The Human Characters in ‘Godzilla x Kong’—and the Rest of the MonsterVerse—Are Good, Actually

Godzilla and King Kong have tag-teamed their way to another rescue of the worldwide box office, establishing giant-ape dominance over a rival empire (that’d be the new Ghostbusters movie, another 2024 sequel that arbitrarily includes the word “empire” in its title to make it sound more epic.) To read the reviews of Godzilla x Kong, you’d think the two titans accomplished this with little to no help from the puny humans scampering around, in diminishing numbers, underfoot. “These humans are pretty boring, more anemic than they were in the last movie,” raves Alissa Wilkinson at the New York Times. “There’s little for an actor to do in these movies but spout pseudoscience or quips,” cheers A.A. Dowd. “The human half of these movies has been their glaring weakness since the 2014 Godzilla,” applauds Alison Willmore at Vulture.

And in terms of cold hard cash plunked down at the nation’s movie theaters, perpetually imperiled despite the lack of Titans stomping above, these critics are correct. It seems unlikely that anyone paid money to see Godzilla x Kong in expectation of delighting in the presence of Rebecca Hall, Dan Stevens, or Brian Tyree Henry. It seems downright possible that many of these moviegoers did not even know these actors’ names, or if any of them also appeared in the film’s predecessor, Godzilla vs. Kong. (Rebecca Hall, who did appear in both films, sports a completely different haircut in this one, as if to throw viewers off the trail.) As Willmore points out, this has been considered a problem throughout the 10-year run of the MonsterVerse—the Warner Bros. series of American kaiju pictures in which Godzilla, Kong, and a number of other giant monsters wreak havoc on a human race that they often appear to regard as a mild nuisance at best.

Five movies over the course of a decade have certainly allowed the series to rack up an impressive roster of stars and character actors alike: Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn, Sally Hawkins, John C. Reilly, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, Shea Whigham, John Goodman, Millie Bobby Brown, Alexander Skarsgård, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Zhang Ziyi, Charles Dance, plus the aforementioned Hall, Stevens, and Henry. I won’t try to make the case that all of these performers have been well-served by this material. Sally Hawkins is killed so murkily in Godzilla: King of the Monsters that it took me 20 minutes to realize she had died; Zhang Ziyi played twins in that same movie, only to be unceremoniously cut out of Godzilla vs. Kong, a movie where Lance Reddick has about two lines. Anyone truly searching for MonsterVerse entries where the humans get equal or greater weight might do better turning to TV; Monarch: Legacy of Monsters wove a reasonably involving love triangle across its first 10-episode season, and the little-discussed Netflix animated series Skull Island has the most consistently likable and involving human storyline of the whole franchise.

But as far as franchise movies utilizing overqualified, live-action, movie-level actors go, the MonsterVerse has made better use of its humans than most are admitting. The worst offender is probably still the first and most acclaimed entry, the beautifully made 2014 Godzilla, which inspired critic David Ehrlich to make a case for it as a “post-human” blockbuster. That one uses Cranston and Binoche as the human-scale hooks early on, and never really follows up on their commitment. It’s not that Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen are disengaged from the material so much as the material dwarfs them by design, as monsters with a comparably small amount of screen time nevertheless loom large—literally—over the proceedings.

Subsequent entries, however, have some major human highlights, starting with John C. Reilly in Kong: Skull Island, where he plays a World War II pilot who has spent several decades marooned on the titular location before he’s rediscovered by a band of visiting humans. In a cast stacked with past and future Marvel players (Jackson, Hiddleston, Larson), Reilly is doing a cracked version of Captain America, a soldier who probably wishes he had been frozen in time rather than killing it on an island. Instead of waking up with a well-preserved sense of resolve, he’s spent the intervening years learning the ways of Kong and losing his mind. Reilly is so good at playing the tragedy and comedy of his situation simultaneously that he puts the canned quips of so many lesser-tier superheroes to shame; he should teach a seminar over at Disney on how to toss off a self-referential joke in a way that sounds both natural and hilarious, as he does when imparting lore about the island’s “Skullcrawlers” (a nasty species he names because, naturally, it sounds cool).

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top