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In the Heights

12 Jun

‘In the Heights’: Movie with a song in its heart

By Tom Meek

Before there was “Hamilton,” the hottest ticket on Broadway in decades, there was “In the Heights,” the musical by “Hamilton” creator Lin Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes about a hot summer tear through the streets of Washington Heights, where music and dreams drive the pulse of the multifaceted Latinx community. Here in the hands of “Crazy Rich Asians” (2018) director John M. Chu, that Tony Award-winning play takes on a kinetic yet intimate feel as crowds break into song or have dance or rap-offs.

The script, written by Hudes (the stage musical was based on her book), homes in on two young couples or couples-to-be, or not. Usnavi (Anthony Ramos, “Hamilton” and “A Star Is Born”) runs a bodega called Little Dream and has a crush on regular Vanessa (Melissa Barrera, Showtime’s “Vida”), but is apprehensive about making a move on her, as she’s in the process of quitting her beauty salon job to move uptown and become a fashion designer. Usnavi’s Greek chorus of regulars and friends egg him on or console him in the wake of each romantic misfire. More complicated and germane is Nina (Leslie Grace) back home from Stanford, which her dad (Jimmy Smits), a car service repair shop owner, sacrificed so much to send her to. She doesn’t want to return – to tell why would ruin the story, but the reason ushers in a conversation about race and dreamers – and has a burgeoning relationship with Benny (Corey Hawkins, “Straight Outta Compton” and “BlacKKKlansman”), a radio dispatcher at dad’s shop.

For the most part “In the Heights” is a whirlwind of music, dance and emotional undulations, in which dashed opportunities are always left with a modicum of hope. Chu keeps it all clicking along with the snappiness of a “La La Land” (2016), yet the quiet pauses with Nina and her dad and Usnavi (played on stage by Miranda) and his posse have their own interior pulse and reverberations. Zesty and light, yet deep and meaningful, Miranda’s love letter to an immigrant-based community is heartfelt; and with Chu at the controls and a talented cast whose dancing, acting and singing is pitch-perfect all the way through, “in the Heights” is going to move you.

A Quiet Place Part II

31 May

‘A Quiet Place Part II’: After an explosive start, back to a world of even more menacing silence

By Tom MeekFriday, May 28, 2021

Maybe the long-delayed release of John Krasinski’s sequel to his surprise 2018 horror flick hit “A Quiet Place” wasn’t such a bad thing (but yes, Covid, terrible). It gave us more time to distance ourselves from the novelty of human-mauling aliens who can home in on a target only by sound. They were formidable and terrifying then, and are again. “A Quiet Place Part II” opens before the last film did, giving us the cataclysmic landing of the aliens – an ominous, fiery streak across the sky before the first batlike incarnation with a maw full of needlelike teeth chows down on the first denizen of a sleepy upstate enclave. We see familiar faces (Krasinski’s dad, Emily Blunt’s mom and Millicent Simmonds’ daughter) hurrying for shelter and an existence in total silence – one branch crack or a sudden sneeze and you could be lunchmeat.

“Part II” is just as taut and lean as its predecessor. It covers a lot of ground in 90-plus minutes. After a sudden alien invasion that triggers the fall of civilization as we know it, we jump forward to Day 474 since that fireball hit as the Abbotts, or what’s left of them – Evelyn (Blunt), her children Regan (Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe), and a newborn baby – are still holed up in an old farmstead. At night, they send up a fire signal that is eventually answered. From there, as in most post-apocalyptic films in which death can strike from a dozen angles, it becomes the duplicitous agendas of lawless people that becomes as lethal as the voracious raptors that lurk, waiting for a too-loud footfall to be an impromptu dinner bell.

There are some nice new additions here: Cillian Murphy as Abbott family friend Emmett (we catch him at a Little League game in that preamble), a grizzled, hirsute loner who’s lost much, and Djimon Hounsou as a fierce father and one of the rare bastions of human compassion. In this chapter too, the kids move to the fore, undertaking quests and protector roles that ease the burden on mom some. The film splits into multiple threads, and a few feel unnecessary, but Krasinski and his team of editors keep it tight and adrenaline-pumping. In a world where silence is more than golden, it’s the only means of life,  big roles are played by elements such as a bear trap, a first-aid kit just out of reach, a vial of much needed antibiotics and a safe room that needs to be opened every five minutes to avoid oxygen starvation. Water and boats do too, but to tell you much more would be to ruin the fun. Simmonds, so good in the last film, again makes the case for future work; and of course Murphy, with those liquid blue eyes piercing through the dirt streaks and matted hair, brings a conflicted soulfulness to his grieving father. As the film ends you know for sure there’s a “Part III” coming. You can almost see it opening with Day 500

Cruella

30 May

‘Cruella’: Villain’s high-fashion origin story proves character isn’t all black-and-white

By Tom MeekWednesday, May 26, 2021

The backstory on Cruella de Vil, the villainess so indelible (that hair!) in Disney’s 60-year-old “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” franchise, is a dark one in the new “Cruella,” a bit more over the line than that of the studio’s “Maleficent” (2014). You could even say that its moody atmosphere and use of raucous era pop makes it feel more like “Joker” (2019) than a family friendly product from the Walt-O-Sphere.

Directed by Craig Gillespie, whose previous – and more dramatic – efforts such as “I, Tonya” (2017) or “The Finest Hours” (2016) don’t really feel like a pathway to a Disney go, competently rekindles a series opportunity here. The original 1961 adaptation of the Dodie Smith tale was the 17th animated film by the then burgeoning Disney empire; later (in the 1990s) there was a live-action take with Glenn Close as the yin-and-yang tressed dog-snatcher. In this prequel, we get a young Cruella/Estella, whose mom is harried by a trio of vicious Dalmatians on the grounds of a grand British estate (something up high and oceanside, akin to Manderley in “Rebecca”) and falls off a cliff, leaving Estella to fend for herself. Down on her luck and short on opportunity, the orphaned Estella falls in with a gang of street kids, grafting and scrapping to get by. Then, poof, some 15 years later in the ’60s/’70s (That soundtrack! The Clash, Supertramp, The Doors and ELO) she’s a cleaning lady (now played by Emma Stone, “La La Land” and “Birdman”) scrubbing the loo at a high-end designer’s boutique studio with the deep-seated goal of making trendy dresses herself. “Cruella,” it turns out, is more about haute fashion than Dalmatians.

The real fun to “Cruella” kicks in when Emma Thompson shows up as a brassy incarnation known as The Baroness, the Anna Wintour of British high society and fashion – anyone arriving at one of her galas with a more eye-grabbing dress than her is promptly escorted off the premises, and none too gently. After an accidental glimmer of Estelle’s talents (a boozy night of ambition rage sets it up) The Baroness rescues Estella from toilet duty and gives her the opportunity to design and create. It’s a happy working union for a moment, until Estella begins to learn of The Baroness’ sordid past and its possible impact on her childhood. To get at the truth, Estella hatches her Cruella alter-ego, with electric black and white shocks embossed by a vampy, Michelle Pfeiffer-esque Catwoman sass-itude. By day, the dour Estella toils under The Baroness’ demands; at night Cruella hosts flash mob fashion shows that steal The Baroness’ thunder, scoring all the critical high-fashion praise in the papers the next day.

It’s here that the game of catty cat-and-mouse between the two (or is that three?) becomes a bit overplayed. The film for the most part is imbued with a kind of dark, Tim Burton fairytale sprightliness, but it gets lost in the back-and-forth and the film sags some where it feels like there should be lift. Stone and Thompson bite deep into their roles and both succeed – especially Thompson – but the kitschy snazziness of caricature is mostly what registers. The film, written by committee, is clearly looking to turn Cruella the villain into something more heroic (which didn’t happen in the “Joker”) and it accomplishes that, if underwhelmingly. One of my favorite touches besides that soundtrack (some may see it as an unnecessary detraction; I didn’t) was Cruella’s pop-up fashion show band riffing Iggy Pop’s “I Want to be Your Dog.”

Army of the Dead

17 May

‘Army of the Dead’: We’re off to a Las Vegas heist, but technically it’s impossible to make a killing

By Tom Meek Thursday, May 13, 2021

Netflix's 'Army of the Dead' will make you root for the zombies. Their  lines are better.

Zach Snyder, the man behind the cinematic resurrection of Superman and the launch of the “Justice League” franchise, cut his teeth on zombie fare with the 2004 remake of George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead.” One of the eye-popping twists in that update was that the undead weren’t your typical shamblers – they could move at superhuman speed, and had agility and much greater strength than the sagging bags of carrion in films that came before. In his new “Army of the Dead,” Snyder delves back into that bag of tricks, and in the process turns the Vegas strip into a hive of hidden horrors akin to the hellacious labyrinths plumbed in the “Resident Evil” series.

The film opens with a military convoy taking an asset to a secret location in the Nevada desert. As happenstance and an act of fellatio have it, the package – an alien-zombie incarnation that seems like an escapee from John Carpenter’s 2001 “Ghosts of Mars” – gets loose and turns Sin City into a zombie colony. Though it’s walled off by the U.S. Army, efforts to clean and reclaim the Strip fail and nuking it gets a stamp of approval. In that week before the drop, a wealthy mogul named Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) approaches former military ops hero Ward (Dave Bautista), now slinging burgers, to assemble a team for a mission to fetch $200 million sitting in a vault that only Tanaka has the blueprints for. Ward is doubly invested in the grab and go, as his daughter, Kate (Ella Purnell), is working at a camp outside Vegas where people assumed to be infected live in military-monitored migrant camps. 

From there “Army of the Dead” proceeds in a pretty straight-up fashion: Navigate the flesh-chomping hordes, a zombified Siegfried & Roy tiger and the zombie king (that alien) and his queen, get the cash, grab Kate and chopper out before the area becomes a mushroom cloud. Kinda like a video game, and likewise solid if predictable genre fun. 

Of the colorful recruits, the standouts are mostly Omari Hardwick (“Sorry to Bother You”) as the heady Vanderohe and Tig Notaro, bringing a dash of Jane Lynch comedic relief to the mayhem as the capable chopper pilot. The film’s best parts are that opening scene and the elongated credit sequence chronicling the fall of Vegas as a quirky cover version of “Viva Las Vegas” plays. I’m not sure if Snyder was reaching for something deeper with a zombie king and queen and the seeming foundation of a zombie civilization – they do seem to communicate and have lawful order. It adds a dash of intrigue and of course allows for the assemblage of the entity of the title. In it all, you know there’s a few hidden agendas (think “Alien”) and aptly at one point, The Cranberries’ “Zombie” rolls; it feels like a too obvious choice, like “Viva Las Vegas,” but they both fit poetically as flesh is ripped from bone by tenacious cannibalistic maws.

Wrath of Man

9 May

‘Wrath of Man’: Ritchie and Statham reunited, heist with their own petard and angry about it

Guy Ritchie launched a lot of careers back in 1998 when he churned out the quirky crime drama “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” one being his own as an auteur of hyper-stylized violence in 3D slo-mo – something the Wachowskis would seize upon and elevate to an art form the following year with “The Matrix.” Menacing footballer turned actor Vinnie Jones is another; taciturn can-do strongman Jason Statham may have cut the biggest swath. Ritchie and Statham haven’t worked together since 2005’s “Revolver”: In between Statham had his hit “Transporter” series and joined the “Fast & Furious” franchise, while Ritchie made the live-action “Aladdin” (2019) and the tepid Sherlock films with Robert Downey Jr. Last year’s release of “The Gentlemen” signaled something of a return to form for Ritchie, even if the film couldn’t rise above its own self-aggrandizing cheekiness.

The pair’s latest collaboration is more of a straight-ahead Statham revenge flick like “Parker” or “Homefront” (both 2013) than an amped-up Guy Ritchie production – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Here in “Wrath of Man,” Statham plays H, a mysterious sort who barely shoots or drives well enough to make it as a guard with an armored car company that’s been targeted by a ring of thieves. What Ritchie and his phalanx of writers have cooked up is something like Steven Soderbergh’s “The Underneath” or Michael Mann’s indelibly furious “Heat,” both made in 1995 and about armored car heists.

To be certain, “Wrath of Man” is not on par with either. It’s not even close. But it does have its merits. The back-and-forth narrative between a heist in the recent past and one about to go down deepens the intrigue, as does a “Rashomon,” multi-angle view of a singular event, and there’s a score by Christopher Benstead that bristles with a sense of foreboding and goes far in defining the atmosphere and driving the action. The main reason to see “Wrath of Man,” however, is to see Statham’s enigmatic antihero with a hidden agenda do what he does best, and that’s pick apart those evading justice with cold, calculating efficiency. If you’re here for anything else, that’s on you. Also in the vast cast we get Holt McCallany, so good in David Fincher’s “Mindhunter” series, as Bullet, H’s higher-up; Josh Hartnett in an odd turn as Boy Sweat Dave, the armored car company’s big mouth who shuts down under fire; Ritchie regular Eddie Marsan as the company bean counter; and Scott Eastwood and Jeffrey Donovan as well-organized jarheads on the opposite side of the bulletproof glass from H.

“Wrath of Man” gets better as it goes on, something that can’t be said for “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse,” a similarly straight-up revenge flick released last week. It’s doesn’t have the big production values of that Michael B. Jordan vehicle, but it does have Statham’s no-nonsense avenger, and that’s good enough to make it the better choice to waste two hours of your day on.

Gunda

9 May

‘Gunda’: Intimate portrait of a pig on a farm, lingering images you’ll never want to leave

By Tom MeekFriday, May 7, 2021

Viktor Kosakovskiy might be one of the most engrossing filmmakers you’ve never heard of. Part of that’s likely because he’s a documentary filmmaker – and those documentaries are about unassuming subjects such as water, or a sow on a Norwegian farm. That 2018 work about humans’ dance with water, “Aquarela,” was a stunning achievement in “how did they get those shots” videography, made even more compelling by deft editing and a driving score. His latest, about the pig named in the title “Gunda,” is equally captivating, even if the perilous power of Mother Nature’s wrath doesn’t loom in every scene.

Shot in deeply layered black and white, “Gunda” follows the seasonal cycle of a sow on a farm, birthing a liter of piglets and rearing them from pink (I know it’s black and white, but bear with me) and squirming, endlessly suckling little oinkers. Throughout the film, shot in long, lingering takes that turn the mundane into a riveting, can’t-turn-away event, we never see a farmer – or any human, for that matter. We see the wheels of a tractor, but for the most part it’s just Gunda and her brood, who seem to have free range of the farm and surrounding forest; we occasionally meet some barnyard friends in Mr. Duck, Mrs. Moo, her bestie, and a one-legged chicken, among the many. It’s “Charlotte’s Web” or “Babe” (1995) sans the anthropomorphic cuteness.

How Kosakovskiy gets at the heart of his subject and makes us feel – and we do feel, if not take on Gunda’s maternal instincts as if we were there caring for her cute brood – clearly has much to do with patience and composition. No one would equate the Russian-born auteur to the great Frederick Wiseman, whose hands-off, fly-on-the-wall style is pretty much the definition of cinéma vérité; but the long takes and observation of rhythms and beats of life, drunk in and deeply felt, are poetically similar, even though the filmmakers’ subjects and effect remain vastly different. “Gunda,” like “Aquarela,” is best seen on the big screen for its masterful cinematography’s attention to framing, depth of field and shadows.

How “Gunda” moves in the final act will come as no surprise, but should give you a bit more pause the next time you’re debating soy or pork bacon for your BLT.

Limbo

1 May

‘Limbo’: Waiting for their new lives to start, immigrants to a land drenched in the droll

By Tom MeekFriday, April 30, 2021

Before he got behind the lens of a camera, Ben Sharrock was a humanitarian aide in an Afghan refugee camp and also in Syria, which gives the writer/director plenty of real-life knowledge to put behind the story of refugees desperately seeking asylum from western counties. That in-between – the not knowing if you’re going back to a war-torn hellhole or about to begin a promising new life – is the situational sweet spot that Sharrock’s film embraces.

For such a serious subject matter, “Limbo” is remarkably droll and witty. The drama unfolds on a fictional Scottish island where young men from Afghanistan, Syria and several African nations attend acclimation classes in a one-room schoolhouse. The adult education leaders (Kenneth Collard as Boris and Sidse Babett Knudsen as Helga) have the devilishly pleasing tang of Benny Hill to them. The main protagonist, Omar (Amir El-Masry), newly arrived from Syria with little but his grandfather’s oud – a zither-like Middle Eastern string instrument – has dreams of making it as a performer. In fact, the whole mini-community is a colony of dreamers; several state  their goal to become star futbol players, as Boris and Helga nod politely and continue on with trainings on how to conduct a phone query for cleaning jobs. 

The island itself plays a pivotal role: There’s no cellphone reception (old school pay phones substitute) and the rock is so remote it’s often sealed off by gales and sleet storms – the framing of which by Nick Cooke gives the island a fairy tale wonderment. It’s a more rapturous capturing of Mother Nature and wide vistas than Joshua James Richards’ impressive work in “Nomadland.”

Overall, “Limbo” bristles with an existential posturing that never quite goes deep enough for it to pay off. Omar’s airy dreams and past situation (the flashbacks to Syria pull you out some) are counterbalanced with absurdist black comedy. It doesn’t always gel, but it does intrigue, and Sharrock and crew are best when pushing tropes. Omar’s flatmate Farhad (Vikash Bhai), an Afghan expat and lover of all things Freddie Mercury, sports the telltale mustache of his musical idol. They even name chicken after the Queen frontman, and for entertainment watch episode of “Friends” off DVDs. They live a mashup of cultural cross threading, with unknown futures. 

Without Remorse

30 Apr

‘Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse’: Action thriller with vengeance straight from the assembly line

By Tom Meek Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Tom Clancy wrote “Without Remorse” back in 1993, when the Iron Curtain still felt like a threat. For a contemporary makeover, accounting for world-changing events might help. We get some of that with cellphones and the like, but mostly the script from Taylor Sheridan (the sharp hand behind “Hell or High Water” and “Wind River”) and Will Staples (who’s mostly written video games like “Call of Duty”) is a lackluster transposition steered inertly by Stefano Sollima (“Sicario: Day of the Soldado”). This “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse” is an assembly-line production with little thrill or intrigue – the ingredients that made Clancy’s Jack Ryan series (“The Hunt for Red October,” “Patriot Games”) a must read/see for any spy or jarhead enthusiasts. Even the magnetic Michael B. Jordan, so good as a young black man targeted by police in “Fruitvale Station” (2013), comes off flat as Navy Seal-cum-antihero Jack Kelly (a spinoff character from the Ryan series once played by Willem DaFoe in “Clear and Present Danger”) out for revenge after Russian operatives kill his pregnant wife. Kelly and other SEALS are targeted for assassination after an Aleppo raid to free a CIA operative.

Sounds like a man with a major payback mission, but Kelly’s want for blood feels strangely unearned, as we never really feel his emotional attachment or grief. No, the dead are little more than a plot-moving checkpoint for Kelly to use his special-ops skills – and his resolve is impressive, especially when in prison, where he takes on a phalanx of guards “Old Boy” style. The world-hopping mission that comes when CIA brass let him out and off the leash takes Kelly to Russia and back to D.C., but never does the shell game of who’s pulling the strings ever really raise a brow. The well choreographed shootouts and beatdowns puncture the drudgery enough to keep your lids open, but in between it’s all pink filler.

Also wasted is Jodie-Turner Smith, the promising fresh face from “Queen & Slim” (2019), as Lt. Commander Karen Greer, Kelly’s mission head, as well as the normally infallible Guy Pearce as a CIA honcho who seems to be chewing on Xanax like Tic Tacs. 

Voyagers

13 Apr

‘Voyagers’: It’s Lord-of-the-Flies-into-space, with kids off their meds and onto adult trouble

By Tom Meek Friday, April 9, 2021

Voyagers' is an interesting sci-fi allegory, but characters fall flat |  Movie reviews | stltoday.com

Playing with YA future tropes (think “Hunger Games” and “Chaos Walking”), director Neil Burger (“Limitless” and “Divergent,” another YA sci-fi flyby) fills a spaceship with the genetically engineered offspring of MIT scientists and Nobel laureates and sends them off into the universe to find the next place for humans to expand, because, well, we’ve screwed Earth so royally – no surprise there. The journey, as we’re told by Richard (Colin Farrell), the one adult/chaperone aboard, will take 86 years, and it will be the grandchildren of the mensch progeny that will reseed mankind on a far distant planet, where one can foresee a wash, rinse, trash orb and repeat cycle.

Like “Passengers” (2016) and Clare Denis’ alluring jump into space, “High Life” (2019), “Voyagers” is more about the sexual and personality play among those onboard as opposed to the quest at hand. Of the myriad high-cheekboned Calvin Klein models, the main trio consists of the blandly heroic Christopher (Tye Sheridan, “Ready Player One”), a manically glossy-eyed Zac (Fionn Whitehead, “Dunkirk”) and the dour Sela (Johnny Depp’s daughter, Lily-Rose Depp, who channels dad’s “Cry-Baby” sullenness here). Everyday the sexually budding teens drink a shot of mouthwash-blue liquid that, as Christopher discovers, contains a toxin. Richard quickly explains it away, but the persistent Christopher learns it’s a drug to control, numb and pacify them like saltpeter was rumored to be used on soldiers in days of old. Once the kids go off their meds, merriment, Greco-Roman wrestling and libidos take center stage. It’s here that Richard, through dark happenstance, exits and Christopher and Zac vie to be the alpha male, with Sela’s chastity as the prize hanging in the balance. Other little horny teen fires flare up too, and there’s the threat of an alien aboard whom no one has seen, but can be heard roaming and clanking in the passages above and below. 

What the film comes to is “Lord of the Flies” in deep space with sensual desires being acted upon – forget the conch, it’s all about the satiation of urges. The problem is that everything feels staged and unfelt, even those urges. More problematic perhaps is the sexual aggression some of the young lads unleash upon their female co-explorers. One vicious breast grope is a real eye catcher, but then you realize that the inflight film selection probably didn’t include “Promising Young Woman” (2020) or any proper sexual code of conduct lessoning, given that they’ve been chemically sedated (what was Richard’s master plan, considering the kids would outlive him?). Since this is 2063, #MeToo is clearly a distant memory, or because these kids were deposited on the space vessel so as to not be acculturated to our fat and obsolete ways, how would they know? The provocatively fun thing about Denis’ “High Life” was the way checked and regulated sexuality bent and shaped character and pushed the rules of conduct aboard the ship, as well as our own sense of sexual turpitude. Here it’s like boys discover erections and go berserk with the future of humanity the last thing on their hormone-guided minds.

Godzilla vs. Kong

2 Apr

‘Godzilla vs. Kong’: The humans wisely step aside for a battle of titans, with more kaiju ready to join

By Tom Meek Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Pretty much a toe-to-toe slugfest between two alpha males. Think of any of the three Frazier vs. Ali fights or Ali vs. Foreman in the “rumble in the jungle” classic, but at under two hours, the CGI-propelled monster smackdown of “Godzilla vs. Kong” is more like Hagler vs. Hearns, light, fast and furious. The thing about that epic 1985 middleweight bout was its resonance: People were so awed by the raw brutality, the nuclear salvo of haymakers thrown, so violent and yet balletic, three frenetic rounds that would be watched and rewatched, etching Hagler into Boston sporting lore alongside names such as Orr, Bird, Williams and Russell. (Hagler, who sadly just passed, was one of the most dominant boxers of his era; he hailed from Brockton and became an adopted son of Boston).

Speaking of Boston, the last time we got a look at Godzilla in “King of the Monsters” (2018) he was giving Ghidorah a beatdown at Fenway Park. Here, mumblegore stalwart Adam Wingard (“You’re Next,” “V/H/S”) makes an odd but effective choice of director, and with a phalanx of screenwriters forms a crew that knows that the green screen titans getting it on is the jam; they dispatch the what’s-what with a brief undercard of mumbo-jumbo about there only be one ruling kaiju, and then we get into it. Kong is taken from his tiny island; Godzilla comes for him; and aboard the deck of an aircraft carrier we get round one. Cities in the aftermath get obliterated as the lads wander off into their respective corners. There’s something clearly up with Godzilla, we’re told by myriad humans with thespian mettle (and more Boston connections) including Kyle Chandler (“Manchester by the Sea”), Rebecca Hall (“The Town”) Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown from “Stranger Things” and Brian Tyree Henry. What’s eating the big green lizard is Florida. It’s not Mar-a-Lago, the maskless hordes or hanging chads, but a firm called Apex Corp. that makes giant robots – think “Pacific Rim” (2013). Meanwhile, the humans get to fly around in cheesy, neon-lit space pods as they trail Kong, venturing to the earth’s core to retrieve an artifact that will allow him to level the field with the brash lizard. The journey’s a bit of brief psychedelic wonderment, but the buzz is interrupted by some human-hungry fledglings and a radioactive projectile vomit from Godzilla. 

To tell you how the final round goes would be to do a disservice. I can say it’s a worthy climax and, as always with these things, you can be sure the avarice of man has a play in it. And smartly (from a business sense) in this mini-running “MonsterVerse” (two Godzillas, Kong’s “Skull Island” and this) the door’s left open for more.