Book: Godzilla vs. Kong - The Official Movie Novelization


Godzilla vs. Kong - The Official Movie Novelization

English Book Title

Godzilla vs. Kong - The Official Movie Novelization


Greg Keyes


Titan Books





By: Nicholas Driscoll

Like many in Japan, I was really looking forward to finally getting to watch Godzilla vs. Kong on the big screen on May 14, but given the ravages of covid, for us living in Japan, the release of the film has been pushed back once again, and so I took the opportunity to finish up reading the novel version instead—and I suppose therefore spoil the story for myself. I am writing this review, then, without having seen the movie in question, which gives me a… shall we say unique (possibly a bit surly) perspective compared to many fans around the world. Still, I am writing my review now because I don’t want to wait until the movie releases and possibly forget a lot of my impressions of the book. I might come back and add a paragraph to this review later when I do get the chance to see the movie, though. Just bear in mind the limitations of this particular reviewer.

I will be discussing a lot of spoilers in this review, so you are warned. If you want a spoiler-free version, skip to the end paragraph.

The plot: several years after the events of Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), Godzilla has subdued the other titans around the world, and Skull Island is being ravaged by a powerful storm which has wiped out most of the Iwi people. Kong has been transplanted out of the island and into an artificial environment meant to keep him safe, and a single Iwi native survived the transition—a deaf girl named Jia. But when Godzilla attacks a facility run by the mysterious Apex company in Pensacola, Florida, monster-monitoring group Monarch (here possessing much more advanced SF tech than in previous iterations) along with the rest of the world consider the monster king an enemy of humankind, and so attempt to use Kong to find a power source in the middle of the earth that they can use against the reigning radioactive lizard. However, when Monarch tries to move Kong to Antarctica where they can enter inner earth, the act of transporting Kong triggers Godzilla to attack. Meanwhile, the evil minds behind Apex are creating a super-robot to take down Godzilla… and everything is quickly escalating towards an epic confrontation that will change everything.

Gosh. I enjoyed the book, but looking at the story now, it doesn’t make much sense.

I can’t really blame the novel for the faults and strengths of the movie script, but I can still explore those issues a bit here. As many have said before, the Godzilla vs. Kong story is a wild ride, and it doesn’t hold together logically at all. These issues grow throughout the tale, especially in light of events from the previous movie, but whether that bothers you the reader is up to how much you can enjoy the characters and action. For me, I was fairly forgiving of the story—I found it entertaining, even if I did wish a bit more good old-fashioned spit and polish had been put into it.

Let’s start with some strengths I personally enjoyed. The script and story feels aware of and informed by many kaiju films of the past. In the case of the novel, it draws on the previous movies, but also goes out of its way to reference both Godzilla Dominion and Kingdom Kong for a richer narrative experience, building on some of what came in the graphic novels. These attempts to combine the disparate stories is appreciated and I enjoyed the coalescing of the narratives. Individual plot elements feel like they are referencing older films, such as the destruction of Skull Island (Son of Kong), the adaptation of bones into Mechagodzilla (Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla), Kong being transported by boat (the original King Kong and its remakes; King Kong vs. Godzilla), transporting Kong by air (King Kong vs. Godzilla) and using the body of King Ghidorah to create a mech to fight Godzilla (Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah). Kong’s connection to a female main character has been a longstanding trope, and he has also been friends with a child before in his cartoon adventures, but this is the first time he has become friends with a little girl who communicates through sign language—a nice touch/reference to the real-life Koko and other signing apes. The fact that Kong here is taken to Antarctica to search for a power source underground where human technology has so far failed in its probes feels like a reference to the evil Dr. Who using Kong to mine for Element X at the North Pole after Mechani-Kong broke down from exposure to the radiation. While some of these references may just be my imagination, I can’t believe these were all just coincidences, and that level of nerdery from the filmmakers for the fans feels good.

Maybe I am just imagining the connotations, but I also appreciated a particular paragraph Keyes includes in the middle of the battle at sea. After Godzilla and Kong disappear underwater, Keyes writes:

That was bad. Godzilla was completely at home in the depths. If only he came up, it probably meant he had prevailed. If neither came up, it probably meant the same thing. The only way this turned out well was if…

To me, it seems like Keyes is referencing the ending of King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) here and the infamous means by which the movie seems to indicate that King Kong won, since he was the only one to emerge from the water. Much hay has been made from the somewhat vague concluding scene, so I just enjoyed that Keyes seems to be mildly pointing back to how Kong won that first filmic encounter. Anyway, it made me chuckle, which probably is more indicative of my own mental issues more than anything!

I for one also like that the screenwriters are taking a crazier slant to the story, with lots of wild technology like the biodome and a secret Lovecraftian underground world of giant monsters—building from the previous idea in KOTM. While I think some of the plot points are very shaky, I really enjoyed the nutty goodness. I love the idea of giving Kong a Mjolnir-like axe in lieu of his electricity powers from KKvG, and even though it’s arguably really stupid, I love that Godzilla just blasts a tunnel to the middle of the earth that Kong can climb out of! That image just makes me laugh.

A frequent criticism I have seen online concerns the human cast and how uninteresting they are in the movie (with the exception of Jia), but I would say for the most part the book does not suffer from this same characteristic monster movie malady. Keyes works hard to paint in the details behind characters such as the conspiracy theorist Bernie and his tragic past, or Mechagodzilla pilot Ren Serizawa and his broken relationship with his father. Less is accomplished with Madison and her father, who both remain kind of uninteresting unfortunately, but at least Madison gets a chance to have quite an adventure.

Still, I had some big beefs with the story. Godzilla, the ostensible star of the franchise, is basically a villain here, even with the explanation that he was hunting Mechagodzilla. He just travels the world beating the living crap out of other monsters for no reason (apparently he is the only titan allowed to be conscious), and his rivalry with Kong feels half-baked and tired. How many times can we see that Godzilla has been depicted in native murals fighting this or that other super monster and that he has some inexplicably long history with the latest rival beastie? It was fine with the MUTOs, felt a bit haggard with King Ghidorah, but they trotted it out a third time with Kong, and it feels like the radioactive horse has truly been beaten into nuclear glue by this point. Given that Kong and Godzilla both act as guardians to the earth and to people in general, their antagonism also feels forced and kind of meaningless. Plus the plot hinges on the idea that Kong will find Monarch (and Apex) a mysterious power source inside the earth, which seems… well, dumb, folks! Why would the huge ape help them? Why would Monarch think he would be able to find the energy source in the first place? Has Kong ever had any particular energy-homing skills in the MonsterVerse? And when they find the energy source, it is beyond convenient that the Apex scientists have a means to teleport the power source (which they know nothing about) to Hong Kong, and that it magically works with the Mechagodzilla technology, enabling the incomplete cyborg to power up and take on all comers. Issues like these for me niggled rather than ruined the experience, but I was still surprised at how dumb the plot felt.

For me, the biggest problem with the novel was its handling of the action sequences—especially when Godzilla and Kong throwdown in the climax. I quite enjoyed sci-fi/fantasy author Greg Keyes’ novelization of Godzilla King of the Monsters, but with this book, where the centerpiece fight is described in such a lackluster and resoundingly un-epic a fashion. He depicts the fights with hurried, undetailed prose that sometimes sounded to me more like a summary than a proper dynamic narration, especially in the HK sequences. It felt like “Godzilla punched Kong, but then Kong swung and punched and Godzilla zapped and Kong dodged” rather than a really dramatic and colossal confrontation, showing the weight and dramatic heft of each blow and wound. I was really disappointed in his writing here, more than any other aspect of the novel.

That said, I still mostly enjoyed my time in the book, from the fleshed-out human characters, to the additional nods to the graphic novels, to the sometimes insane plot elements, to Kong’s heartwarming relationship with Jia. The story moves at a brisk pace, and feels like it is constantly referencing the kaiju canon of yesteryear, and functions as an exciting adventure story—even if some of the action sequences are poorly carried off by the prose. While I didn’t think the book was as well done as Keyes adaptation of the previous movie, for me it worked better than his Godzilla Dominion graphic novel, and it functions to at least partially tide me over while forced to wait for the movie to finally get released in Japan! If you like Godzilla novels, it’s worth a read.

By: Noah Percival

A fourth MonsterVerse movie means a fourth movie novelization! This release also sees a series first with an author returning to pen a second entry in this series. Greg Keyes who wrote the novelization of Godzilla King of the Monsters and the Godzilla Vs Kong prequel graphic novel Godzilla Dominion, takes on the task of putting the events of the movie Godzilla Vs Kong onto paper and fleshing out the greater MonsterVerse. Toho Kingdom readers may remember that the previous novel was well received by fellow site staff Nicholas Driscoll as well as myself so much like the actual movie expectations for this book were high! Does it deliver? Let's find out!

The novel follows the same narrative as the film, although with a much longer and honestly necessary first act that fills in so many narrative holes. First is a new opening which depicts a group of Titan hunters who have captured the Titan Na Kika and are trying to sell it to a prospective buyer when Godzilla arrives to free their captive and destroy their oil rig base. One of the strengths of the previous novel was how deeply connected it was to the MonsterVerse graphic novels and this scene is a fun continuation of that tradition. We previously got to experience this same scene entirely from Godzilla's perspective in the Godzilla Vs Kong graphic novel prequel Godzilla Dominion which was also written by Keyes. I really can't stress just how much I appreciate this interconnectedness between movies, novels, and comics. It allows authors to add so much needed depth to the MonsterVerse and help this canon feel like a fully fleshed out world. Keyes also brings back a device from his previous book that I loved which is beginning each chapter with a quotation either from works of fiction, ancient myths, or characters from the MonsterVerse and the previous movies. Other events this first act includes are Walter Simmons purchasing Ghidorah's remains from a mysterious man who is never named but who we assume to be Alan Jonah, Nathan Lind's brother David leading the first expedition into the Hollow Earth and his resulting death, and most importantly Kong's first meeting and rescue of Jia that is so crucial to the entire story. These are just a few of the many additional details that are scattered thought the entire novel and they make reading it a very rewarding experience. For instance, we are told not only how Monarch was able to build the containment unit for Kong and capture him in it but how the gas they used interacts with Kong's unique respiratory system.

Beyond world building, Keyes is also able to further flesh out characters. The highlight of this additional character development are Nathan and Bernie. Nathan's initial cowardly behavior is further expanded upon with inner dialogues making his growing courage much more engaging than it was on screen. Bernie however is the character that is truly elevated by the novel. From watching the film I was unsure as to why Bernie was so obsessed with Apex before Godzilla's attack. Keyes reveals that Bernie's wife worked for Apex before becoming disillusioned with them and abruptly quitting. This prompts a fight between her and Bernie and she dies several days later because of a car crash. When going through her belongings Bernie discovers a note containing phrases such as "Godzilla", "Apex", "Monarch", and "Component for bomb". Bernie joins Apex after this and believes that Apex created the Oxygen Destroyer used in 2019 and are now trying to cover their tracks following its disastrous use. Godzilla and Kong are also given inner monologues although Kong receives more than Godzilla. Much like the movie, Godzilla feels like a special guest in this story, but hearing his inner thought process goes a long way to help this. Kong's internal character moments are also a highlight. While I've mentioned a lot of character growth that I really loved from this book, Keyes can only do so much to improve upon a script that treats a lot of characters as afterthoughts. Mark and Madison Russell are thankfully given some additional scenes showing their lives after the events of 2019 and the rise of the Titans, but Team Godzilla still ends up getting the short end of the narrative stick. Tragically, Ren Serizawa receives some appreciated depth from Keyes, however he still remains a woefully underdeveloped character and missed opportunity.

There are also some unusual inconsistencies throughout the book. Kingdom Kong ends with the Iwi being evacuated from Skull Island by Monarch, however this novel states that the Iwi refused to be evacuated and mysteriously vanished. We are also told that this story takes place three years from the events of the previous movie, however the film itself dates its events as happening 5 years later. Through Godzilla and Kong's genetic memories as well as Jia's recounting of her culture's legends, we are told more of the supposed ancient rivalry that Godzilla and Kong's species had in the ancient world, but not nearly enough to satisfy questions raised by either the novel or the two graphic novel prequels. What we are told ends up adding confusion. Jia describes either Godzilla or one of his species eating a star that changed him into a force of evil that clashed with the Iwi and Kong's species, but this seems to contradict Godzilla's heroic depiction from past MonsterVerse films. Perhaps most disappointingly outside of the additional scenes at the beginning and a swimmer's perspective of Godzilla's attack on Apex, there are no new original characters or plot lines of note in this book like the various Monarch bases and personnel that Keyes created for the Godzilla King of the Monsters novelization that made it such a joy to read.

Greg Keyes is a very talented, writer however he can only do so much when stuck with a script like Godzilla Vs Kong. Keyes is forced to spend the majority of his time attempting to plug the various holes in the script's narrative before he can add any new original material and ultimately this script ends up hurting the novelization as much as it does the actual film. I did not enjoy this novel as much as I did the Godzilla King of the Monsters novelization, but I don't believe that to be any fault of the author. I also greatly preferred the 2019 movie over Godzilla Vs Kong, so I believe that a lot of my issues with this book should be placed at the feet of the screen writers rather than the novel's author. Greg Keyes delivered another entertaining and great world building novel and I would absolutely recommend this book to any reader or Godzilla fan.

On a final note, I want to add that Godzilla Vs Kong also received an audio book presentation as well! As a fan of the audio book of the previous novel I was very happy to see Godzilla Vs Kong received the same treatment. Obviously this is the same story as the physical book, so there isn't much more to add other than two note worth items. The first is that Michael Braun who narrated the previous audio book does not return for Godzilla Vs Kong and narration is provided by Richard Ferrone. Ferrone provides a good delivery, but I found myself wishing that Braun had returned for consistency's sake. Finally, unlike the 2019 release, Godzilla Vs Kong is an Audible exclusive. I myself am an avid Audible fan and customer, but I'm sad to see this audio book restricted to a single platform. Now for all I know making this an Audible exclusive may be the only way we were able to get this audio book, and if that's the case then I'm grateful, however it is my hope that a wider release will happen in the future so more people will be able to hear it.