GODZILLA vs KONG Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Gordon Hopkins is in the middle of the action.
Reversals of fortune are common in showbiz. The first time King Kong shared a screen with Godzilla, it was in 1962, and the big ape got top billing in Toho Studio's “King King vs. Godzilla.” In their latest outing, Godzilla gets top billing, as he is clearly the bigger draw these days.

I am reminded of an even older movie, “The Raven” (1935), one of Universal's pairing of their biggest horror stars, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Karloff got top billing in that flick, even though Lugosi carried the movie. Likewise, in “Godzilla vs. Kong,” the big “G” may be bigger in both size and star power, but this is really Kong's show.

It makes sense. Kong is a far more relatable character than a grumpy lizard with atomic halitosis. Indeed, Kong's first appearance is a brief but fabulous scene where he wakes up from a deep sleep on Skull Island, yawns, stretches and takes a shower, as if preparing to head off to work. All this seems intended to show Kong is just a regular Joe.

That is not to say Godzilla doesn't have plenty to smash in this flick. There's lots of monster mash to keep satisfied those that are only interested in seeing big, CGI wrestling matches, interspersed with occasional squadrons of heavily armed jet planes being batted around like a cat toy. But what about those who like a little plot with their smashy-smashy?

While there is an awful lot of plot going on, it isn't that hard to follow and doesn't interfere with the beat downs. Wisely, the filmmakers give each big guy his own storyline and only occasionally allow them to intersect.

The movie goes into full-on Edgar Rice Burroughs mode when a mysterious corporation called Apex Industries apparently needs Kong to lead them to Pellucidar, uh, I mean the Hollow Earth, where Titans such as Kong and Godzilla theoretically originated. The scientific explanation as to why they want to find Hollow Earth or why they need Kong to take them there is a little scientifically fuzzy, even for a monster movie, but it doesn't really matter, since Apex is clearly lying, anyway. I don't think it qualifies as a spoiler to say the folks at Apex are up to no good.

The big problem here, as characters in the movie repeatedly point out, is that Godzilla will not tolerate a rival apex predator. Meaning, if you take Kong away from Skull Island, Godzilla will come.

That word, “apex,” gets used a lot in this flick. The filmmakers should really thank the makers of “Wonder Woman 1984” for getting the term out there among Geekdom. Otherwise, the overuse of the word might have been a little more off putting.

Meanwhile, Godzilla has attacked, apparently unprovoked, a facility owned and operated by none other than Apex Industries. There is also a subplot about a trio of conspiracy theorists, two school kids and a paranoid podcaster, that probably could have been jettisoned from the film, but does help some needed exposition go down relatively painlessly and gives the sinister CEO of Apex the opportunity for some bad guy monologue.

Much of the gunmetal gray and camo-painted military weaponry of the previous films is replaced with weird, multi-colored sci-fi tech. Flashing buttons and plastic tubes glow blue and green and red and amber and magenta and purple. This garish color scheme is reflected in the neon miasma of Hong Kong, where the final mano-a-mano (or gorillo-a-lizardo) battle takes place. The unreal neon lights of the great city makes the fight look like a scene from “Tron,” but provides a refreshing change from the persistent blue haze of “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (2019) and is a vast improvement from the fight scenes in “Godzilla” (2014), which were so dark you couldn't see anything.

There are also some nifty variations on the source mythologies. In an interesting break with the traditional Fay Wray relationship, Kong bonds with a young deaf girl who teaches the big ape sign language.

All in all, “Godzilla vs. Kong” succeeds in what it sets out to do. It works as both a giant monster movie and as a goofy, candy-colored science fiction b-movie (albeit one with a ridiculous budget) and should certainly satisfy lovers of both. It is just clever enough to be more than a big, dumb fight.

But is it anything more?

Monster movies are a great place to hide a bit of social commentary. The original “King Kong” (1933) was a treatise on man's greedy exploitation of nature. The original “Gojira” (1954) and, to a lesser extent, the Americanized “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (1956) was a very unsubtle allegory, and criticism, of nuclear warfare. Most of the subsequent Godzilla movies managed to keep some element of moralizing, even at it's silliest. For example, the kiddie-friendly “Revenge of Godzilla” (1969) was a statement on bullies.

Yet filmmakers are in a quandary these days. There are vocal groups of angry, regressive types (incels, etc.) ready to wage internet campaigns against anything that even hints of being “woke.”

You may have to look hard, but you might just see a little something here. The Apex CEO's rants about returning man to the “apex” of creation smacks more than a little bit of certain bellicose politicians' “America First” speeches. Actually, this might just fly under the radar of haters of “social justice warriors” because they likely won't see any problems with this stance.

Oh, and the Godzilla loyalists out there will be happy to know another familiar figure from the original Toho series also puts in an appearance.

All in all, I can heartily recommend “Godzilla vs. Kong.” I give it four out of five radioactive bananas.

Gordon Hopkins is an award winning reporter and columnist for The Fairbury Journal-News, a 130-year-old newspaper in Jefferson County, Nebraska (He hasn't been working there that entire time.) He has also written a couple of crime novels (“Fraudsters” and the best-selling “Broken”) and edited a few non-fiction books.

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