NOTE: the film reviewed here is the American release of King Kong vs Godzilla.
The biggest surprise to me when it was time to review this film was that this is the third film in the Godzilla franchise. Such a “versus” match-up felt like it should be deeper into Godzilla’s run. It was also a surprise that it took seven years after Godzilla Raids Again to make another Godzilla film, and boy they went for a big one.
King Kong vs Godzilla is silly, over the top, and most importantly a lot of fun. This is Godzilla leaning into its big monster-vs-monster trapping and boy does it do its job. A direct sequel to Godzilla Raids Again (I’m honestly surprised how each of these movies is a direct sequel to the previous one.), Godzilla awakens from the avalanche that buried him at the end of the previous film and heads for Japan. To no one’s surprise, the Japanese military, having dealt with Godzilla before, are ready for him and attack him as soon as he appears. What they haven’t learned at this point is that the usual military tactics don’t stop Godzilla, but boy do they keep trying.
While all this Godzilla stuff is going on you may ask yourself how King Kong enters the fray? Well, dear reader, thank you for asking and let me explain. Mr. Tako (Ichiro Arishima), the head of a pharmaceuticals company, is currently sponsoring a show that is having terrible ratings and is looking for a way to boost them. When he’s informed that there is a mysterious monster on Faro Island, he decides to send a team to find it, and—you guessed it—said monster just happens to be the great King Kong.
The film goes on to spend the next thirty minutes on Faro Island in what is a loose remake of the King Kong scene where we meet the villagers. The only difference here is the villagers don’t actually try to get rid of their foreign visitors, instead letting them stay after some “careful” trading. Here they learn about Kong, though the movie does its best to not say Kong and makes sure to mention electricity plays a big role for Kong (hint, hint). The reveal of Kong only happens when a giant octopus attacks the village. The villagers do everything to they can to stop it, but a roar is heard and here comes Kong to save the day. He easily dispatches the beast, drinks a lot of berry juice left for him by the villagers, then passes out. The visiting crew use this opportunity to bring Kong back to Japan.
King Kong vs Godzilla is primarily a King Kong film, as if Toho realized Kong was only a rental so they decided to do as much as they possibly could with him. The problem is that, when focused on Kong, the film is essentially a loose remake of King Kong, down to him picking up a damsel and taking her up a building before being stopped, not killed though, just knocked out, after all he’s needed to fight Godzilla.
The fight doesn’t disappoint either. Their first confrontation is a disappointment as Godzilla scares Kong away with fire, but their second fight is a continuing evolution for the series in terms of Kaiju fights. It’s a mixture of men in suits with a bit of stop motion and is really fun. Godzilla beats the tar out of poor Kong for the most part until a bolt of lighting strikes Kong, making him stronger and gaining the upper hand on Godzilla. The two monsters rail on each other, taking down anything and everything in their way, until they drop each other into the ocean, causing an earthquake that destroys the town where the monsters were fighting. Because Godzilla just has to destroy something, the big jerk.
The film has a couple of tonal shifts that kind of don’t match. When we have Godzilla, director Ishiro Honda takes him pretty serious. After all this is the same director of the original film. When Kong is on screen though, the film turns into a comedy, almost a slapstick farce where Ichiro Arishima shines as a physical comedic actor. The fight between the monsters straddles that line, as Godzilla and King Kong fighting should be serious, but there are some great bits peppered in there like Kong knocking himself out in the middle of the fight.
King Kong vs Godzilla doesn’t reach the heights of Godzilla (1954), but it improves on Godzilla Raids Again by doing one simple thing: being fun. With all the film’s problems and yes there are some, they end up not mattering because the film knows what it is, and that just happens to be a good time. Plus Ishiro Honda’s direction is top notch. He treats this movie with the same respect he did the first film, and it’s for that reason that this film shines more; even if the King Kong costume is terrible and this is easily the worst Godzilla design to date. The new design was meant to lighten up Godzilla and make him more family friendly.
The third film in this series definitely showed that there was life in this franchise and that taking it in a lighter direction would be the smartest decision, even if at the time many people involved with Godzilla didn’t think so. King Kong vs Godzilla is definitely worth a watch, although if you’re watching the US version be prepared for the film to stop dead here and there so you can be told what you just watch by obviously edited-in American actors. By the way, yes there is a winner, and yes it King Kong.
One last thing, can you believe Hollywood is making a 200 million dollar version of the film?