Review: Godzilla Vs. Kong

This movie is a tour de force – an intricate and sensitive tapestry of thought-provoking questions and exquisite metaphors, which forces the viewer to reexamine their relationship with the world at large. It is a story that questions our humanity in the face of natural disaster, our place in the universe, and the uncertainty of life in a modern context…

… just kidding. It’s a movie about a giant lizard and a giant monkey punching each other.

And that really is all you need to know about “Godzilla Vs. Kong,” the long-awaited fourth entry in the Monsterverse franchise. This is the long-awaited, official meeting of Japan’s greatest kaiju with his American counterpart – and while some parts of the movie don’t make a lot of sense (where is the sunlight in the Hollow Earth coming from?) or exist just for exposition, the monstrous beasts themselves keep us invested.

The movie opens with conspiracy podcaster Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) infiltrating the obviously-evil megacorporation, Apex. Coincidentally, Godzilla decides to attack the facility during Bernie’s time there, which baffles the humans. Why has Godzilla, generally a benevolent figure, attacked humanity unprovoked? Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) is convinced that Godzilla had a reason for attacking, and sets out to find Bernie in order to find answers.

Meanwhile, Apex is funding an expedition into the Hollow Earth, and they want Kong – imprisoned by Monarch on Skull Island – to lead them down there. The problem is, venturing onto the ocean puts him on Godzilla’s turf, and the big lizard will naturally attack any rival for the role of alpha Titan. So not only do they have to chain Kong up and transport him from the tropical Pacific to Antarctica, they have to deal with Godzilla attacking — which he does.

But getting Kong to Antarctica is only the first step, as the humans now need to follow him into a realm dominated by vast beasts – and some kind of power that Apex wants to get their hands on. And on the surface, Bernie, Madison and Madison’s friend Josh uncover the reason that Apex was attacked by Godzilla – and the horrifying possibilities if it’s ever used.

It has plot holes. It has inconsistencies with previous films. It has stuff that doesn’t make much sense. Yet there’s a refreshing kind of purity in “Godzilla Vs. Kong” that comes from knowing exactly what it is, and being happy with being just a popcorn blockbuster about two kaiju beating each other up. If that is what you expect – a sci-fi tale about giant monsters – then it’s likely to be an entertaining watch.

So there’s plenty of spectacle – boats explode or are overturned, buildings are smashed or blasted into glassy splinters, and the city of Hong Kong is more or less flattened for our amusement. Perhaps the only area where spectacle falls short is in the Hollow Earth itself – what we see is pretty spectacular, but we don’t see enough of it. The movie could have used another half hour of Kong’s adventures in the center of the Earth, the ancient civilization there, and the many monsters.

And make no mistake – despite an infestation of human characters, Kong himself is the main character here, a vast melancholy ape who occasionally bursts into chest-thumping, teeth-bearing rage. The CGI is exemplary, causing you to feel Kong’s isolation, his homesickness, his triumph and his pain. Godzilla is more of an antagonistic presence looming throughout most of the film. He has the power of a force of nature in the opening scenes, but up against someone as big as he is, he snarls and claws in a far more down-to-earth, personal manner.

The various actors in it do a decent job serving as side-characters to the CGI stars of the show – Alexander Skarsgard, Rebecca Hall and Brian Tyree Henry all do good jobs, Eiza Gonzalez and Demian Bichir are solid as smugly corporate overlords, and Julian Dennison steals the show as Madison’s hapless yet street-smart sidekick… and who ultimately turns out to be more plot-essential than she is.

Yeah, Millie Bobbie Brown’s character doesn’t really have a good reason to be in the story, and she’s so obnoxious and condescending that you end up wishing she hadn’t been. Kaylee Hottle’s character at least serves as an interpreter for Kong, even if children in kaiju movies are generally a bad sign.

If you expect “Godzilla Vs. Kong” to provide exactly what the title suggests, then you won’t be disappointed – it’s a big, robust movie that revolves around kaiju hitting each other. And in troubled times, don’t we need more of that?

The Mummy 2017 and Sexism

One of the many changes made to Mummy lore in the Tom Cruise movie The Mummy is that it focused on a female mummy rather than the traditional male ones. Despite Twitter’s beliefs that all gender/race flips are greeted with sexist racist fanboy hatred, the viewing public did not have a problem with gender-flipping the mummy, especially since she was played by the wonderful Sofia Boutella, who gives the character a real sense of wiry, acrobatic physicality.

Unfortunately, the movie sucked for myriad reasons. Among the reasons: the crushing lack of research, the lack of Egypt, Tom Cruise’s midlife crisis, the need to shoehorn a S.H.I.E.L.D.-like organization into the story, the script full of holes, the blatant ripping off of An American Werewolf In London, and so forth. It’s not a good movie, and I didn’t enjoy it.

But the thing that really stuck out to me is that despite deciding to make the mummy female… the movie is actually rather sexist towards her. This is best highlighted when you compare the 2017 mummy, Ahmanet, to her male counterpart in the 1999 movie, Imhotep. And two things really stuck out at me.

One, Ahmanet is weak. I don’t mean she’s weakly characterized – although she is – but that she’s not very powerful for an undead mummy powered by divine sponsorship. About midway through the movie, she’s captured by the troops of Prodigium (the monster-hunting equivalent of S.H.I.E.L.D.). Do they use magical tools and amulets? Do they somehow neutralize the power of Set, rendering her helpless? Do they use centuries of research and knowledge and technology and the supernatural to overwhelm this godlike figure’s godlike powers?

Nope. They use ropes and hooks to catch her, then chain her up with a mercury drip. It isn’t even hard for them.

If that doesn’t sound weak, stop for a moment and remember Imhotep from the 1999 movie. Imhotep was powerful. Ridiculously so. He had his weaknesses (like kitties), but it’s hard to imagine him being completely incapacitated by some guys with ropes. Yet the female mummy is weak and gets taken down almost effortlessly.

And you may be thinking, “Well, it’s to show how amazing Prodigium is! They’re so capable and strong that they can stop a god-powered mummy!”

But no, that isn’t the case. Because that is the second time that Ahmanet is taken down by mere mortal schlubs – the first time was in ancient Egypt right after she murdered her family, and she was newly juiced-up with Set’s power. Not only were the people who caught her ordinary people, but they didn’t have technology, centuries of organized study and gathered magical power. They were just people. Not only did they catch her, but they successfully mummified her alive (which is not possible, incidentally) and transported her to another country before properly imprisoning her in a neutralizing element. That is, for a mummy, quite weak.

For the record, Imhotep also was caught and buried alive by ordinary humans… but that was before he had most of his powers. So it made sense that the Medjai could catch him!

The other part of Ahmanet that struck me as sexist is her ultimate goal. Her initial goal seems to be to rule Egypt, because she apparently was raised with the belief that she would be the queen regnant when her father died, but then his wife had a baby boy so she was knocked out of the succession. For the record, pharoahs had many wives, so the chances of a pharoah having only two children in twenty years is… very unlikely. That’s a more medieval-European trope.

Anyway, she was so upset about not becoming queen that she summoned the god Set, and he gave her… skin text and four pupils, and a knife. So she wandered off and killed her entire family, baby included, and then decides to bring Set into a mortal man’s body because she’s in love with him. When she revives in the present, her motive does not change – she wants Set to incarnate in Tom Cruise’s body.

Now, let’s again compare her to Imhotep.

Imhotep also had romantic love as the centerpiece of his quest. He was the secret lover of the pharoah’s mistress (why not a lesser wife or concubine? Again, very medieval-European!), until she committed suicide so that the Medjai wouldn’t capture Imhotep. So his goal was to bring her back to life. He was captured and sealed away under a magic spell, and when he is revived as a mummy, his ultimate goal is also unchanged – once he has his body restored, he wants to bring his lover’s soul back in Rachel Weisz’s body.

Similar motives, similar goals, similar story progression, yes?

Well, no. Like I mentioned before, Ahmanet’s goal is to revive an evil god, so he can rule the world. She wants to be his queen, not a queen regnant. She even explicitly says this, and she acts like a lovesick fangirl for most of the story.

Imhotep, on the other hand, never gives the impression that he’s going to be subservient to any person, and at no point do you imagine that his lover is going to be the one sitting up on the throne while he’s just the arm candy.

I don’t know much about the production of this movie, but I will say that this motivation feels a little like it was shoved in there. It may be bad writing giving the character inconsistent or poorly-explained motives… or it may be the obviously-insecure-about-his-age Tom Cruise insisting that all women in the movie must be dazzled by his toothy charm. I don’t know.

But either way, the handling of the female mummy was not good, and they should have simply followed this rule: if it isn’t something you can see Imhotep doing, leave it out.