After the incredibly underwhelming film Godzilla Raids Again, Toho realized it was time to make a comeback in a big way and they did just that. They took America’s most iconic giant movie monster and pitted him against Japan’s most iconic giant movie monster in a film I consider to be the Citizen Kane of films that pit America’s most iconic giant movie monster against Japan’s most iconic giant movie monster.
But to be serious, this film is all sorts of fun and really sets the trend that numerous films afterward would follow. Zany characters that are fun to watch? Check. A needlessly weird plot that’s an excuse to get giant monsters to fight? Check. King Kong vs. Godzilla has it all. The plot begins with the CEO of a pharmaceuticals company growing frustrated with a lack of interesting sponsors. His solution? Send two workers to an uncharted island to sedate and bring back a monster of Godzilla proportions that the island’s inhabitants worship as a god for marketing purposes. Duh. The two arrive at Faro Island (don’t ask me why it’s not Skull Island) and befriend the locals with music. It’s pure nonsense and all the better for it. What ensues is a short variation of the basic Kong story, only this time they put Kong to sleep with some berry juice and a song and dance routine. No seriously. They eventually get Kong loaded onto an enormous raft being tugged behind their ship, but of course he breaks free and begins making his way inland. All of this story is running concurrently with the Godzilla portion of the film.
An American submarine notices some weird glowing lights and colors coming from a nearby iceberg and decide to check it out. Eventually a helicopter comes looking for them and finds an iceberg that the submarine got caught in. The iceberg begins to crumble, only to reveal Godzilla waking up from his slumber. You would think that people would be made more aware of the iceberg that happens to house the worlds most destructive living force, but evidently not.
Naturally, Godzilla makes his way to Japan and starts wrecking everything, which is where our titular monsters meet. Is it the epic battle we all knew it would be? No, Godzilla beats the crap out of Kong, forcing him to retreat. The military then tries killing Godzilla with all kinds of weaponry, but of course nothing works. They then try electrocuting him, like in the first one but with a much higher voltage, and it actually has an effect. Then Kong shows up and straight up bites the power lines. And as we all know, Kong is made more powerful by high voltages of electricity. It’s his spinach, if you will, as the famous tale goes. Then, in order to check off another box of the Kong story, he captures a girl and climbs on top of a building, though it looks much sillier in this version, as the building’s not really that tall. One song and dance routine later and Kong is out again. Then, after presumably watching Up, they decide to take Kong to Godzilla via balloons. The second fight goes about the same as the first one initially, though Kong is struck by lightning, increasing his strength, as had previously been established. The two, more evenly matched, fight and eventually tumble off a cliff. Kong is the only one to resurface and wanders off into the sunset as well as weird, Japanese pop culture obscurity.
One of the greatest improvements in this film are the fights themselves. While this is still clearly two guys in rubber suits fighting each other, there is an attempt being made to make them fight in a way distinct to them. Godzilla is more willing to utilize his tail this time, though he prefers to keep a good distance and let his atomic breath do most of the work. Kong’s movement is completely different from Godzilla and, while nothing like a Gorilla, is far more savage and primal. The film’s Americanized version establishes that Kong is far more intelligent than Godzilla, which is why he is more quick to rely on the environment in his fight, rather than on his own strength alone. This reliance ends up giving us one of the greatest moments in a Godzilla fight ever.
Overall, I find it to be one of the more enjoyable films of the Showa era. It’s silly, fun to watch, and sets the tone for everything that was to come. And trust me, it only gets weirder from here.