Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Godzilla vs Kong Roundtable: A Monsterously Good Time

: Okay, to start - if you were writing one of those snappy taglines for this film what would it be?

Dean: What if Pacific Rim was… Bad?

Joe: Monster Big Smash, People Dumb

Vance: Inevitable Monster Team-Up, Engage!

G: Here’s mine. Goodbye Rubber Suits, Hello CGI Overload! I admit it’s not very catchy.

Now tell me how you really felt about the movie.

Joe: This might color absolutely everything I’m about to say (and by might, I mean it will): I love disaster movies. I don’t care if it is a big budget smash (San Andreas, 2012) or a made for TV shlocky train wreck (Category 6: Day of Destruction, 10.5), or even friggin Sharknado, they’re all great even when they are not. Godzilla vs Kong is a disaster movie. It doesn’t have anything to say about anything, but it’s really pretty when the monsters are throwing down. As such, I loved it. It gave me most of what I wanted.

Dean: The disaster here is the actual movie, on SO many levels. Obviously, it's a big, dumb action movie - or, it's supposed to be, but it REALLY wants you to think it's smart. The antagonists motivation is some weird xenophobic ideal of keeping humans the dominant species? And since it has to deliver on the actual title of the movie, it forces Godzilla and Kong together in convoluted, stupid ways. Because they are convoluted and stupid, we have to spend a whole bunch of runtime with boring, vapid humans with cookie-cutter issues that set up the title fight (get it?) we are waiting for. But wait! Some people like Kong, and some like Godzilla, so we can't actually have a victor, so here is Mecha-zilla to be the heel and take the L.

Let history remember that this movie literally starts with The Truman Show: Kong.

: I couldn’t tell if the movie wanted me to think it was smart, or if it was winking at me telling me it knew this was all dumb. It was one of my biggest problems with it.

Joe: Let’s get the most important thing out of the way first: Godzilla won. They had a victor and it was clear. Kong was down, out, and dying. Kong only came back for the final MechaGodzilla fight because it got hit with some magic Hollow Earth core juice. Kong lost.

I won’t argue your boring vapid humans, because the humans in the movie were stupid (and I can’t believe I’m saying that about Kyle Chandler - Clear Eyes, Full Heart - Can’t Lose!). They were stupid and dumb and you’d think that doesn’t matter in a kaiju movie but I’ve started watching the original Godzilla movies and some of the humans are stupid there, but some of the movies are actually saying something and dealing with real tragedy of a monster destroying a city. The first Godzilla was made in the wake of the American atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and it’s clearly a response.

Godzilla vs Kong is a response to monsters throwing down is awesome (which, it is).

Dean: That is probably my biggest issue with it, is that both the originals of Kong and Godzilla had heart, had something to say, and connected to the world at large. To reference my tagline up there, Pacific Rim does not it-but it doesn't pretend to, and it works because of that self-awareness. This TRIES to, or acts like it is, and it falls completely flat for me because of that (see: like half my content on this site). Also, Kong getting back into the fight via plot armor makes me basically fly into a Hulk-style berserker rage.

Joe: Kong: Skull Island had a LOT of heart.

Dean: I had such high hopes after that movie. It was brilliant.

Vance: Some of my kids are finally old enough to keep up with the subtitles, so they recently saw the original Gojira for the first time, and we talked a lot about the resonance and commentary on the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. But we have loved some of the English-dubbed sequels for many years, especially the ones with King Ghidorah, Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster and Invasion of Astro-Monster. Those are dumb, but fun. And the humans are wildly outlandish, which I think gives the movies their particular flavor.

The Godzilla vs. Kong characters included a podcaster. It’s not the same.

Joe: I wonder if our responses to the movie are a matter of expectation. Skull Island was far better than I expected, I liked both previous Godzilla movies, but putting Kong and Godzilla together was about what I expected - dumbness and throwing down. But now that I’m watching the originals in order - yeah, that’s about right for the combo movies.

Look, I just watched Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) and a Mothra caterpillar spat silk in the faces of Godzilla and Rodan, told them to apologize to each other, and pretty much bullied them into teaming up to fight Ghidorah. Dumb is cooked into the franchise.

Vance: One of my favorite moments in that movie, yes.

: Which isn’t to say that Godzilla vs Kong couldn’t and shouldn’t have been more. There’s no reason why the people couldn’t have been smarter. Of course Apex was a shitty company that was causing Godzilla to attack (on purpose?) - but everything around it could have been way smarter than it was.

G: Parts of it were good, I think - mostly in the second half of the film. But it’s not a good film. For me the question is whether it’s bad bad or good bad. The Toho films, outside the original Gojira (which is a true classic), mostly fall into one of those categories. I mean, a lot of them are basically 80 minutes of boring exposition in a control room followed by 10 minutes of obvious dude in rubber suit stomping on obvious cardboard models. So cranking up the action factor isn’t per se a bad thing.

Guess my problem with the film is more on the production side than anything else. When I was a kid, I watched the original Godzilla vs. King Kong like a dozen times. And each time I’d get upset that Kong triumphs in the end (this being the US version). Each time I hoped that, somehow, Godzilla would win. And now here it is - the moment I’d been waiting for all those years! And all I can think of is…

….why the fuck doesn’t that aircraft carrier tip over, and Kong drown?

Also, what happened to me? As a kid, I could deal with obvious dude in rubber suit stomping on obvious cardboard models. Now I just can’t handle CGI overdesign. It’s ridiculous, and unrealistic. And yes, I know ‘realism’ in a kaiju film is an absurd to demand - but what I really want is a Godzilla who moves like an actual kaiju would move if it was real. Think the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, only better thanks to advancements in CGI. Instead we’ve got two ridiculous looking monsters moving and acting in ridiculous ways because CGI advancements also mean “not limited by actual laws of physics, biology and/or common sense.” Rant over.

Joe: I...liked….the CGI and movement and all of that mess?

Dean: My CGI rant is that ANY effects should be in service of the story. So I can deal with rubber suits and the wires in early SciFi if the story is there. The first moment of terrible CGI came as we saw Kongs Truman Show bubble, and a stupid tree spear, and get introduced to Apex - and all of that is SO DUMB. And not "dumb fun monster fight", DUMB dumb. So the CGI, good or bad, doesn't help or serve anything. Babylon 5 had terrible CGI and is one of the best shows ever.

Also, the ship fight was just SO bad. Godzilla could have drowned him in 10 minutes flat, and then resorts to horror movie levels of logic by NOT MAKING SURE KONG IS DEAD GOD I HATE THIS MOVIE.

Vance: It wasn’t specifically the CGI that kept making me angry, it was the over-design in general. You see dumb over-design in sci-fi stuff all the time, but this was intense. The Hollow Earth vehicles with their weird energy spiral jets were one thing, but the literal hallways of Apex being V-shaped, or diamond shaped...nobody builds walls like that. I don’t care how evil you are, you don’t build walls in a way that jettisons 10,000 years of human architecture just cuz.

This is a very nitpicky gripe, but the converse is one of the things that really sells effective sci-fi. The lived-in look of the original Star Wars was part of the reason why I adored it as a kid. It felt like an actual place that existed somewhere. In Forbidden Planet, the doorways are called out specifically as an anthropological clue to the previous inhabitants of the planet. But when you’re already asking me to believe the Earth is hollow and Kong lives in the Truman Show, just...please...just give me plumb walls.

G: THANK YOU. I was just ranting off screen about how the design in O.G. Star Wars has a sort of realism to it - what you more eloquently call “lived in.” But that’s it. The era of the CGI-diven action movie - which George Lucas helped usher in - is more or less defined by the idea that nothing needs to look lived in. Everything is spectacle.

: Along the same lines, the whole Hollow Earth aspect really rubbed me wrong. On the one hand, I appreciated the nod back to the early days of sci-fi writings and the tradition of Hollow Earth stories, but between that and the wall of conspiracies around just felt too close to our actual right now (I’m looking at you, Flat Earthers), without having anything to actually say about it.

Joe: Oh - point of contention, G - Kong also wins in the Japanese version of King Kong vs Godzilla. That was just a weird rumor when the Japanese version wasn’t available in the states. Random trivia for you.

G: Well shows how much I know. Maybe I just wanted there to be a Japanese version where Godzilla wins? I was really into Godzilla as a kid, but there wasn’t much of an internet back then, and I didn’t have access to it anyway.

Joe: Apparently (and according to the internet) - that was the story for decades about Godzilla winning in the Japanese and Kong in the US. But - Godzilla is the heel and the heel loses in those fights. Or is driven away.

G: Yeah he definitely is the heel. Kong is happy on his island until people disturb him. Humans are also to blame for Godzilla, but he’s more proactive about destroying stuff. Kong is more relatable in the end, except that Godzilla also protects children sometimes. Anyway, one thing I did like about Godzilla vs. Kong is that they made Kong more sympathetic. Despite my Team Gojira leanings, I found myself unhappy to see Kong losing. Just let him go live his life, man!

Joe: The humans definitely did Kong dirty. He was incredibly sympathetic - a thinking creature who protects and can learn language.

G: Have to say, I like that they’ve revived Kong as a character. I tried to rewatch the original a few years back - and it is an important, iconic film - but as a kid I never really picked up on how hideously racist it is. Like, even bad for its time. That’s as good a reason for a remake as any - to take something that just doesn’t translate today and re-examine it through a modern lens. Possibly I’m giving the new films too much credit here. But the new Kong films are generally pretty okay - as discussed above, Skull Island is arguably the best of the new Kaiju-verse films.

Joe: I haven’t seen much of Kong. I think I hated the Peter Jackson flick and I haven’t actually seen any of the earlier ones all the way through (except for King Kong vs Godzilla) I’m on a kaiju kick, so I do plan to start with the original 1933 flick and move on from there. I’m...not terribly surprised that it doesn’t hold up, though. I’m more curious how the Jessica Lange version is, to be honest.

G: Okay, let’s talk about what comes next for Godzilla and the Kaiju-verse. We’ve seen Godzilla and Kong, and we’ve seen a lot of the others too - King Ghidora, Rodan, Mothra and Mechagodzilla. So what’s next? If you ask me, there can only be one answer:

Godzilla Junior.

: They did a good job, I felt, with the MUTOs in the 2014 Godzilla, so they could always cook up some new threat, but with Godzilla Junior just waiting there for a turn in the spotlight? How do you not?

Joe: I’ve got two movies before I get to Son of Godzilla, but you know what? Sure, why the hell not? Otherwise, bring in space based threats. I assume in the new monsterverse everything is terrestrial, even Ghidorah, so something from beyond? Bonus points if they make up a story about how that threat destroyed all life on Mars or Venus.

Also - can I just assume we’re getting Kong: Hollow Earth at some point in the future and be happy about it?

G: Ghidorah is from another planet! At least, sometimes he is. Including King of the Monsters. Ha! Got you back for bursting my “Godzilla won in the Japanese version” bubble.

Joe: Well played. Apparently I forgot the story in King of the Monsters.

Vance: The aliens in the second Ghidorah film from back in the day are very special. And the mysterious princess in the first Ghidorah movie channeling the spirit of a Martian is also...very special. It’s this kind of goofiness that endears those movies to me so much.

Joe: Final question, just to put a final stamp on the whole thing - even granting particular gripes and nit picks, did you like Godzilla vs Kong?

I mean, Dean is notoriously subtle with his feelings….

G: On the first watch, I did not - though I did like King of the Monsters better on watch #2 so I decided to give it another go. And guess what! I enjoyed it a lot more. Guess the difference between “good bad” and “bad bad” is as much about your mindset and expectations as anything else. At first, I couldn’t get over the fact that I wanted a movie they didn’t make. And that fight on the aircraft carrier was, so bad.

On my second watch I was able to appreciate the dumb fun a lot more. The fight in neon Hong Kong is ridiculous in all the right ways - though they missed an opportunity to use Makeup & Vanity Set’s music here (especially since “A Glowing Light, A Promise” is featured elsewhere in the film). That would have been amazing. Mechagodzilla is more or less Ultron, which...meh. But I did like the pacing and mechanics of that fight too.

So my end verdict is...not bad? I’ll probably watch it again sometime, hopefully with my nephew, who’s been Godzilla-obsessed for years.

Vance: In the end, I didn’t. I really wanted to. I liked the 2014 movie very much, and thought King of the Monsters was enjoyable, but I just kept bouncing off of this one.

Joe: Dean - you liked it, right?

Dean: What's not to love? A lot of my rambling on here is dedicated to the fact that I find it far worse to be mediocre than bad, and this fits the bill perfectly. Too full of itself, bloated, with middling execution. I would have loved a great film, that was either 90 minutes of monster smashing, or a high-minded visionary film with a powerful message. Instead, we got a rambling mess that was incoherent without being actually interesting or exciting.

Joe: Well. To leave on a high note - *I* liked it. I’m not going to argue the bloat or the humans being dumber versions of real people, but it was exactly the big budget blockbuster monster smash that I was looking for. And if it eventually sets up Kong: Hollow Earth in five years - I’m all for it.