Film & TV

The Secret Pact of Godzilla vs. Kong

Godzilla vs. Kong. (Warner Bros. Pictures/Trailer image via YouTube)
Juvenile consumer distraction is back.

The classic animated short Bambi Meets Godzilla, from 1969, already derided the absurd size-ratio concept of Godzilla vs. [King] Kong. This latest monster-movie extravaganza requires such suspension of disbelief — beyond the simple premise of monsters or science fiction or adventure fantasy — that it overreaches fun and becomes a metric of habitual consumerism. Hollywood, like Washington, can sell us anything now and most people willingly buy it. Call it: Follow the Economics.

As part of the Warner Bros. MonsterVerse franchise, the two junk-movie icons (grisly Godzilla and cuddly Kong) vie for dominance like children acting out for attention. This is not necessarily for children given the many casual references made to contemporary political manias — alpha maleness, government conspiracies, redacted information in the opening credits, Fake News CNN broadcasts, Big Tech oligarchs. It’s for moviegoers trained through video games and other franchise flicks to think like children.

Instead of scoffing at the obvious manipulation, we’re meant to recognize and enjoy it: Kong’s containment in an artificial environment riskily entered by two romantically linked but bland scientists (Alexander Skarsgård and Rebecca Hall) recalls Jurassic Park. Godzilla’s replication by a power-mad tycoon (Demián Bichir) greedy to find and control the earth’s energy source is challenged by a conspiracy theorist (Brian Tyree Henry) and two mischievous, ecologically minded children (Millie Bobby Brown, Julian Dennison), who all recall Ready Player One. Yes, Spielberg is still the model for Hollywood juvenilia, whether or not viewers can tell the real from the imitation.

That’s essential to following the economics of the MonsterVerse. Neither the repurposed Godzilla nor the repurposed Kong bear much resemblance to their forebears. These exist as shameless simulations, just like Disney’s pointless Star Wars movies — another example of fanboys following the economics and pretending there is a consistent narrative thread. When the scientists fly around in luminous mini aircraft and Kong breaks through to Hollow Earth, his true subterranean home, our imaginations get buried beneath the rubble of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Transformers, and Avatar rip-offs. The fact that many of these special effects are impressively accomplished (Hollow Earth itself is a dreamscape, both primordial and futuristic) only makes the pointlessness worse. It contributes to how consumer reflex has taken the place of cultural appreciation.

By the time Godzilla and Kong tag-team Mechagodzilla, we’re back to the noisy, mindless, endless combat that was also the obsession of Peter Jackson, Michael Bay, and Guillermo del Toro. This is video-game spectacle writ large, yet it still feels like TV, not cinema. The exhibition of depth charges and jet fleets going off like fireworks is desensitizing; it provides war-movie excitation using unfathomable enemies. This so-called escapism only adds to our current anxiety.

Godzilla vs. Kong is out of proportion to the lore and affection inspired by the original behemoths and doesn’t resolve the desperation felt by moviegoers who can do little more than see their pleasure swindled (Kong is introduced through loopy pop songs) and keep their secret suckers’ pact with the industry and obey its economics. The film’s only whimsical images are Kong being flown to Antarctica via wires and planes like the giant balloon in Around the World in 80 Days, and Kong climbing out of the ocean (who knew he could swim?) and then hurling. At least the F/X team had fun. All this technology is invested in monsters because Hollywood no longer knows how to do people.

Armond White, a culture critic, writes about movies for National Review and is the author of New Position: The Prince Chronicles. His new book, Make Spielberg Great Again: The Steven Spielberg Chronicles, is available at Amazon.

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