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'Godzilla vs. Kong' vs 'Tenet'
Rewatching a Blockbuster: Watching Adam Wingard’s Godzilla vs. Kong again recently, I was struck by several things I had missed, or not fully appreciated, during my initial viewing a month ago.
The first is that each giant monster has its own separate defender/proponent, both younger females with great agency. Jia (Kaylee Hottle) has formed an intensely intimate bond with King Kong, to that point that Kong can communicate with her via sign language, a signal of the beast’s intelligence as well as the girl’s deep love for the beast. No one else can comprehend the depth of Jia’s feelings for Kong, and vice versa, though Jia’s adoptive mother Ilene (Rebecca Hall) does her best to understand. It’s as though the souls of Jia and Kong have become entwined, an undefined friendship that reflects back on previous beauty/beast friendships centering on the mighty ape, from Fay Wray to Jessica Lange to Naomi Watts. Making Kong’s female friend a juvenile neatly sidesteps all the uncomfortable aspects that such relationships have always implied in the past, especially the idea that Kong could be guilty of demanding an audience of one on demand, as it were.
As for Godzilla, his defender from the previous film, Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), returns, but as a motherless child with a distracted and single father (Kyle Chandler). Madison has made at least one good friend, a boy her age (Julian Dennison) with whom she has a relationship in which she can be the one with more power — note how often she punches him playfully, perhaps a sign of unspoken attraction — and a devotion to Godzilla which is not defined by any apparent personal connection between them. Madison is growing up, but she is more keenly interested in Godzilla than any boy. The young woman/monster relationship is based on principle; Godzilla didn’t do anything to harm you, so why are you bothering him?
This viewing around, I was also able to see with more clarity that Rebecca Hall is the only serious actress in the film, by which I mean that she grounds it all with gravity tied to the real-life possibilities. Everyone else, including Alexander Skarsgard, Brian Tyree Henry, Demian Bichir, Eiza Gonzalez, even Shun Oguri, is playing to the cheap seats, going for easy laughs and signaling the broad comic elements. This is, after all, a movie about two giant monsters popping through “the hollow earth” to transport themselves across continents, just so Hong Kong could get destroyed and millions of Chinese people could die. Good fun, as always. I may have been under-appreciating, or at least, misunderstanding, Adam Wingard as a brazenly ironic filmmaker. [HBO Max, though it’s off the service for now.]
Incomprehensible: Last year, I was sorely tempted to see Christopher Nolan’s Tenet in a theater, despite the pandemic. I bought, and then requested a refund, to two screenings, finally put off by the dire warnings of possible dangers. Now it’s finally made its way to premium cable and … I don’t have a bloody idea what it’s about.
It’s a movie that appears built for the theatrical experience, a big, big, big picture in which explosions and bullets are constant companions for the putative heroes, yet I have no clear idea why I should care about the “heroes,” one in particular (John David Washington), who is some sort of government agent and assigned to get close to the wife (Elizabeth Debicki) of the arms-dealing villain (Kenneth Branagh), who speaks with a comically broad accent (presumably intended to make the character more obviously evil for simple-minded blockbuster audiences).
The lack of discernible chemistry between the characters played by Washington and Debicki, the lack of any depth to the very shallow Branagh, who has played villains before, but now apparently is convinced that speaking with an Estonian accent vill make him sound E-VEEL … oh, I don’t have much idea what the story is about, either, because the plot is driven through a prism in which time can be reversed and so time travel in reverse is rampant and bodies and things can move through entire sequences in slow motion and reverse motion and no motion and go motion and whatnot.
All in all, it struck me that I am not smart enough for Tenet but I think it would make for a fabulous paperback novel. I would recommend watching it two or three times more, though the prospect, frankly, fills me with dread. [HBO Max]