Not The Worst Film Ever Made (Update)
What Happens When The Brand Wags The Dog?
When director Christopher Nolan insisted that his 007-ish headscratcher ‘Tenet’ only open in cinemas he misunderstood how audiences think. Of course he wanted to put it on the biggest possible screen – it’s dazzling to look at, often audacious and enthralling. It also makes no sense whatsoever, but you can get away with that sort of thing if it’s big and loud.
Nolan’s timing was bad, and he compounded it with the sin of arrogance. All I learned from 30 years in film is that you must trust the audience. They won’t be fed anything they’re told is good for them. ‘Tenet’ is a good film although, to mix metaphors, the McGuffin is wagging the dog.
We accept McGuffins in stories because it suits us to do so. We don’t need explanations about space-time continuums in order to swallow them. In his novel ‘Time And Again’, Jack Finney details how to send yourself into the past, but the reader believes it because his explanation is entertaining and otherwise there’s no story.
Which brings us, it seems, to ‘Godzilla VS Kong’, a film that can’t be judged by whether it makes sense or not because that would be like asking whether the planet Neptune’s last performance at the Bolshoi Ballet was up to snuff.
Does it have to be believable to be good? Because God’s teeth, GVSK is not good, whether you measure it by a critics’ star rating or the World Health Organisation’s Index of Water Purity. It’s a new kind of film. One so in thrall to its algorithmic fan service that it has jettisoned every frame that doesn’t provide eye comfort. It is impervious to the art of storytelling. Its director is Adam Wingard, who made a few mediocre horror films before being offered one of the world’s most expensive movies. It stars no-one. About the shoot, the press release reads;
‘While shooting, the titans were often represented by tennis balls or lasers, so the cast and director explain how they were able to breathe life into those seemingly impossible scenes.’ I guess that approach didn’t take, although both leads certainly appear to be acting with tennis balls.
Kong is a money-spinner, always has been. Twelve films, including several animations and two musicals, and that’s only counting the canonical American ones. Monkeys were considered exciting in the 1930s. Dozens of films featured actors capering about dressed as gorillas.
As a kid I saw all the Toho movies, which were always double-billed with ‘Carry On’ films, including ‘King Kong VS Godzilla’ and ‘King Kong VS Mechagodzilla’, basically people in suits stomping models flat in slow motion, with the human characters dubbed into American. They were great fun. Did I question the fact that some of them featured a giant radioactive moth controlled by tiny singing twin girls? Well yes, actually, which is probably why I stopped going.
The new fan-service brand (hard to call them films, really) turned up two good Godzilla films. The first, ‘Shin Godzilla’, was a satire on Japanese bureaucracy. The second, ‘Godzilla’ (2016) was affectingly straight-faced and well directed. And now, following on from ‘Kong: Skull Island’, we have a fan service mashup copying the Jurassic Park/World series.
When Universal’s monster pictures began to run out of steam, their monster stars were thrown together in similar mashups that led to ‘The House of Frankenstein’ (they missed a trick leaving out ‘Bride!’). In GVSK we have Kong, Godzilla and Mechagodzilla fisticuffing around some panicking adults and a deaf girl. Why they made her deaf is anyone’s guess, but so is everything here.
When a scientist coolly announces that they have to go to Kong’s home in the centre of the hollow earth we realise we’ve joined the foil hat brigade, but given that there’s little time wasted on, you know, talking, any crumb of explanation is welcome. We don’t get one, but we are provided with o single answer about the hollow earth, which is; you can get across it in a cool flying car. Oddly, my spoilsport question was more to do with physics.
When the film’s Elon Musk character unveils Mechagodzilla, you do wonder why he built a gigantic robot dinosaur inside the earth. He didn’t know it would be needed to fight a huge monkey so what is it for? Why make it look like a dinosaur at all?
The CGI fights are realistic enough, by which I mean they have unnecessarily elaborate detailing. The talking bits – during which there’s sentiment, sign language, looking alarmed and the ultimate misguided Bring Your Child To Work Day – are short enough to be bearable, and the result is a film replicating the experience of a monster movie from the early sixties, best seen when you’re eight and over-stimulated on sugar.
GVSK to the first ‘Godzilla’ is as ‘Bridgerton’ is to ‘Pride and Prejudice’; fan service cosplay with all the boring grown-up bits removed. But in this case it leaves you with a collage of scenes so unrelated that they could be sprinkled like confetti and reassembled in any order. Suffice it to say that the only surprises are connected to the jettisoning of all logic in a way that makes Alice in Wonderland seem like an Ayn Rand novel.
Things happen. Buildings fall down. It’s colourful and drifts past, like staring at the wallpaper in a Chinese restaurant. By the time to robot Godzilla appears you wouldn’t notice if giant dancing rabbits turned up in a conga line. When it’s over the memory vanishes so fast it’ll give you whiplash.
But here’s the thing. GVSK has taken a fortune around the world – the first pandemic Hollywood hit (there were several genuine smash hits from SE Asia). Give the people what they want; monkeys and lizards fighting robots, not complicated explanations about time going backwards. We don’t go to the pictures to be taught stuff. God, next they’ll be expecting us to watch subtitled films.