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A Mighty Heart

In A Mighty Heart, Angelina Jolie finally proves her Oscar win wasn't a fluke —Matt Anderson (DVD review...)

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In the Titans Cinematic Universe, Godzilla vs. Kong is a knock-out.

A Girl Waits for Me

Clash of the Titans
Clash of the Titans

This series of giant monster movies has had its ups and downs — and not just from the rumblings of rampaging gargantuan creatures thrashing planet Earth. From one point of view, the series is taking the Star Trek path: every other one — or every even-numbered entry — is great. The others, not so much.

Or, to put it another way, Team Kong knows how to entertain. Team Godzilla, not so much.

All of that crystallizes during the course of Godzilla vs. Kong. This is summer movie storytelling that lives up to the promise held by the moviegoing — in theatres — experience. Down the popcorn while the seats vibrate from the stellar sensations of aural design and the eyes feast on visual candy on the biggest screen available.

The Godzilla vs. Kong showdown isn’t just a bunch of hype. They level Hong Kong and it is delightful. It’s the kind of squeal-with-glee joy that resurrects what these movies have always been about. The terrifying thoughts of giant monsters destroying civilization; the undercurrent of man’s own self-destructive tendencies; the morality questions charging discussions surrounding the latest in science and technology. And, dang, it looks really good, too!

Getting to Hong Kong is a pretty wild journey, one laden with pleasant surprises, twists and one really big plot development that cannot and will not be revealed here so the sanctity of the surprise can be held true. But this has to be said: Kong pulls a Rocky Balboa move and uses a skyscraper to reset his dislocated shoulder. It’s game on, baby! Titan with an attitude coming through.

A Not-So-Quiet Place

There’s a method to the madness here that makes dissecting Godzilla vs. Kong a fun exercise in itself. Filmmaking is dependent on so many factors: the cast, the writers, the visual wizards, the director. That’s how a series like the Titans Cinematic Universe can be so wobbly. But, when everyone’s on board and everything’s firing on all cylinders, it’s magic.

The baggage of some of the ineffective characters has been dumped. For one, Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler, First Man), a rather bland, generic character, has been downsized in favor of his daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown, Enola Holmes), plunging into adventure with a couple quirky newbies who brighten the screen with the right amount of badly needed humor and movie-friendly personalities. There’s Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry, Widows); he’s a triple threat: an engineer, a conspiracy theorist and a podcaster. And there’s Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison, Hunt for the Wilderpeople); a little heavy set, but a fun peer to Madison.

An element that sets this one apart is its heart, and that’s thanks to the big ape and a little girl. It revisits and reimagines the Kong love affair that’s pushing toward 90 years of movie magic and memories. There’s not a new Fay Wray or Jessica Lange here. Instead, the heart comes from a deaf girl named Jia (newcomer Kaylee Hottle, who is deaf in real life); she communicates with Kong via sign language. And she adores the big gorilla, to the extent she even totes around a homemade Kong doll. Throw in her adopted mother, Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall, Iron Man 3) and another new character, scientist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard, The Legend of Tarzan), and it’s adventure time with a journey to Hollow Earth.

It can all be boiled down to this: Kong attracts more creative writers and higher caliber cast members. Skull Island had Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler) contributing to the story behind the screen, with Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston on screen. This one has Terry Rossio (The Pirates of the Caribbean, Aladdin) helping with the story while Hall and Skarsgard lend their well-regarded skills on the scene.

There were plenty of reasons to be skeptical of bringing in Adam Wingard as director; his résumé features a recent remake of Blair Witch and schlock horror entries in the V/H/S series. But this gamble paid off and Wingard is now on the radar of directors to keep an eye on.

The Kong Whisperer

The King and I
The King and I

Okay. What’s on the screen is great stuff. It’s a blast.

But there are a couple cheats here. One minute, Kong is rummaging around his gigantic containment area on Skull Island. All of a sudden, he’s on a ship... Was that a cheat? Well, a little later, all of a sudden Kong is in a safety net and being transported to Antarctica by a couple dozen helicopters. Surely the mechanics of making those transitions happen are epic events in and of themselves. A cheat or a cut-to-the-chase admission that, yeah, this is crazy stuff. Roll with it or go home.

Getting back to that “every other entry” thought, Godzilla and Godzilla: King of the Monsters suffered from a lack of innovation. The Kong movies come at things from a fresh angle. Kong: Skull Island was a blast with its 1960s, Vietnam War-era spin on the Kong story while also bringing Kong into the overarching storyline of Monarch; now it’s not just a battle of the titans like Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan and so many others — it’s an escalation of activity in the titanic companies of Monarch and APEX. Godzilla vs. Kong takes that mojo — a blend of action, interesting characters and quirky humor — and creates the best monster mayhem movie since Guillermo del Toro’s masterful Pacific Rim.