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In A Long-Awaited Matchup, Godzilla And Kong Stomp Where Marvel Fears To Tread

In <em>Godzilla vs. Kong</em>, the Titans meet up and face off.
Warner Bros. Pictures
In Godzilla vs. Kong, the Titans meet up and face off.

The pandemic has had most of Hollywood cowering for the last year or so, but nothing intimidates a Titan.

Crashing in where even Marvel's Black Widow fears to tread, Godzilla vs. Kong is opening on any screen that'll make room for it — home or cinematic. And with theaters coming back to life in Los Angeles and New York City, there's a lot of fresh real estate for them to trample.

Credit where it's due: Kong knows how to make an entrance. He announces himself by pulling a tree up by its roots and hurling it in the air hard enough to punch a hole in the sky.

I don't mean that metaphorically — I mean an actual hole. He's shattered a containment dome over his island that's been cleverly camouflaged by his keepers.

Rebecca Hall, gamely trying to spit out exposition in a manner that suggests conversation, promptly explains that Kong's been sequestered to protect him from Godzilla. "There can't be two alpha Titans," she says, "The whole theory of an ancient rivalry stems from...."

Nah, I'll spare you the whole theory. Suffice it to say that letting him out would be nuts — so that's what they do.

Before long, while the good guys (and some less-good guys) are talking energy sources and a "hollow Earth" that owes a little something to Jules Verne, Kong is using an aircraft carrier as a surfboard.

That's what you came for, right? Off to the side, there's a fearless podcaster (Brian Tyree Henry) taking on a fearsome corporation, but that's mostly to get everybody to Hong Kong where there are buildings that can splinter prettily as our leading Titans finally get their playdate. (I may have imagined this, but at one point I think Kong uses a skyscraper's revolving restaurant as a frisbee.)

Can't talk plot without spoilers so let's talk technique. Scale is everything with Kaiju — a sliding scale, of course, so that a critter that can plow through skyscrapers won't seem implausibly enormous should the plot require, say, a really big defibrillator.

Let it be said that the special effects are decently special — and frequently in broad daylight this time, as opposed to in the Monsterverse's last installment, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, in which nearly everything took place either at night or under water. In Godzilla vs. Kong, you can always see what's going on, whether its in daylight or neon-drenched night — even if it's a little disengaged from anything we'd normally regard as reality.

Also disengaged from people. Back in college, I had a geology professor who, whenever he drew a volcano on the blackboard, also drew a village at its base — his way of giving us a rooting interest when the lava started flowing.

Director Adam Wingard and his army of digitizers don't bother with engagement niceties. Godzilla vs. Kong rarely has bystanders to speak of — not even just screamers and runners. I kept waiting for someone to say "Oh my god, there are 7 million people in Hong Kong."

But for all the terror they inspire in Asia's commercial crossroads, the Eighth Wonder of the World and the King of the Monsters might as well be throwing punches in the wilderness (Kong has a mean right hook, by the way).

Not sure I needed almost two hours of throwing punches, even accompanied by collapsing skyscrapers. But after a year spent battling a tiny virus you can't see, audiences may well appreciate a title bout featuring antagonists of a certain size.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.