There can be few film characters who sum up the word ‘cinematic’ more than King Kong and Godzilla. Ever since Kong made his debut all the way back in 1933, and his Japanese counterpart followed suit just over two decades later, the pair have been a constant feature of big screen iconography, appearing in countless blockbusters and destroying myriad landmarks alongside several generations of movie stars. It’s no exaggeration to say that the gargantuan creatures are both undisputed icons of the silver screen.
How strange it is then, that UK audiences are currently only able to watch the pair’s new film on television and laptop screens, with the blockbuster opening while cinemas are still shut due to pandemic restrictions. And while many fans will doubtless be eager to see the two monsters face off in what has been described as “an epic battle for the ages” as soon as possible, I would urge them to wait a little while longer – Godzilla vs. Kong has its moments, but it just doesn’t really work on the small screen.
The film is the fourth installment in Legendary Entertainment’s Monsterverse franchise – which started with Godzilla in 2014 and has also encompassed Kong: Skull Island (2017) and Godzilla: King of Monsters (2019). It marks the first time the Titans have appeared on screen together since 1962, and from the moment the monsters are pitted against each other it’s a predictably all-action affair. After setting up various storylines including an assortment of human characters, the film really gets going with the pair’s first encounter around the 40 minute mark and it never slows down again from that point onwards.
As a film, it’s unquestionably flawed: there are big problems with the pacing, for example, while it’s human characters are rather two-dimensional and exist largely as exposition machines. And yet it’s hard not to admire the spectacle on some level, as you’re sucked into the well-choreographed fights in all their bombastic glory.
The problem is that every time you find yourself admiring a shot, you wind up asking yourself how much better it would look on a big screen. There are several moments that seem engineered specifically to create wonder and awe, for the audience to gape open-mouthed at the huge creatures towering over us – and this just doesn’t have the same effect when the characters are shrunk down to fit on a laptop screen.
So much of what makes these films appealing is about bluster and bombast, with everything existing on a grandiose scale, and these things just don’t translate to a smaller screen, meaning the film loses a huge amount of its impact. It’s also true that the near constant onslaught of action becomes somehow more exhausting and wearing on a small screen – when you’re unable to marvel at the scale of it all – which can inevitably lead to the film becoming a bit dull in places. Frankly, it’s hard to make a proper judgement on the film when watching at home, other than to say that the small screen does it no favours.
In the US, the film has been released simultaneously in cinemas and on VOD platforms – which is increasingly looking like the way forward in the industry – and so at least fans have the option to see it projected as enormous as possible if they so choose. In the UK, though, unless you are the owner of a particularly large TV, the film just can’t be viewed in its appropriate form for now.
Of course, there is some hope: in line with the government’s current roadmap for easing restrictions, cinemas are scheduled to open again on 17th May, little more than a month from now. While it’s not been confirmed, it seems likely that Godzilla vs. Kong might be one of the first films available when the box office does reopen, and so fingers crossed there will still be a chance to watch the two creatures throwing ginormous punches on a suitably large screen. It still won’t be a perfect film by any means, but it should certainly play an awful lot better.