So I watched Godzilla vs. Kong on HBO Max, and it’s more or less what I was expecting: fun monster action intercut with boring human scenes.
With Godzilla vs. Kong being the fourth film in the MonsterVerse, we have a pretty good sense now of Warner Bros.’ formula. Have fleeting moments of awesome action which are weighed down by pointless, quarter-baked human characters.
Now, I wouldn’t put myself in the same camp as other die-hard Godzilla and Kaiju fans. I love the original Godzilla (1954), but I have not delved much into all of the subsequent movies. I am far more of a King Kong fan myself. Regardless, I have gone into each of these MonsterVerse installments with a lot of anticipation and hoping for great movies.
A little background on my thoughts on the MonsterVerse thus far.
I thought Godzilla (2014) was kind of a tease. I spent the whole movie anxiously looking forward to seeing the titular Kaiju and, while the final fifteen minutes are definitely fun, it doesn’t make up for a lackluster previous two hours.
I found Kong: Skull Island (2017) to be surprisingly fun. Despite the human characters being ridiculously flat, the film has a strong style that makes it abundantly entertaining. There are lots of great action sequences, and Kong is far more of a central character in relation to the humans than Godzilla had been. While nowhere near the quality of the 1933 or 2005 King Kong movies, I had a lot of fun with Skull Island.
I was really looking forward to Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). The trailers looked awesome, and I had completely bought into this being a Kaiju-centric movie. What we got was mostly bland human drama with some brief glimpses of the monsters. Even during the fight scenes, it would cut away every fifteen or so seconds back to the humans. And it didn’t help that the humans in this movie are truly insufferable.
I would say that Godzilla vs. Kong delivers the best action sequences of the four movies. The fights between the titular monsters (and the third-act adversary) are excellently staged and choregraphed. Unlike King of the Monsters, they don’t cut away from the fights too often; we simply get to the enjoy the battle.
However, these fights make up maybe a third of the movie — if that. This leaves well over an hour of just human drama. Now, I don’t innately have any issues with a Godzilla vs. Kong having a lot of human characters. What I have an issue with is a Godzilla vs. Kong having such poorly written and unnecessary human characters.
Who does the studio think these characters are for? The biggest resounding criticism of the MonsterVerse are the human characters. Everyone who is watching this movie is watching it for its namesake. Nobody has tuned into Godzilla vs. Kong dying to see Millie Bobby Brown (nothing against Millie Bobby Brown, who’s a great actor). Every audience member is watching the human scenes just waiting for it to get on to the monsters.
If the MonsterVerse is going to continue, there needs to be a change: get rid of the one-note characters. There has not been a single character of substance in any of these four movies. There have been characters who I enjoy because I like the actor (such as Samuel L. Jackson in Skull Island), and characters who aren’t actively annoying (like Alexander Skarsgård in Godzilla vs. Kong). But there has not been a single human who is a multi-dimensional, compelling character who has an integral role in the story.
This simply comes down to the writing of these movies. Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005) is a fantastic example of this being done right. That movie is completely dominated by human characters, and it’s a long time before we’re actually introduced to Kong. But the characters are well-written, dynamic, and interesting. The performances are great. You completely buy into the human drama from the very beginning.
It’s not that it can’t be done. It’s that, when the screenplays are being written for these MonsterVerse movies, the human characters are not a priority. I understand why: you know the audience is there for the Kaiju, so you want to deliver on the Kaiju. But if you’re not going to make the human characters a priority, then don’t have them be such a big part of the movie.
That is where these films are continuously shooting themselves in the foot. So much of the screen time is being monopolized by these human characters who are clearly not a priority for the filmmakers. Going forward, the MonsterVerse needs to do one of two things. Either they drastically step up the quality of their human characters, or they forgo them.
What we have not had with any of these modern Kaiju takes are movies where they are the principle characters. Every film has been told from the human perspective. I certainly think there is merit in this storytelling technique. It definitely worked for the original movies, but those films also had far stronger and more engaging human characters.
The film industry is also in a different place now than it was when those movies were being produced. The most recent Planet of the Apes trilogy, specifically War for the Planet of the Apes, proves that non-human, CGI characters can be the main characters of a movie. Yes, there are supporting human characters, but the movie didn’t need to be told from a human perspective; it was told from Caesar’s point of view.
So why can’t there be a movie where Godzilla is the principle character? There can be human supporting characters, but have the movie be told from Godzilla’s point of view. With a streamlined story, and an effective director who can communicate a lot of information through the visuals, you have the makings for a movie that can deliver on what the audience wants without the unnecessary blubber.
There’s not one way to do it, but there does need to be a change if Warner Bros. is going to make more MonsterVerse movies. The audience has caught on to their formula. King of the Monsters sunk at the box office, and while Godzilla vs. Kong is doing better than expected, it benefits from being one of the first blockbusters released in theaters in over a year.
I want to see more Godzilla movies. I want to see more King Kong movies. I want to see more of Mothra, and Rodan, and King Ghidorah. I want to see all of the other Kaiju. But Warner Bros. is going to be hard pressed to get me excited for any more movies if the ratio continues to be 33% monsters 67% humans. Either up the game with the quality of the human characters, or shift the perspective of the film to the Kaiju. Both are better alternatives to continuing what they’ve been doing with the last four movies.
I don’t know what Warner Bros. is going to do. I could see them scrapping the MonsterVerse and rebooting in three years. I could see them giving Godzilla 3 a shot. Whatever they end up doing, I’m curious to see what direction they go in, as my excitement for future projects hinges on whether they stay the course creatively or if they make the necessary changes.