WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)
As of 2021, the Marvel and DC comics have established long running universes through movies. Since 2008, the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) especially has brought audiences to follow the multitude of tales and connections between characters and stories. As dominant forces in the movie industry over the last decade, these films have popularized the idea of a cinematic universe, a phenomenon which has been attempted to be repeated by other studios. Now, a new cinematic universe has been starting to make headlines: the Monster Universe. So far, only 4 films have been made, Godzilla (2014), Kong Skull Island (2017), Godzilla King of the Monsters (2019), and, most recently, Godzilla vs Kong which released last month on March 31st. Though it can be defined as a cinematic universe, similar to the MCU, I have found that the Monster Universe differs from its predecessors in an important (and controversial) way. While the MCU is built on audiences’ love for its characters, truthfully, what makes these movies popular are the monsters. However, some people complain about the story telling, but in some instances it can be the perfect choice to make a monster movie.
By far, the biggest complaint of these movies are the human stories, which I will readily admit and are often not that good. Characters either have good dialogue, but with poor acting or have bad lines and good actors. Most of the time when characters are given an impactful backstory or are supposed to have emotional moments, they aren’t. The human characters’ actions and choices range from, at best, forgettable and, at worst, utterly confusing. In Godzilla (2014), the humans were great actors and performed well, yet their choices seemed to be misleading for their own development. In other words, why would they make characters even perform these actions when they aren’t benefiting themselves? In reality, people wouldn’t put themselves in the position of interacting with a 400 foot monster. When looking at a strong human story within these movies, there aren’t any moving moments for anybody, but does that mean these movies are bad? No, not at all. It depends on how the director’s choice of lines are looked at.
Most of the dialogue for the humans is completely about the monsters and most of the time it is not catered to themselves. However, this was an intentional decision. As a film franchise, the attraction is the monsters and the audience is targeted at those who enjoy the big fights. The humans’ sole purpose is to lead up to the scenes of the monsters and give the viewers anticipation for what’s to come. The truth is that almost nobody cares about the human stories at all, their job is to push the narrative to make sense of why these monsters are fighting, bring light to the exposition, and clarify the history between the monsters and humans. Essentially, this is what makes a monster movie great. If it were more focused on the human story such as Godzilla (2014), then there wouldn’t be as much shock factor from the monsters. Now does this mean that all movies of this genre have to abide by this law? Not at all, but only if it is executed for the goal for monster brawls. In Godzilla VS Kong this bridge between monster and human was established throughout the connection between the little girl, Jia, and Kong. This brought targeted dialogue connecting the two and with that it makes Kong relatable.
This is how monster movies should be done, but Godzilla VS Kong takes it to a whole different level. Most of the time, nonsensical fighting can be misleading and take tolls on the story. However, in the MU’s most recent movie they made Kong have a reason for interacting with the humans which drives the narrative of the story between monsters as the main focus. This is executed perfectly as Kong’s arc is this reconnection with the past and the nature of his being such as the symbolic painting “The creation of Adam” was symbolized in one scene with Kong reconnecting with a lost past.
Now on the other hand, the directors portrayed Godzilla as a once savior of Earth but now a betrayer to it through his destruction and sinister actions, even though his actions were within reason for his own survival. He was more of a side character for this movie, but when the final showdown between the two came, it ultimately ended up with Godzilla winning. Now with this final culmination of opposing sides between Godzilla fans and Kong fans, the character development of these monsters came through in the end when Godzilla was declared the winner. He knew that he was more dominant than his opponent and Kong had felt ashamed. However, when Godzilla needed help to fight a greater evil, respect was established between the two when Kong saved his life. This pushes the whole monster fight more from just a battle, but to an impactful narrative for creatures who can’t even talk, through body language and facial expressions to make it impactful.
The purpose of monster movies is to entertain through the use of giant creatures duking it out on the biggest stage. Most importantly, giving reason for the monster to fight through a personal story of their own, makes the monster relatable. The humans’ personal stories don’t particularly matter outside of framing devices leading up to the fights, pushing the narrative and reminding the audience of why they came to see the movie. This stands in marked contrast to how the MCU is built. While it is no stranger to big fights, as anyone who sat through the hour-long battle which came at the end of Avengers: Endgame, these fights are used to create stakes (and some spectacle) for the characters at the center of the story. This has been shown even more explicitly through WandaVision, which was almost entirely centered around characterization with only a limited (and criticized) fight in the finale. The Monster Universe simply does not and should not operate in that way, because a good monster movie does not need fantastic characterization. In this way, Godzilla VS Kong took the monster genre and simply made it better with its direction and showed that you don’t need to have a perfect narrative to be a great movie.