It's called "Godzilla vs. Kong," but it could be argued that those iconic monsters are on the same side.
They eventually do battle in this entertaining adventure, but that old standby — big business — is the real bad guy as tycoons manipulate the hulking beasts for financial gain. Even a monster knows the enemy of his enemy is his friend, and in this case that mutual enemy is a lip-smacking Demián Bichir, whose smug businessman might as well be named Corporate Malfeasance.
You'll note that the title contains no indication that there are people in the movie, but one of its pleasures is how it humanizes King Kong (Godzilla, not so much). Kong is a mostly benevolent giant who is torn from his natural surroundings but still makes a connection with a scientist (Rebecca Hall) and, especially, the scientist's adopted daughter, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), an Indigenous girl who is deaf. Jia and Kong become pals, and when she teaches him American Sign Language, they establish the idea that when we make an effort to meet someone on their terms, we begin to empathize with them.
It can be a drag to find good actors stranded in a movie that requires very little acting — it certainly was in the last "King Kong" and "Godzilla" movies — but that's not the case here. Director Adam Wingard, whose low-budget horror movies include the clever "You're Next," gives the cast room to bring actual emotions to the proceedings, in between special effects battles.
In addition to Bichir's gleeful villainy, there's Hall's mastery of the awe-struck "Spielberg Face," Kyle Chandler's conflicted authority and the Han Solo-like comic heroism of Alexander Skårsgard. ("Here," he says, handing a bag to a passenger in his superfast helicopter. "For the vomit.")
Wingard directs with a light touch, especially in scenes with "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" nerd Julian Dennison, as the Jack Black comic relief. That provides contrast to the darkness and heaviness of the battles between the title characters. One takes place off the shores of Pensacola, Fla., and one is between and on top of the smashed skyscrapers of Hong Kong, like that poor city hasn't had enough bad fortune lately.
The movie knows what we want from those scenes: massive, coast-threatening waves; toppling skyscrapers; cartoonish standers-by who somehow don't get hurt; huge yet distinctive roars.
The battles royale are the money shots of both Kong and Godzilla movies, and "Godzilla vs. Kong" is even more fun because it has both of them and because it's less about what damage those two can do than about the damage being wrought by the humans trying to exploit them. In fact, a better title might be "Team Monster vs. Team Monkey," with the humans of the movie aligning with one or the other of the behemoths.
It's big, dumb fun that should be seen on the biggest screen you feel comfortable with. A thought: Lake Elmo's Vali Hi Drive-In reopens this weekend, and it's showing "Godzilla vs. Kong."
Godzilla vs. Kong
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: PG-13 for violence, mayhem and language.
Where: Wide release and on HBO Max.