by Zeke Tweedie
Over the past few years, streaming services have gone from an upstart phenomenon in entertainment to an impending replacement to television, with the most established networks, like CBS and NBC, recently introducing their own imitations of Netflix. The prominence of streaming services is now a real threat to established sectors of the industry, especially as services like Netflix and Amazon lean heavily into funding for personal studios, producing their own exclusive content. Aside from TV, the movie industry has been changed as well. Streaming services can provide movies without the commercials that come on TV, the physical and technological hassle that comes with DVD and VHS, or the price and effort (you mean I have to wear shoes?) that it takes to go to the movie theater, and have become the favorite source for many cinefiles and casual fans alike, especially in the younger generations.
Industries like cinemas have found themselves facing an existential crisis, which was only exacerbated by the pandemic. When the world shut down, movie theaters were suddenly stripped of virtually all of their business. While some have found creative ways to serve their communities, the past year has changed the industry forever. Giants like AMC have narrowly escaped death, and the effects have been worse on small and independent theaters without corporate safety nets to fall into. If this wasn’t bad enough, last December, streaming service HBO Max announced a partnership with Warner Brothers, in which big-name WB movies, like Wonder Woman 1984 and The Matrix 4, would be released simultaneously on the streaming service and in theaters. Though this deal has since been altered, and in 2022, all Warner Bros movies will have a (shorter) stint of theater exclusivity, it initially angered many movie fanatics, who saw the writing on the wall. The exclusivity that theaters have traditionally had on new movies was their main advantage, and the loss of that, combined with the pandemic, led cine(ma)files like Boulder film student Joe Dombrowski to legitimately “fear for the future of the most sacred place on this earth” (the cinema). Unfortunately, less sentimental folks seem more focused on the future. Some have even begun to ask: “Why do we even need movie theaters?”
Enter Godzilla vs. Kong. This is a movie that, like a giant robot exploding out of a mountainside, can get as ridiculous as it wants and knows it’s still cool. At an hour and 53 minutes, it clocks in at a much more manageable runtime than many of its big-budget action contemporaries, allowing it to get away with several longer periods of dialogue, which, though boring (simply by virtue of not being a giant gorilla and a giant-er lizard boxing), are pithy enough to not get in the way of the real attraction. And the real attraction is there. Godzilla vs. Kong ensures that its stars are shown, maintaining tight CGI and mostly readable action sequences. Though there are several large action scenes, all of which ignore both the human characters and the laws of physics enough to be successful, the trailer-promised Hong Kong showdown is by far the best. Kong and Godzilla use weapons, special powers, and their surroundings in an exciting and frankly beautiful neon battle. The two titans each get their licks in, accompanied by a healthy dose of bisexual lighting and an even healthier dose of collateral damage (Hong Kong, who probably wants to be left alone more than anything, has been made victim to the politics of world titans. Where have I heard that before?). Don’t worry, I won’t spoil who comes out on top. Suffice to say: the audience wins with this fight.
It’s not a masterpiece, of course. There is virtually no effort put into any character depth or development, aside from assigning almost every character one (1) dead relative, and each character can be confidently labeled either ‘good’ or ‘evil’ before they even open their mouths. It also includes a humans-only storyline led by Millie Bobby Brown and the truly wasted talent of Brian Tyree Henry (Spider-Verse, Atlanta, If Beale Street Could Talk), which feels more like a commercial break, repeatedly interrupting the real action like clockwork. Boring, afterthought dialogue is highlighted by the constantly moving goalposts on the ‘science vs. fantasy’ of the unfolding plot, as the movie alternates between being so absurd that it’s not worth trying to explain (ie., the right way to do it) and trying to provide scientific explanations, which often ends in a result that is even more confusing than before.
But here’s the thing about Godzilla vs. Kong’s shortcomings: Who cares??? Watching this movie in a movie theater (Dolby, surround sound) was a special experience for me as a moviegoer, who had not been to a movie theater since seeing 1917 in what sometimes feels like the year 1917. And Godzilla vs Kong was made for the theater. The giant screen was made to capture both the minute detail and grand scale of the on-screen action. The seat-shaking speakers were made to convey the roars of the monsters (and there are plenty of them). The beauty of this sensory overload is simply not attainable through HBO Max or Netflix on a living room TV, laptop, or (God forbid) an iPhone.
This type of movie is often scorned as being meaningless, appealing solely to our base need for entertainment. And maybe they are. But Scorsese be damned, there needs to be a space in our culture for movies that are made to be fun and flashy. This starts by ensuring that there is not only a cultural space, but a literal space for them. Movies like Godzilla vs. Kong can only be experienced fully in a movie theater, where the quality matches its subject. More generally, movie theaters capture aspects of movie watching that are lost without it. Theaters, from the largest chains to your favorite indie spot, are places of community, adventure, and discovery. To lose them would be to lose Friday nights, date spots, and countless future memories. If moviegoing is a religion, cinemas are our temples, complete with overpriced popcorn wafers and communion ICEEs. With a little faith, we can still stop the stream-pocalypse. All we have to do is go to the movies.