I don’t know what you want from a movie called “Godzilla vs. Kong,” but I know what I want: to be transported back to 1967, when I was lying on my stomach in front of a big floor-model RCA watching “Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster” on a Saturday afternoon. A simple request, really, and one that this latest monster ramalama, appearing in theaters and on HBO Max as of Wednesday, makes good on. The fact that I watched the new movie two days ago and can barely remember a thing about it — other than that a giant lizard and a big ape have a colossal playground fight — is not a criticism but a recommendation.
The film is the fourth and most enjoyably silly in the “monsterverse” series produced by Legendary Pictures, following two earlier Godzilla films and a 2017 Kong reboot. Characters and actors from those films reappear here, but in no way do you need to go out and bone up in order to prep for “Godzilla vs. Kong,” since making sense has never been a top priority for what the Japanese call kaiju movies. And in fact the new film, directed by Adam Wingard and written by a small committee, has an amusingly high order of scientific monster-movie mumbo-jumbo, delivered with serious intonations by well-respected actors as they stare in awe at a green screen.
I mean, Rebecca Hall is in this thing! And Alexander Skarsgård, and Millie Bobby Brown from “Stranger Things,” and Brian Tyree Henry (Paper Boi from TV’s “Atlanta”), and Julian Dennison, the kid from “Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” Hall’s character, Dr. Ilene Andrews, is, in the actress’s words, the “Jane Goodall of Kong,” and she has a little deaf Kong Island adoptee named Jia (Kaylee Hottle) who can communicate with the big fella via ASL and who’s this movie’s equivalent of the miniature twin fairies from “Mothra.” Andrews is contacted by Dr. Nathaniel Lind (Skarsgård), an Indiana Jones Lite in search of a gateway to the Hollow Earth, a prehistoric landscape inside our planet (with a light source I never was able to figure out).
There’s a corporate bad guy (Demián Bechir), his soulless corporate daughter (Eiza González), a mad scientist (Shun Oguri); more satisfyingly, there’s a conspiracy theorist podcaster (Henry) who with the nosy kids played by Brown and Dennison ends up on an express trip through Earth to Hong Kong.
But you don’t care about the humans; well, maybe you do, but the movie doesn’t. You’re here for the kaiju smackdowns, which are doled out sparingly until the climactic main event in Hong Kong (or what’s left of it), which features an Extra Special Double-Top-Secret Kaiju, just like a real professional wrestling match. I enjoyed these scenes immensely while still being of two minds: Advances in computer technology have made it possible to create digital Godzillas and Kongs of startling realism, every hair and scale defined in multi-pixel glory — yet part of me misses the guys in the rubber suits from the classic Toho Studios era, or Willis O’Brien’s pioneering stop-motion gorilla from the original “King Kong” in 1933. They were crude by today’s standards, but they had a certain handmade funk to them. They had soul.
By contrast, “Godzilla vs. Kong” has speed, wit, and a refreshing refusal to take itself very seriously. We learn the intricacies of giant-gorilla CPR, so there’s an educational aspect, too. And if the title behemoths are a little less cuddly than in the old days, they’re appreciably more believable as they give each other diving headbutts and short-arm clotheslines. To quote an expert: I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
GODZILLA VS. KONG
Directed by Adam Wingard. Written by Eric Pearson, Max Borenstein, Terry Rossio, Michael Dougherty, and Zach Shields. Starring Godzilla and King Kong — c’mon! Also Rebecca Hall, Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown. Available in theaters and on HBO Max. 113 minutes. PG-13 (intense sequences of creature violence/destruction, brief language)