Adam Wingard’s Godzilla vs. Kong is lighter than its MonsterVerse predecessor Godzilla: King of the Monsters from 2019. I don’t just mean lighter in tone (which it is), but actually lighter where it counts. When the two title character titans clash, we can actually see it. That’s an improvement over what transpired two years ago when Godzilla’s battles were too dimly lit or obscured by pounding rain. That’s a major plus, but not every aspect of this franchise has leveled up. The human characters are still an uninteresting and bland group. We have fine actors whose primary responsibility is to talk about the massive CGI combatants and react to what they’re doing. Their character development is a secondary consideration. That said – we’re not here for that, are we? This is the culmination of three pictures leading to a movie being named Godzilla vs. Kong and it frequently manages to deliver.
We last left King Kong in the 1970s during Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla in the aforementioned Monsters when he successfully warded off King Ghidorah and others. The fourth franchise entry picks up five years after Monsters as Kong is being monitored by Monarch on his native island. His human contact is mostly with linguist Dr. Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her deaf adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who’s a native of the island. A magazine cover identifies the doctor as the “Kong Whisperer”, but it’s clearly Jia who’s found the most sincere connection with the massive ape. Also on Kong patrol is geologist Dr. Lind (Alexander Skarsgard).
While Kong is living a pretty chill existence on Skull Island, Godzilla’s fiery temper unexpectedly flares up. The not so jolly green giant has resurfaced to do lots of property destruction. His inexplicable attitude adjustment causes the CEO of APEX (Demian Bichir) to recruit Kong to solve this dilemma. APEX is a big shadowy corporation that sells itself as trying to solve the Titans problem. That doesn’t gel with conspiracy theorist Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) and he’s got sympathizers with Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown, returning from Monsters) and her nerdy buddy Josh (Julian Dennison). Madison’s dad, played by Kyle Chandler, also reprises his Monsters role.
Enough with the plot which also involves specialized vehicles zooming through gravity fields. All of this is a prelude to watching Godzilla and Kong fight. It happens early (no shades of the slow buildup of 2014’s Godzilla) and round 1 transpires on water and is gloriously lighted for our entertainment.
The main event is in Hong Kong and that’s when we learn why Godzilla is being so irritable (hint: corporate greed is a factor). The climactic matchup is preceded by some fairly dull scenes with humans. No performance is bad. They’re just inconsequential with the exception of Hottle’s Jia in a winning performance. As long as we’re able to ignore the poor people in the buildings that are demolished with Kong and Godzilla’s every twitch and stumble, these skirmishes are expertly staged and enjoyable. I’d put it a notch below 2014’s Godzilla stand-alone from Gareth Edwards, but a hair above Kong: Skull Island and certainly ahead of Monsters. This delivers on its title well enough and is lit properly.
The fourth film in the MonsterVerse franchise stomps into theaters and HBO Max on Wednesday (March 31) with Godzilla vs. Kong. Adam Wingard takes the directorial reigns with a cast including Alexander Skarsgard, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Eiza Gonzalez, Kyle Chandler, and Demian Bichir. Of course, the real stars are the giant green monster (from 2014’s Godzilla and 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters) and massive gorilla (of 2017’s Kong: Skull Island) who will duke it out in the production with a budget reportedly in the $200 million range.
This awaited matchup was originally set for viewing last spring before going through the now familiar myriad of delays due to COVID-19. It’s the latest example of Warner Bros. unveiling their pics simultaneously in multiplexes and HBO’s streaming service. With theaters in New York and Los Angeles now operating (albeit in diminished capacity) and with vaccinations rising, Godzilla vs. Kong is being seen as a major test for the industry. The previous COVID era highest opening weekend belongs to Wonder Woman 1984 (another WB/HBO Max venture) at $16.7 million over this past Christmas. That number exceeded expectations and the thought is that Kong will outpace it.
I tend to agree. It is worth noting that the last MonsterVerse title, King of the Monsters, was a box office disappointment. Due partly to poor reviews, it premiered in late May 2019 to a subpar $47 million with an eventual domestic gross just north of $100 million. By comparison, 2014’s Godzilla took in $200 million while Kong: Skull Island made $168 million. A $47 million debut here would be beyond even the wildest expectations in these Coronavirus times.
Godzilla vs. Kong has the benefit of bringing these two iconic creatures together and that’s a significant selling point. It’s also the kind of epic production that many may wish to see on a giant screen as opposed to on their couch via HBO Max (though I’m sure plenty of moviegoers will go that route).
With a five-day rollout, I believe a Friday to Sunday haul in the $20 million range is possible with mid to high 20s overall for the entire frame.
Godzilla vs. Kong opening weekend prediction: $21.1 million (Friday to Sunday), $27.3 million (Wednesday to Sunday)
The sci-fi adventure Chaos Walking, on its surface, seems to have a lot going for it. It’s based on a well regarded series of YA novels by Patrick Ness (who cowrote the screenplay). Doug Liman, maker of successful pics like The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Edge of Tomorrow, directs. The two stars are instantly recognizable faces from recent franchises blockbusters: Daisy Ridley (Rey from Star Wars) and Tom Holland (the current Spider-Man). And Lionsgate ponied up a reported $125 million to make it.
Yet closer inspection reveals a different story as it opens next Friday in multiplexes. Chaos was originally slated for release all the way back in pre-COVID March 2019. Poor test screenings allegedly forced reshoots which were overseen by Don’t Breathe director Fede Alvarez. The pandemic has shifted the drop date once again from January of this year to early March.
Now it appears the high budget Walking is limping its way into theaters in already uncertain times. In addition to its stars, the supporting cast includes Mads Mikkelsen, Demian Bichir, Cynthia Erivo, Nick Jonas, and David Oyelowo. I’m not even confident that the awareness level of its existence is enough to bring in the intended audience. This has been looked at as a potential major flop for some time and I don’t foresee this exceeding any expectations upon release.
Chaos Walking opening weekend prediction: $3.9 million
For my Raya and the Last Dragon prediction, click here:
She’s had high profile career for over 30 years now with The Princess Bride, Forrest Gump, and Wonder Woman to name just three. Robin Wright has also won a Golden Globe for her streaming work on House of Cards, but she’s yet to get on the Academy’s radar. Her directorial debut Land just played at the Sundance Film Festival. Wright also stars as someone looking for the meaning of life in the wilderness (shades of Wild with Reese Witherspoon). Costars include Demian Bichir and Kim Dickens.
Critical reaction is of the mixed variety with a current Rotten Tomatoes score of 63%. Land is eligible for the 2020 Oscar season since the Academy expanded the calendar. The pic lands in theaters on February 12th. However, any talk of this being a late entry making waves is pretty much finished with the so-so reviews.
Bottom line: don’t make space for Land in your predictions. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
Netflix’s slew of December releases that are potential Oscar contenders continues with George Clooney’s The Midnight Sky. The sci-fi drama stars its director as an Arctic scientist attempting to prevent a group of astronauts from their return to Earth due to environmental hazards. The roughly $100 million budgeted pic hits theaters in a limited fashion this Friday though most viewers will see it when it materializes on the streaming service on December 23rd. Costars include Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone, Kyle Chandler, Demian Bichir, and Caoilinn Springall.
The review embargo lifted today and it is most certainly a mixed bag. The Rotten Tomatoes rating is at only 54%. Numerous critics have brought up recent and similar genre fare in comparison, including Gravity (which also featured Clooney), Interstellar, The Martian, and Ad Astra. Several of them say that Sky doesn’t measure up.
It has been 15 years since Clooney’s work behind the camera has significantly attracted Oscar attention with Good Night, and Good Luck. His last two directorial efforts, The Monuments Men and Suburbicon, were both critical and commercial disappointments. With a number of write-ups skewing so-so or even negative, it’s hard to envision Sky aiming for a Picture nod or for any of the actors involved to contend.
On the other hand, reviews do suggest this could be a factor in some technical races. Most notable of them is Visual Effects, Production Design, and Sound. There is also plenty of praise for the Original Score by Alexandre Desplat, a two-time winner for his work on The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Shape of Water.
Bottom line: it will be a struggle for The Midnight Sky to reach the attention of voters in the major races, but it could still end up with close to a handful of nominations. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
Blogger’s Note (01/02): On the eve of its premiere, I’m revising my number down to $10.2 million
2020 begins at multiplexes in the same fashion as other recent years with a horror offering. This time around, it’s a remake of the 2004 supernatural pic The Grudge. And that Sarah Michelle Gellar hit was itself an update of a 2002 Japanese title in which Takashi Shimizu directed both. Nicolas Pesce is behind the camera now with a cast including Andrea Riseborough, Demian Bichir, John Cho, Betty Gilpin, Lin Shaye, Frankie Faison, William Sadler, and Jacki Weaver.
As mentioned, this is the genre that has typically kicked off the cinematic calendar lately. In 2019, Escape Room surprised prognosticators with a debut north of $18 million. Two years ago, Insidious: The Last Key unlocked a gross just under $30 million.
The Grudge is not expected to approach those figures, but horror flicks always have the capacity to surprise. Yet this could also fall victim to the unasked for franchise fatigue that has plagued several titles recently. A decent comp could be 2017’s Rings, which was also a reboot of a Japanese series. It opened to $13 million and that sounds about right here (and perhaps a tad under).
The Grudge opening weekend prediction: $10.2 million
We aren’t exactly blessed with a new horror classic in TheNun, the latest entry in the seemingly endless possibilities for spinoffs in the Conjuring Cinematic Universe. It does, however, manage to rise above the Annabelle creations before it with some style points and an occasional identity of its own. While both Annabelle and its sequel often felt like unnecessary cash grabs, I’ll give director Corin Hardy a bit of credit for creating something a little different. Let’s call it maybe a B- for trying.
The title character here first appeared in TheConjuring2. She’s a demonic nun possessed by evil spirit Valak. Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) had to put up with her sister acts of violence in that picture. This prequel and spin-off (preoff?… spinquel??) takes it back two decades earlier to the 1950s in Romania. A nun has committed suicide in a monastery after making the acquaintance of Valak and the Vatican enlists Father Burke (Demian Bechir) to look into it. He’s paired up with Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), who’s still in the novitiate (or training) stage before taking her vows.
Once they reach the scene of the death, Father and Sister are subject to lots of shadowy lurking, visions of terror, and charming local Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) who provides a couple moments of genuine comic relief. That’s not something often found in this particular Universe and it’s welcome because these pics aren’t worth taking seriously.
2013’s TheConjuring was a very entertaining and scary genre exercise. The direct sequel and the offshoots haven’t come close to its power. And TheNun is nowhere near as entertaining or scary. Yet I wouldn’t classify this one as lazy. The monastery setting creates a sometimes effective claustrophobic feel. We know this franchise is all about jump scares and they’re in bountiful supply. I’ll give Taissa Farmiga props for her ability to act as terrified as her big sister Vera in the main series flicks. Calling this the best spin-off thus far isn’t praise of the highest power, but I’ll confess to it holding my interest better than the doll.
Blogger’s Note (09/05/18): I am revising my estimate up from $38.4 million to $45.4 million
The Conjuring Cinematic Universe rolls along when The Nun debuts next weekend. The fifth entry in the highly successful Warner Bros horror franchise is a prequel to all four previous pictures. Our title character was first glimpsed at in 2016’s The Conjuring 2. Corin Hardy directs a cast that includes Demian Bichir, Taissa Farmiga (sister of Conjuring star Vera), Jonas Bloquet, and Bonnie Aarons.
Just a couple of weeks back, The Nun received some unexpected publicity when YouTube pulled one of its trailers off the site due to its frightening jump scares. If anything, that notoriety could help peak the curiosity of moviegoers. Not that it necessarily needs it. The opening weekend grosses of this series have been remarkably consistent. Here’s the rundown:
The Conjuring – $41.8 million
Annabelle – $37.1 million
The Conjuring 2 – $40.4 million
Annabelle: Creation – $35 million
I don’t see any compelling reason why The Nun would change that range. You could say it seems pretty (ahem) black and white to me. I’ll predict this scary sister act hits high 30s.
Ridley Scott is now nearly 40 years into his Alien franchise which started with his 1979 classic and preceded Alien: Covenant with the often confounding Prometheus from 2012. Scott has now made half of the six series entries. In many ways, this latest one is the least effective of all. It’s not bad and I’d say none of them have been (middling, yes). Covenant, however, lies in a strange place. The dark visual splendor and occasional jump horror scares are present at times. Memorable characters are not and that’s different than when we were rolling with Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and others. The film is indeed a sequel to Prometheus, which was more of an existential exercise about where we come from and not a traditional xenomorph flick. Covenant wants to cover that territory, as well as bringing H.R. Geiger’s famed creature more in the frame.
There’s another crew in deep space and they’re on a colonization mission occurring a decade after the events of Prometheus. The membership of this crew (the Covenant) differs from previous ones in that they’re married couples. When a malfunction on the ship wakes them from their long slumber, they must deal with that quickly. A longer term problem is an unexpected xenomorph presence onboard which soon causes a growing widow population.
Katherine Waterston is Daniels and she’s basically new Ripley, but not as interesting. Danny McBride brings a little gravitas to the party as Tennessee, the ship’s pilot. Billy Crudup is the anointed captain. Yet it’s a Prometheus holdover that gets the most attention. Michael Fassbender is back as David, the android who stood out in the predecessor. When the crew must land on a planet they weren’t supposed to, they find him. Finding out what he’s been up to since the end of Prometheus takes up plenty of screen time. Fassbender doubles his time as he also plays Walter, a newer model droid that part of the Covenant crew. Their dynamic is somewhat intriguing in moments, but I never got over one big issue. I simply wasn’t begging for the unanswered Prometheus questions to be filled in, as that picture didn’t ultimately warrant the curiosity.
The talented Mr. Ridley never struggles to master production design and visuals. True here. And he strives to bring the gory action that we previously expected from this franchise. It’s here, but the mayhem is inflicted upon characters we won’t remember for long and with a xenomorph who’s popped out of better written people before.
Five years after director Ridley Scott returned to the franchise that got his career going, he’s back behind the camera again for Alien: Covenant next weekend. This is the sixth installment in the series that Scott began 38 years ago with the beloved Alien.
That love did not quite extend to 2012’s Prometheus, which drew mixed audience and critical response. Michael Fassbender returns as android Walter with a cast including Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, reported return appearances from Noomi Repace and Guy Pearce, and James Franco apparently.
Five years ago, Prometheus opened to $51 million but its so-so buzz meant a front loaded overall gross of $126M. Reviews for Covenant have been mostly solid and it stands at 75% on Rotten Tomatoes. One encouraging sign: several critics have noted this gets the franchise back to its horror roots unlike its predecessor.
It’s also said to be a direct sequel to Prometheus and one wonders if the bad taste it left in some mouths will prevent this from topping it. I’ll predict Covenant does not reach the $50M+ achieved half a decade ago and that mid 40s seems more feasible.
Alien: Covenant opening weekend prediction: $44.6 million
For my Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Long Haul prediction, click here: