Godzilla is the undisputed king of kaiju. Though not the first huge monster to appear in a film that might properly be labeled a kaiju (King Kong might well be considered the first, though there are arguments to be made about earlier films featuring dinosaurs as stand-ins for more unusual beasts), this titan has been the definitive representation of the genre in motion pictures since 1954, and the one the term was first applied to. King Kong might well be an overgrown ape, but Godzilla is something all its own and a force of nature.

Hollywood has been trying to recapture some of the spirit of kaiju films since the late 90’s, with far less success than Japan has had. Witness that atrocity from 1998, directed by acclaimed disaster raconteur Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow), where Godzilla is no longer some ponderous atomic creature but an overgrown marine iguana with a great love of fish. He’s GINO (Godzilla in Name Only). But I did love Matthew Broderick’s beret in that film. The problem may have been trying to take the material too seriously and make it feel “realistic.” Kaiju are anything but realistic.

With its latest attempts at building a monstrous cinematic universe, Universal has returned to the well of Godzilla in a series of – well, if I’m being honest – mostly terrible films. Though not as bad as 1998. Godzilla, in 2014, was followed by Godzilla: King of the Monsters in 2019. In there somewhere was Kong: Skull Island, a REALLY weird film that was simultaneously good AND bad (terrible plot, but it had Loki in it being nice, and the cgi was glorious). Having reestablished the two most famous kaiju in history – one American, one Japanese – it was inevitable that things would lead to a showdown.

And so, while doing our laundry and allowing my brain some idle time to ponder my novel in progress, I turned to Godzilla vs. Kong for my Sunday afternoon view pleasure. And if you want to skip the spoilers below, let me just say this: I got a lot of thinking about the book done and made great progress. That should tell you all you need to know about this film. Okay, it wasn’t complete trash. It might even be considered competent fun. But let’s get on to the review. . .

The plot of this movie is relatively thin, as it should be. These movies are about big monsters smashing things, and in this I would say the movie excels at its core function. But what plot they did slather over the excellent city smashing only served to waste time and raise far more questions than it ever answered.

For one: you mean a super secretive, high tech company with thousands of heavily armed security guards at its beck and call did not realize that one of its employees ran an open conspiracy broadcast about its work? And that same company is SO BAD at security that the conspiracy theorist (who is right of course, and given our current political environment, that was a CHOICE) and two teens can easily infiltrate the facility and make their way through a hidden evil-villain-monorail to the ground floor where their most secretive project is being rolled out, without ever once encountering anyone at all?

For two: wait, the earth is hollow? Okay, sure, big scary monsters are running around and belief has to be suspended. But… but… but the earth is HOLLOW????

For three: anti-gravity, heavily armed, Stargate: Atlantis style pods. They exist. For no reason other than “the plot demanded they exist.”

For four: all this time and effort worrying about kaiju dominating the world, and the military still shoots Godzilla with missiles it already knows won’t work. They haven’t bothered to try and build something better????

Okay, fine, forget the plot. Ditch it. It’s not worth talking about. The cast is competent in their efforts to turn the scientific gobbledygook into reasonable examples of human responses to “big giant monsters are destroying a city and we have to stop them!” Millie Bobby Brown is always fun to watch, and seems to be enjoying herself, with a flair for clever reactions (she’s really becoming quite the actor, I dig it). Kyle Chandler is woefully underused as her father (the man had the chops to play a major supporting role in the Jackson-directed King Kong movie back in 2005 and was spectacular as a vain, self-absorbed 1930’s actor), and Lance Reddick shows up and I never do not love him when he’s on screen (a la John Wick as the delightful hotel concierge). Toss in young Australia actor Julian Dennison who was great in the second Deadpool film, and it’s a solid cast of actors from top to bottom.

Shame they don’t have anything to work with.

Unlike the previous Godzilla film, the CGI in this one is far better. Rather than muddy shots often setup as night battles, which made everything dark and hard to see, this one has most of its action take place during the daylight hours. Kong and Godzilla are both rendered beautifully, and the fight scenes are gorgeous. Even the Hollow World scenes are well done, and I like the way they played with gravity during those moments.

Look, it’s a kaiju film. We don’t expect much. And not expecting much, it gives you what you want. I just wish they hadn’t tried so hard to make a real story behind the creatures fighting and put so many good people on the screen. None of them get enough to work with and it’s a wasted effort. Just show us Kong and Godzilla beating the crap out of each other, and we’re good to go.

I’m giving Godzilla vs. Kong 5 out of 10 in my Reynolds Wrap-up. It does what a good kaiju film should, but undermines it with a truly horrendous plot that wastes good actors in roles they don’t need to spend their time doing.

∈ ∋

As a palate cleanser, and because the second load of laundry hadn’t finished yet, I followed up with The New Mutants. I’d heard about this film before the pandemic hit, but everything had gone pretty quiet since then and I didn’t even recall if it was released in theaters. Apparently it had been last August, and hadn’t done very well. Bad reviews and a global pandemic contributed to its failures.

That’s unfortunate. There’s actually a fair amount to like about this particular super hero story. Marvel and 20th Century Fox performed admirably in attempting to replicate the haunted house genre of films within the context of super powered beings. I’ve generally enjoyed how Marvel tries to slip tropes and uses various thematic forms (comedies, dramas, heist films, spy thrillers) with its comic book stories.

The setting is a mansion, much like in the X-Men series of films, and that’s certainly what the story wants us to believe. Only here we have a group of very troubled youths, most of whom have killed others (mostly accidentally) with their powers. It initially feels very stock and trope: you’ve got angry bitch; stuck up rich kid; hick redneck; and sensitive waif. Thrown into this mix is Danielle Moonstar, a young Cheyenne woman whose entire home town – including her father (Adam Beach, who is always excellent) – died in a horrific attack by some unseen creature. Before she herself is attacked, she passes out and wakes in this new place.

Bitch girl pulls mean girl on her. Waif girl pulls nice girl duty (which spurs an excellent romance between her and Dani, and it’s great for Marvel to be leaning into LGBTQ+ characters finally). But strange things are happening around them. Each person is revisited not just by the memories of the horrors they’ve faced or the people they’ve killed, but actual physical manifestations of their nightmares. Things which can hurt, brand, even potentially kill them. There’s a lot of weirdness in this story, and a lot of genuinely scary moments.

I think this potential for stories about how super powers can be negative WITHOUT the people who have them being evil or bad is unfortunately overlooked. Marvel has hinted at it with the Avengers and the fallout from Sokovia, but this was really a good chance to examine such concepts and play with them. And for the most part, I think the movie did a decent job of it, bringing us down close and personal with heroes who have been scarred by their own crimes.

The movie does a good job undermining various character tropes, too. Rich guy turns out to be less of a douche and more of a “putting on a brave face” because of what happened to him. Redneck and rich guy are actually good friends who help each other, while in most movies rich guy would treat him like a dick. Mean bitch retains her attitude, but we quickly grow to realize why she distances herself from everyone else, and it’s pretty said and depressing. Waif girl (well played by Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones fame) remains who she is, but stories always need a core to revolve around.

The big problem here is not the story or the characters. It’s that, in attempting a house of horrors narrative, too much is being telegraphed and there aren’t really any surprises. Of course we know who is causing the new hallucinations that weren’t there before she arrived. Of course we quickly realize this mansion is not related to the X-Men, and these kids are not going to be sent off to play on the varsity squad when they graduate from here. Of course we know they’ll find a way to bond as a team and get out of this horrible place while learning how to master their powers.

It’s still a decent film. I enjoyed it in fact. They didn’t shy away from people handling difficult concepts and terrible outcomes for the things they’ve been gifted (or cursed, depending on your feelings). They subverted some of the usual tropes. The young actors were very competent in their roles. I think this movie would have worked better as a six part Disney+ offering perhaps. More time to open up the story of each character and build a stronger connection for the viewer.

On the Reynolds Wrap-up, I’m giving this a 6 of 10. Underrated film that explores what it means to be good and have done evil, in an unusual setting for super hero films. But it could have done far more with the material it had at hand.

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