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To All The Monsters/Justice Leagues I’ve Loved Before

I just finished up a free 7-day trial to HBO Max (thanks, Hulu!) in order to watch two things: Godzilla vs. Kong and Zack Snyder’s Justice League. I won’t bury the lede here—Godzilla vs. Kong is awesome, Justice League not so much. Use the free trial and watch them both!

***Spoilers for Godzilla vs. Kong and Justice League abound ahead!***

Puny Humans

Godzilla vs. Kong’s greatest strength is the scale of its kaiju. When the alpha Titans take the screen, nothing rivals them. They’re mind-bogglingly enormous, with the effect played up by brief but potent shots of people scurrying like ants to get out of their way (both of these Big Daddies™ are close to 400 feet tall). We’re literally insects to Godzilla and his fellow Titans. Even our biggest creations—aircraft carriers, cities, skyscrapers—are dwarfed by them. 

Our hairy boy has one heck of a right hook.

This shift in scale is strangely refreshing in 2021. The past year has shown how much a microscopic virus can reshape the real world; in a twisted way, Kong and company’s complete disregard for us tiny humans comes across like a form of wish fulfillment. If only we could so easily brush aside the threat of COVID, attempts to undermine our democracy, or the frustrations of online shopping.

All of the Lights

The human elements of Godzilla vs. Kong are essentially nonsense. We’ve got environmental messages (well-intended but lost in all the explosions), a running obsession with the hollow earth theory (along with a healthy dollop of reverse-gravitation), Paper Boi, Eleven, Coach Taylor, and Firefist. See what I mean? Nonsense. And as New Girl’s Schmidt once taught us, how do we deal with nonsense? We just don’t stand for it.

We’re here to see Godzilla and Kong to do what monsters do, and this movie delivers the goods. The early fight on an aircraft carrier is beautiful, taking place in broad daylight so we can see every right hook and nuclear breath blast. And the movie’s climactic Hong Kong throwdown is spectacular, the kind of 45-minute action scene that wins Oscars and leaves jaws agape. Kong, Godzilla (and later Mechagodzilla) rampage through one of the world’s most beautiful, crowded cities. It starts at night, with the city glowing with neon and radiation, before dawn breaks and puts all of the furious fighting on glorious display. It’s simply astounding.

And Now for Something Completely Different

All four of the Monsterverse films are on the platform, which meant I was able to watch 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters too (verdict: meh, but King Ghidorah!). After the Monsterverse’s most recent entry I dialed up the newest addition to the other cinematic universe on HBO Max: Zack Snyder’s Justice League. It was a jarring contrast to Godzilla vs. Kong, to say the least.

Cyborg is easily the most intriguing character in Justice League.

The #SnyderCut’s long and tortuous road is fascinating, a powerful story of the film industry, the power of Extremely Online modern fandoms, and the toxic atmosphere present on some movie sets. The four-hour extended cut brings out the best in the divisive director: he presents some incredible imagery, particularly when Superman is resurrected, and provides the movie with its heart by filling out Cyborg’s character arc. Watching Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) listen to his father’s message at the end of the movie brought unexpected tears to my eyes.

Ultimately, though, Justice League’s genesis is more interesting than the actual film, and the Snyder Cut brings out the director’s worst impulses. Every visceral action scene is intercut with lingering, molasses-slow shots of the heroes, every pop of color is drowned out by shades of grey and black, and the excellent score is overwhelmed by licensed music that disrupts the story.

Godzilla vs. Kong and Zack Snyder’s Justice League present two very different options of what shared universe films can be. Godzilla shows how familiarity can be used to tell a new story, or at least an old story in an extremely entertaining and kinetic manner. Justice League is an exercise in indulgence, a lesson to be careful what fans wish/campaign incessantly on social media for. But thanks to the astounding deal that Warner Brothers struck with HBO, you don’t have to take my word for it—you can watch both and decide for yourself!

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