Grudge match is a semi-regular series in our Arts & Culture section where two or more Portland State Vanguard contributors debate on a divisive issue in pop culture. This edition features a discussion between Morgan Troper and himself on who would win in a theoretical matchup—Godzilla or King Kong—in honor of Godzilla vs. Kong, streaming now on HBO Max.
Morgan Troper: So, first of all, let’s establish some context here. This conversation is happening because there’s a new movie out called Godzilla Vs. Kong. The film is exactly what its title suggests. Though I haven’t seen it yet, and I assume you haven’t either.
Morgan Troper 2: Right, no, I haven’t. I made a point to have this conversation before I saw the film. I wanted it to be pure. I should also clarify that I’m not exactly an expert on either of these franchises and their lore. I’m familiar enough with the source material but I’m not some diehard Kaiju-head or anything, and I have admittedly only seen Peter Jackson’s King Kong from 2005.
MT: At first blush this matchup makes a lot of sense, and these seem like similar monsters, but those similarities turn out to be facile. The biggest issue I have is just the size difference—like, doesn’t Godzilla destroy buildings and stuff? And then in the most iconic scene of King Kong, he’s climbing up the Empire State Building. So just thinking about how much bigger this version of King Kong is is hilarious to me for some reason. Maybe this is insane, but I think an extremely giant lizard is more believable than an extremely giant gorilla.
MT2: You’re not alone in feeling that way, although we could also just be the same type of insane. I will say that another thing that’s obnoxious about this film is the Marvel Cinematic Universe-esque world-melding—Godzilla vs. Kong is supposedly a sequel to both Godzilla: King of Monsters and Kong: Skull Island, and to me that is just laughable. Why does every franchise need to have some big, obligatory “night to remember” crossover these days?
MT: You’re exactly right, although it isn’t totally out of nowhere. I haven’t seen it either but there’s supposedly a post-credits scene in Skull Island that serves as the setup for this film.
MT2: And then I think the other thing that’s annoying is how these characters are totally deracinated from the political subtext of the source material. Godzilla is famously a referendum on both nuclear warfare and America’s post-World War II interventionist policies. And then I guess King Kong is probably just a cautionary tale about attempting to tame nature, sort of like Jurassic Park?
MT: Right, it’s almost like the people who made this movie had no real familiarity with the source material, and they just saw action figures of Godzilla and King Kong in a collectibles shop and were like, “wouldn’t it be badass if they beat the shit out of each other?” That said, this isn’t the first time they’ve fought—there’s a Godzilla film from 1963 where they fight on top of Mt. Fuji, and it’s hilarious, because they’re both just massive marionettes.
MT2: So let’s cut to the chase here. Neither of us have seen the newest movie or read any spoilers, so who do you think will win?
MT: There’s a difference between who I think would win in an actual matchup and who I think wins in the movie. I think that King Kong will probably wind up victorious because he’s being positioned as the good guy, based on what I’ve gleaned from the trailers and plot summary.
MT2: That just seems so unbelievable to me. Can’t Godzilla breathe fire? Doesn’t he have all of these super powers as a result of the radiation? King Kong is a brute-force guy, like the Hulk. Literally all he has is a humongous body.
MT: Well, think about it this way—there’s no reason they would make him this big only to fail.
MT2: That’s a good point. I think there’s some alternate possibility, where these two characters essentially form some kind of alliance, or maybe unite against a greater evil.
MT2: Well, it would be cool to watch them just destroy everything, and maybe start a new civilization of giant monsters in humanity’s wake.
MT: I don’t think we’re going to get that lucky, but I do think it’s possible that there’s some evil Kaiju they team up to battle—or maybe that’s at least alluded to at the end of the film. Isn’t that sort of the deal in the Godzilla franchise? Like, that he is initially the antagonist but he turns out to be sort of an antihero?
MT2: Yeah, and I would argue that’s another fundamental difference between these two franchises. There seems to be a little more nuance to Godzilla in general, and more lore there. King Kong seems like a much more straightforward story, and the character itself seems purely primal and a little less developed.
MT: Primal seems like a great way to describe this film. I saw some critics on Twitter decrying a lack of nuance, and saying stuff such as, “it’s a great time if you want to watch a lizard and monkey fight.” Ultimately, I think the joke’s on us for expecting anything more than that.
MT2: I guess we just have to watch it now.