central characters are financially unstable people who are living outside the margins of regular society and who find themselves with a surrogate family.

In “Weathering With You,” viewers first see 16-year-old runaway Hokada Morishima on a ship going to Tokyo, where he wants to escape from his remote island home. While on the ship, and after hearing that a major rainstorm is headed that way, Hokada foolishly goes outside during the storm and almost gets swept overboard. He’s saved by a young man, and as a thank you, Hokada buys dinner for the stranger when they arrive in Tokyo. It’s clear from this scene that Hokada is an impulsive risk-taker, but he also has a kind heart.

Because Hokada is underage and doesn’t have any proper ID, it’s difficult for him to find a job. While figuring out where he’s going to get his next meal, a teenage girl who works at a local café takes pity on him and gives him a free hamburger. Hokada eventually runs out of money, and he ends up homeless and living on the street, where he finds a gun in a paper bag and keeps the weapon. That gun will get him into trouble later in the story. Meanwhile, Tokyo and other parts of Japan are experiencing torrential rainstorms.

As luck would have it, Hokada lands a job interview, based on going to an address of a business card he’s found. It’s a small magazine company run by a mysterious widower in his 30s named Keisuke “Kei” Suga, who works out of his cluttered home with his young female assistant named Natsumi. Keisuke and Natsumi report supernatural news stories, and the latest trends they’re chasing have to do with unusual weather-related events. Hokada is hired on the spot to be an assistant/housekeeper. His salary is very low, but he gets a free place to live and free meals as part of his employment.

Shortly after getting the job, Hokada sees the girl from the café being manhandled on the street by a sleazy local club owner, who’s pressuring her to work for him. (It’s implied in the movie but not said out loud that he owns a strip club.) As the club owner and a henchman try to force the girl into the club, and she resists, Hokada intervenes and is punched in the face by the club owner. Hokada then pulls out the gun and shoots it in the air, giving him and the girl a way to escape.

The girl’s name is Hina Amano, and she says she’s 17 and soon about to turn 18. As a thank you for rescuing her, Hina invites Hokada over to her place and makes him lunch. It’s during their lunch date that they both find out that they have something in common: They are living on their own without parental supervision. Hokada confesses that he ran away from home because he thinks living with his parents is too stifling. Hina lives with her younger brother Nagisa (nicknamed Nagi), and she says that the mother who raised them died about a year ago. (Somehow, Hina and Nagisa, who don’t seem to have any other living relatives, have avoided going into foster care.)

Hina also has another big secret that she reveals to Hokada: She’s a “sunshine girl”—a rare “weather maiden” who has the ability to make it stop raining and bring the sun out, simply by praying. Because Hina has recently quit her job, and Hokada wants to supplement his measly income, they both decide to go into business together by offering her weather-control services to the public. They start a website together, and almost immediately, their business becomes a successes, with Nagisa often tagging along when they go to different locations to fulfill weather-changing requests.

But their success comes at a price: According to folklore, the more a sunshine girl uses her weather-changing abilities, the more her body begins to transform from flesh into spirit, until she is supposed to disappear forever into the spirit world. It couldn’t come at a worse time, since Hokada and Hina are starting to fall in love.

Complicating matters, the police (led by the stern Detective Takei) are on the hunt for Hokada, since his parents have reported him missing, and he was caught on surveillance video using the loaded gun in the street fight where he rescued Hina. Meanwhile, Keisuke (who’s depressed and has a drinking problem) has secrets of his own about his family that end up affecting his relationship with Hokada.

If you’ve seen Studio Ghibli films, then you’ll probably know what to expect for this movie’s animation (from production companies CoMix Wave Films and Story Inc.), which has an unfussy but expressive animation style that’s very similar to Studio Ghibli films. The voices of the “Weathering With You” characters are portrayed by different actors, depending on which version of “Weathering With You” that you see. The original Japanese version (with English subtitles) has Kotaro Daigo as Hokada, Nani Mori as Hina, Shun Oguri as Keisuke, Tsubasa Honda as Natsumi, Sakura Kiryu as Nagisa and Yûki Kaji as Detective Takei. There’s also a U.S. version, with the dialogue dubbed in English, that has Brandon Engman as Hokada, Ashley Boettcher as Hina, Lee Pace as Keisuke, Alison Brie as Natsumi, Emeka Guindo as Nagisa, Riz Ahmed as Detective Takei.

“Weathering With You” won’t be considered a major Oscar-winning Japanese animation classic, such as director Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away,” but “Weathering With You” is still a better-than-average modern animated film. Although “Weathering With You” includes serious social issues about homelessness and the hazards of messing with the environment, ultimately this is a sweetly sentimental film where the biggest messages are about taking life-changing risks for true love.

GKIDS released “Weathering With You” for special sneak-preview screenings in select U.S. cinemas on January 15 and January 16, 2020. “Weathering With You” arrived in wider release in U.S. cinemas on January 17, 2020. The movie was originally released in Japan in 2019.