Are 2 monster movies better than 1?
What do you get when you bring together not just two iconic monsters, but two film franchises, a climactic crossover event for a shared kaiju universe?
The fourth installment in the MonsterVerse, Adam Wingard's Godzilla vs. Kong, serves as a follow-up both to 2017's Kong: Skull Island and 2019's Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and promises an epic on-screen clash of the titans who previously faced off in 1962's King Kong vs. Godzilla. The end result includes loads of fun, and viewers primarily seeking thrilling monster battles will surely be satisfied. On a plot level, though, it's a bit like watching separate Kong and Godzilla movies awkwardly occupying the same space, with incredibly entertaining fight sequences poorly tied together by two half-baked stories for the price of one.
Godzilla vs. Kong juggles two main storylines, one more related to each monster. In one plot, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), and Josh (Julian Dennison) try to unravel the mystery of why Godzilla unleashed a seemingly random, unprovoked attack on an Apex Cybernetics facility despite previously being an ally to humanity, and how that company may be involved. Meanwhile, in the Kong plot, a group that includes scientist Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) and Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) use Kong as a guide on a mission into the Hollow Earth. They hope to tap into an energy source that might help the world defeat Godzilla, while also finding Kong a new home.
The Kong focused storyline is a bit more central to the movie, but it's also the more puzzling of the two. Chaining up Kong and taking him into the center of the Earth, for one, just seems like such a bad and needlessly dangerous plan from the get-go, and it never quite makes sense why one character goes along with it only to abruptly raise objections. A bigger problem, though, is that it feels too often disconnected from the Godzilla plot, as if it's a different monster movie than the one first set up. For one particular stretch, you'd be forgiven for forgetting what the mission even has to do with Godzilla.
In fact, the two plots are in some ways actively at odds. While the Kong mission's heroes are driven by the belief that Godzilla has turned on humanity, the Godzilla plot's heroes are driven by the belief that perhaps he hasn't turned and was instead provoked into his attack. If that's true, it removes some key urgency from the Kong mission. And though the audience is told early on how important it is to stop Godzilla, we don't often see the monster, or anyone else, presenting an imminent worldwide threat. Sure, the Hollow Earth journey is also about finding Kong a new home, but the film barely bothers developing that goal during its fast-paced opening act.
In general, Godzilla vs. Kong is packed with characters and plot beats that aren't fleshed out as well as they could be if the two storylines weren't competing for screen time. The film shines in moments when it focuses on the relationship between Kong and a young deaf girl, Jia (Kaylee Hottle). But numerous other supporting characters seem mainly in the movie to deliver exposition, and not once but twice, emotional complexity is conveyed essentially just by having a person reference their deceased loved one. The primary conspiracy at the center of the film involves fairly one-dimensional antagonists in serious need of more to do, and a late-developing threat comes and goes too quickly to have major impact.
At the end of the day, though, it's the clash between Godzilla and Kong we're all here for, and the film delivers on this spectacle without a doubt. Sure, the reason the monsters are fighting isn't really that strongly connected to either plot, seeing as it mainly has to do with a pre-existing ancient rivalry. But the battles are thrilling and easy to follow, which is especially refreshing after Godzilla: King of the Monsters frustratingly obscured major monster sequences with bad weather. The film also wisely doesn't save all the fights only for the third act, having the titans duke it out in an excellent face-off early on, and cheering for Kong or Godzilla during these sequences like some kind of WrestleMania bout is undeniably fun.
One can imagine a truly great Godzilla movie built around investigating his apparent heel turn, which would more effectively explore the villainous plan and build the sense of a looming threat. One can also imagine a great King Kong movie about trying to travel with the monster into the Hollow Earth, which would spend more time focusing on the importance of finding him a new home. But mixing these movies does a disservice to both of them, leaving Godzilla vs. Kong without time to do enough with either. Combining franchises can be a joy when done right, but sometimes two monster movies aren't better than one.