OK so “Godzilla vs. Kong”.
Once upon a time in 1970, a young hippie couple made an ambitious list. It was called the “When We Get Rich List”, and the first item—a pair of winter boots—should tell you how extraordinarily and flagrantly broke my parents truly were at that point in their lives. Nevertheless, they persisted, crossing out goals as they were attained and adding new goals, and soon the items on the list went from necessary staples to indulgences, the first of which was, “See a movie.” Some heartbreaking amount of time later, that entry was carefully crossed out in pencil, and a new entry added: “See a good movie.”
I was reminded of that entry today, when, after a year of huddling inside our apartment, my vaccinated beloved and I cautiously crept out to see a movie, which we carefully verified would be attended by less than ten other people, well spaced out throughout the theater. That movie, was, regrettably, “Godzilla vs. Kong”. Now I understand how my parents must have felt.
First, the silver lining. Both the CGI’d Kong and Godzilla are wonderful—massive, bulky-looking monsters with palpable weight and heft, remarkably detailed and mobile in all the ways that convince you of their reality. When Godzilla takes his first steps out of the sea, his belly skin sags and wobbles in a way that will be familiar to anyone who has recently survived a pandemic. Kong, too, is scarred and stiff, and the routine of his morning—stretching, slowly rising, sticking his head under a waterfall—feels hauntingly middle-aged. When the two finally get to clobbering each other, each blow *lands*, and their collective toll feels genuinely substantial in a way Transformers can only dream of. The noises, too, are perfect: Godzilla’s reptilian roar has just a hint of porcine squeal, and the thunderous Kong’s grunts hide a soupcon of kittenish purr. Both of these monsters can emote.
Would that the human cast had taken some notes. Because, an hour after seeing this movie, I cannot remember the name of a character, nor a single memorable line. Characters are endlessly reeling off huge skeins of dialogue. Unfortunately, all that dialogue is unintelligible nonsense about reverse gravity polarization, neural DNA mapping, and fluoride brainwashing: all the stuff of a schizophrenic hallucination or a conversation between QAnon enthusiasts. All this hash serves as an unconvincing patina of science over a thoroughly fantastic proposal: that there is an entire other dinosaur-filled Earth, spinning within our Earth, like a jelly bean inside a plastic Easter egg. If ever there was an idea that didn’t need science, this is it, but we’re stuck listening to characters explaining satellite uplinks and core samples and thrust dynamics, as if we care. All this gabble weighs down the ten minutes of decent monster fights with the cinematic equivalent of ankle weights, and makes us resent the otherwise charming actors Millie Bobbie Brown, Alexander Skarsgård, and Rebecca Hall—all of whom are asked to perform impossible contortions of logic and emotion while, say, piloting an entirely imaginary vehicle through a hole to the center of the Earth, in pursuit of an ape. But they have given me a gift, in these last creeping days of the pandemic, and that gift is a goal.
Now I need to see a good movie.