When Jonah was swallowed by a giant fish after disappointing god and suffered a crisis of faith. He probably wondered “Do I not have free will? Did not God endow man with choice? If so, why should God punish me for exercising my will, my freedom of choice?” Jonah quickly gives in to God’s tyrannical demands and the giant fish vomits him up on a beach. Like Jonah I too was consumed by giant monsters, or at least giant movie monsters, and like Jonah I found myself questioning my faith in the belly of the beast that is Godzilla vs. Kong.
Gojira sprang from Japan’s collective fear of nuclear radiation after the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima at the end of WWII. This monster, while obviously a man in a rubber suit, represented the uncertainty surrounding the effects of prolonged radiation exposure. The resonant fear in Gojira cemented the film in movie history and inspired a slew of sequels, copycats and its own sub-genre. For the next 15 or so years the franchise shifted its tone providing audiences with a more campy, silly Godzilla. I don’t think this was simply a stylistic decision. I suspect audiences continued coping with the fear of radiation by using Godzilla films to turn that fear from a terrifyingly destructive kaiju into a silly robot Godzilla or a giant moth summoned by two tiny twin fairies. In this way they reduced their fears to ridiculous and easy to manage goofs. I don’t know if you’ve been around the last couple years but I could really use a Kaiju sized catharsis typical of the old giant-monster movie genre, unfortunately the new Godzilla films lack both humor and catharsis.
Godzilla vs. Kong attempts a social commentary about corporate unaccountability and weapons proliferation but at the same time turns a cooky conspiracy theorists characters into the film’s heroes. They mock drinking tap water because they insist the fluoride within makes the public docile and easy to control. These characters (played by Brian Tyree Henry, Millie Bobby Brown, and Julian Dennison) serve as the film’s heroic comic relief, a mixture that both validates and excuses the baseless and dangerous beliefs that leads conspiracy theorists to violent extremism. Maybe you missed it, but on Jan 6th 2021 a dangerous mob of conspiracy nuts stormed the United States capitol in an insurrection leaving multiple people dead. I know this movie was made well before the insurrection but I cannot watch it as if those events didn’t happen or as if the notion that conspiracy theorists are “funny” or “harmless” is relevant anymore. This isn’t the X-Files, we don’t get to laugh at the Lone Gunmen anymore.
If the fluoridated water wasn’t problematic enough, Godzilla vs. Kong completely embraces a differently dumb conspiracy by making the hollow earth theory an integral part of its premise. The suspension of disbelief hinges on weather or not the audience accepts all kaiju come from a self contained habitat deep within the earth’s surface. After getting his ass beat by Godzilla, Kong travels to this anti-gravity-subterranean-Pandora-rip-off where he discovers the ancestral throne of his giant ape species. Lest we forget he is a ‘king’ of sorts.
Then guess what? There’s more fighting, this time in Hong Kong where the city’s famous neon lights make it look like the climax of Godzilla Vs. Kong finishes in a giant strip club (cue gif of John Oliver saying ‘Cool.’)
I haven’t done the research necessary to confirm this suspicion but I’m going to speculate that Toho made it clear Godzilla would not lose this fight to Kong. And he doesn’t, but (spoilers) while Godzilla trounces Kong, the King of Monsters does go down in the face of the movies surprise third Kaiju… MechaGodzilla! (Fun fact: King Kong and MechaGodzilla appeared together in another Warner Brothers movie Ready Player One. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re both in Space Jam 2, because Warner Brothers really wants you to know they own as many IPs as Disney.) Kong isn’t down for the count just yet, he stands up and hacks MechaGodzilla apart with his big bone ax and screams in triumph as he and Godzilla nonverbally recognize each other’s as equals. I like this silly kaiju version of rock, paper, scissors. Mechagodzilla beats Godzilla, Godzilla beats Kong, Kong beats MechaGodzilla. I’m sure that made all the suits happy.
So here I sit, in my cinema church ruminating on the words of a filmmaking saint. “A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.” George Lucas would eventually eat these words like a mocap Kong eats a giant squid tentacle. Is this my crisis of faith? Do I not like giant monster movies anymore? Do I expect too much from these films? No, I don’t think so. Godzilla Vs. Kong was a special effects circus, and a pretty boring thing.