Last night, I finally got around to seeing Godzilla vs. Kong, the latest installment in what is somewhat awkwardly called the “Monsterverse.” I saw it in a theater, something I have now done three times in the past year (the first two times in Virginia, because until March, there was a period when theaters in northern Virginia were open but theaters across the Potomac in D.C. were closed — we all know viruses can’t cross rivers). I know the movie is available to be streamed on HBO Max, but I actually like movie theaters, and am keen on maintaining the theatrical experience.
Returning to a theater was enjoyable, particularly for something as big, dumb, and fun as Godzilla vs. Kong, which uses a bonkers core of conspiratorial nonsense — Hollow Earth, top-secret government and corporate shenanigans, ancient gigantic lifeforms — to give audiences what we want: King Kong fighting Godzilla. There probably isn’t an amount of giant gorilla fighting giant lizard monster that is sufficient, so I suppose one can complain about the movie on that score, but there was definitely a lot (and something else!).
Seeing it made me think of the first time these two famous movie monsters went at it, in 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla. The original kaiju films can seem laughably primitive in retrospect, although, as Michael Brendan Dougherty — not to be confused with Godzilla: King of Monsters director Michael Dougherty — has noted, they can have surprising poignancy. As for their laughable primitiveness, however: See Godzilla vs. Kong, and then, if you haven’t seen it already, watch the climactic final fight from the 1962 battle:
Now, I am circumspect enough about the technical limitations of the time not to be overly critical of this. Indeed, there are some genuinely thrilling moments of choreography here. But it remains, to our modern eyes, archaic. What’s worth keeping in mind, though, is that these movies did it anyway. The directors of these older movies had nothing like the nigh-limitless means of technological and financial wizardry that modern Hollywood blockbusters have at their disposal. And yet the older works still reflect a deranged imagination and commitment that we should admire. I came out of Godzilla vs. Kong wondering what these older creators would think of what has become of their men in rubber suits . . . but also wondering what they might have done with such free rein, and whether our monster movies, even at their most bonkers, live up to this anarchic spirit.