Ape vs Monster (2021)

Between the Shōwa era Godzilla films becoming widely available for home streaming via The Criterion Channel & HBO Max and Adam Wingard finally delivering a decent MonsterVerse film in Godzilla vs Kong, I’ve caught a touch of kaiju fever this year.  Whenever I’m soul-tired and not sure what to watch, I find myself throwing on a giant monster movie to blankly stare at, the same way a lot of pandemic-fatigued audiences have been looping old episodes of The Office & Friends ad infinitum.  It’s hasn’t exactly been a bad or unhealthy coping mechanism as far as I can tell, but I will say I hit a new low in the indulgence recently when I watched the generically titled Ape vs Monster.  A rushed, made-for-TV cash-in on the Godzilla vs Kong box office success, Ape vs Monster has absolutely no redeeming qualities worthy of discussion besides the temporary novelty of watching two more CG creatures fight for my half-interested “amusement”.  I wish I could say I didn’t enjoy the experience.

A chimpanzee launched into space as a failed Cold War science experiment crash-lands back to Earth decades later, covered in a glowing green ooze that exponentially mutates it to kaiju-size.  A nearby Gila monster drinks the same ooze (intercut with the same insert shots of the moon looking spooky over their shared desertscape setting) and grows to the same towering scale.  They fight.  Meanwhile, lady scientists and macho military men bicker at the creatures’ feet about the ethics of euthanizing them before the fight changes venue to a nearby city.  One of the scientists also reconnects with her estranged father for a vague motion towards pathos, but who in the audience could possibly care?

Ape vs Monster is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a made-for-TV Asylum mockbuster “starring” Eric Roberts, at least in terms of its unenthused tone, awkwardly performed dialogue, and lingering shots of nothing that long outstay their welcome to stretch out the runtime.  Still, there is something special about its slapdash kaiju creature effects.  The studio’s cheap-o CGI has an absurdist cut & paste aesthetic to it that’s difficult to look at directly without your brain leaking out of your nose.  The Gila monster looks like a discarded video game prototype adapted from the American Godzilla film from 1998.  Meanwhile, the ape monster doesn’t look like anything in particular, and the longer you stare at its awkward magnificence the less its primatial design makes any sense.  Watching the two computerized abominations struggle to make tactile, physical contact is like trying to explain the finer details of a half-remembered dream; the audience doesn’t actually care, but that doesn’t make it any less surreal.

If anything has become clear to me as I’ve been indulging in disposable kaiju novelties in recent months, it’s that I don’t need much out of a movie to enjoy myself beyond a goofy-looking onscreen monster.  That’s clearly the only saving grace of Ape vs Monster, which delivers two fascinating-looking goofballs and not much else.  The movie does have the gall to tease a queer-bait romance shared between lady scientists on opposite sides of an ongoing Cold War, but it’s frustratingly uninterested in following through with that impulse.  I even thought I was mistaking the Russian character’s sultry accent for queer tension at first, until one of the would-be couple’s macho military-man adversaries complains “Those two seem . . . unusually chummy.”  If it had committed to staging a lesbian romance at the feet of its disgraceful CG kaiju creatures, it might have had something special on its hands.  As is, it’s thoroughly unremarkable beyond the accidental surrealism of its monster designs, which is only to be enjoyed by the easily amused — i.e. me.

-Brandon Ledet

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