a Warner Bros.’ and Legendary Picture’s first blockbuster release of 2021 arrives in theaters and on HBO Max, as kaiju heavyweight championship bout Godzilla vs. Kong starts round one in China this weekend before arriving in North America next week. Can the film get the Monsterverse back on track after the last installment’s stumble? I think so, because the great Godzilla vs. Kong is The Avengers of monster movies.
Godzilla vs. Kong is already off to a strong start in China, with a $21.5 million opening day and the potential to top $100 million, and at least $85+ million. Signs point to a solid domestic opening next Wednesday March 31st, with good buzz ahead of its debut.
The 1 hour 53 minute runtime guarantees it’ll run many times per day, maximizing box office potential during a COVID pandemic that still has many theaters closed around the nation and audiences rightly reluctant to return to multiplexes in large numbers. The rising danger of another surge in cases has experts holding their breath, and the CDC announcement on Friday that nationwide cases rose 7% in the past week will provide more evidence for those determined to wait until the pandemic is really under control before risking a crowded theater.
Which is why releasing on HBO Max the same day, to further incentivize subscribers to HBO Max, is a smart move both short term and for the longterm viability of the streaming platform.
The previous three MonsterVerse films took a combined $1.48 billion in worldwide box office, but about $1.1 billion of that was from the first two films, each of which topped $525+ million. Godzilla: King of the Monsters grossed a disappointing $386.6 million, off of a much larger budget than either of the first two films.
Godzilla vs. Kong is unlikely to do $500+ million like the first two movies did, but then again an enthusiastic reception in key markets could be enough for repeat attendance to push it toward that range after all.
I’d argue the news out of China’s cinemas is as good a sign as the film could hope for that it has a shot at the franchise’s former numbers, but then again it’s just one day and even a robust performance in the Middle Kingdom doesn’t mean much without similar play in a few other major territories.
I suspect the repeat business factor and word of mouth will work heavily in Godzilla vs. Kong’s favor and help it toward the higher end of potential box office outcomes. Because word of mouth will be tremendous, and repeat business will be significant.
After watching Godzilla vs. Kong the first time (I rewatched it twice more), I felt similar to the way I did when walking out of a screening of The Avengers. I’d loved what came before, but none of it prepared me for how outrageously enjoyable The Avengers was going to be.
That feeling is probably admittedly enhanced for me by the fact I’ve had different reactions to the three previous films in the MonsterVerse series. I liked 2014’s Godzilla well enough, but it took me time to fully appreciate it. I still primarily prefer the first half that sets everything up, and then some of the visual and conceptual perspective of the back half while not really connecting with the monster or the human characters.
But I am a big fan of Kong: Skull Island, which is one of my two favorite King Kong movies (my other favorite is Peter Jackson’s King Kong, and I’m generally a fan of Kong movies). I didn’t care for Godzilla: King of the Monsters, unfortunately, despite some good moments and ideas that wind up bogged down under the weight of relentlessly emotionless monster battles coming one after the other with little to distinguish them.
Take the crackling conspiracy theory subplotting and awe-inspiring “force of nature” scale in Godzilla, the Indian Jones sense of adventurism and humor in Kong: Skull Island, and then add the strange world-building subplots in Pacific Rim, and you start to get an idea of what Godzilla vs. Kong has to offer.
The delightful balance of elements across the Monsterverse truly feels like a midpoint between the DCEU and the MCU, mixing tasty ingredients from both camps into something wildly weirdly original and exciting. Sometimes it leans more Zack Snyder, other times it leans more Russo Brothers. But fans of both superhero cinematic universes will find much to love in Godzilla vs. Kong, which firmly plants a foot in both camps. Bottom line is, if you’re a fan of the DCEU and/or MCU but haven’t dived into the MonsterVerse yet, trust me, this is the film you’ll definitely want to check out.
And the film manages all of this with a deft hand, no single element ever overstaying its welcome nor departing too soon. More importantly, it expands on those elements in its own right while managing to inject more relatability into both monsters, and giving us the best human characters to root for in the series to date.
Kong has been easier to identify with as an audience, and that remains true here. He is heroic and brave, but also sad and in the long run still a wild animal driven by instinct and the impulse to challenge and fight for dominance.
Godzilla, being a huge dinosaur-like beast that constantly knocks over cities and starts raging fires, is a tad harder to identify with, but Godzilla vs. Kong captures a certain nobility, as screenwriter Max Borenstein perfectly put it, in Godzilla’s presence and place in the world. He is aloof and unconcerned with us, except when we are in his way, but we are part of the natural world and he is instinctively driven to protect that world and maintain environmental equilibrium.
So for the first time, I felt invested in both of these gargantuan creatures, which makes all of the action far more thrilling and easier to empathize with.
The human characters, too, are easily the best in the series since Bryan Cranston’s character from the first half of Godzilla. Kyle Chandler reprises his role from Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and there are new additions to the cast such as Rebecca Hall, Eiza González, Shun Oguri, and Alexander Skarsgård.
But it is the trio of returning cast member Millie Bobby Brown alongside new arrivals Julian Dennison and Brian Tyree Henry that provide the humor, emotion, and audience entry point into the story. The rest are all good in their respective roles, it’s just that these are the human leads — with the monsters being the true stars, of course — and they get the best lines and most exciting scenes as witnesses to the majesty of Godzilla and Kong.
I love how most of the monster action is portrayed in a way that maintains sense of scale as much as possible, favoring lower angles and streets-eye-view of these titans towering overhead. Wide angle shots of monsters stomping skyscrapers are cool in moderation, but too much of it tends to reduce the sense of size and minimize the kaiju, because we start to lose perspective.
There are so many awesome shots of the beasts filling the sky overhead and their destructive power creating disaster on the ground as characters duck and cover, and a strong sense of place throughout the action. I never got confused about who was where, or why.
And oh, how gorgeous it all is to behold. This is the best looking MonsterVerse entry by a wide margin. The visual effects are stunning, feeling like exactly the first pre-summer blockbuster popcorn movie we all need right now. There is a realism and yet also a necessary fantastical distance for certain of the more outlandish concepts, and it all meshes beautifully together.
An epic round in the Godzilla-Kong rivalry takes place in a brilliant neon-painted cityscape, and it is perhaps the best-looking kaiju fight I’ve seen in any film. The vivid color, the staging and detail, the sense of enormous scale, and the emotional value and sheer sense of wonder and fear all achieved by the visual spectacle is impressive in its ambition and the degree to which it succeeds.
I am very lucky to have a TCL 75 inch television with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, and HBO Max presents Godzilla vs. Kong in Dolby Vision the way it should be seen. Yes, I’m still as obsessed with this as I ever was, and I cannot say enough how much this television has made the pandemic lockdown easier to endure. Since we’ve been on full lockdown since early last March in our home and we don’t even go out to shop at all, having a large TV that presents in Dolby Vision makes all the difference. I hope for your sake that’s how you see Godzilla vs. Kong. It’s how all fans of sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero cinema should experience their entertainment, because there is absolutely nothing that compares.
The excellent score by Junkie XL might be his finest work to date, especially the glorious third act where I was reminded of Blade Runner and Escape From New York.
The film also features a soundtrack of popular music that hit all the right notes at the right time, akin to Kong: Skull Island, and is reminiscent of the Marvel Guardians of the Galaxy in the way music provides humorous contrast at times or is intentionally positioned as camp-adjacent at others.
Godzilla vs. Kong is ridiculously entertaining and endlessly rewatchable, at once funny and joyful yet also grounded and soulful. So make some popcorn, settle in, and pick a side — or don’t, and just root for them both.