From it’s very inception, there has been a contentious battle at the the center of Warner’s modern MonsterVerse. No, it isn’t Godzilla vs Kong, it’s the monsters vs the humans. Godzilla (2014) took heat for investing too much time in the people while it’s titular Kaiju lurked in the background. Kong: Skull Island (2017) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) overcorrected the other way with an overwhelming amount of monsters and a small group of people specifically tied to them. People weren’t too happy with that either. So, what makes a good monster movie? Maybe it isn’t about how the two much people feature, rather how they’re used.
Godzilla vs Kong brought to fore this debate once again. When a giant ape and radioactive lizard monster are punching each other, it’s hard to care about what’s going on with Brian Tyree Henry’s — who is delightful here, as always — conspiracy podcaster. At the same time, enormous monsters roaring at each other is inherently un-relatable to most human viewers. The culmination of four films building this universe, Godzilla vs Kong seems to have decided that the answer is people as exposition devices, a far cry from Godzilla seven years ago.
What made the modern Godzilla unique among the franchise it spawned is the way it used relatively thin characters to represent humanity writ large, responding to a superhuman threat. Aaron Taylor Johnson played a father and a soldier trying desperately to be there for his family in a way that his father never was for him. His relationship to Godzilla goes no further than the latter being an obstacle between he and his destination. As a result Godzilla could be about the ways that humanity would respond to an unknown danger, the mistakes they might make and the small acts of heroism that regular people would offer. The opening salvo was the peak of Warner’s MonsterVerse.
Contrast this with Godzilla: King of the Monsters just five years later in which every human character had some sort of monster related job or motivation. Kyle Chandler’s character worked for the monster hunting group Monarch, Vera Farmiga’s character still does. No longer are human characters collateral damage, their whole purpose revolves around the kaijus. Very relatable careers.
Nobody cared when the people were abstract, nobody cared when they were hyper specific, this led to an interesting decision in Godzilla vs Kong: forget the people. Make no mistake, there are plenty of human’s in the new monster mash up film, but this time their purpose is only to get the titular beasts from point A to point B or provide the most basic expositional value. If Alexander Skarsgård says that monkeys and lizards are enemies then who are we to argue? These characters are paper thin and, you know what, thats fine.
I couldn’t tell you much of anything about the various people in Godzilla vs Kong. There’s a podcaster and some teens trying to clear Godzilla’s name, there is an expedition to the hollow core of the earth (??) but the important thing is that none of it matters. The ape and the lizard duke it out and the action sequences are competently staged. Godzilla vs Kong delivered on exactly what people wanted.
In 2014 fans made clear that they wanted monsters and they wanted action in these movies. Warner acquiesced and as a result it’s unlikely we will ever get another monster movie with the same level of insight into the human condition. While that’s unfortunate for movie fans, if the alternative ends up being the campy brawls in Godzilla vs Kong that might be the next best thing. 6/10