Movie ReviewsJosh Reviews Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

Josh Reviews Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

In Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, once again the two behemoths have to team up to take on a larger evil.  A signal from the “Hollow Earth” (a realm that maybe is another dimension, or maybe is actually inside Planet Earth?)  (Either way, it was discovered back in Godzilla vs Kong and is apparently where all the “Titans” — the giant monsters — come from) leads Kong to discover that he is not in fact the last of his kind.  There’s a whole group of giant apes down there!  Unfortunately, they’re all in the thrall of a particularly evil, vicious ape called the Skar King.  (I am not misspelling that.)  Kong heads down to Hollow Earth to investigate, eventually befriending a young (but still giant) ape (who the internet tells me is named Suko, but I don’t recall that name being spoken aloud in the film).  Godzilla, meanwhile, decides to power up by killing and absorbing the radiation energy of a variety of other Titans on the surface.  Eventually, of course, Kong and Godzilla will have to team up to take on the Skar King, his apes, and also the giant Godzilla-like creature he’s enslaved.  (That creature has freeze-powers, meaning this “New Empire” film could sort of be considered a crossover with last month’s similarly-titled Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire!)

I really enjoyed the recent Monarch: Legacy of Monsters TV show.  It got me more excited for this “Monsterverse” series than I’d ever been.  (Quick review:  I thought Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla was OK, and I really dug 2017’s Kong: Skull Island; but I thought 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters was terrible and 2021’s Godzilla vs Kong was fun but disappointingly dumb.)

After watching Monarch, I was jazzed for another “Monsterverse” adventure, but sadly I found the bizarrely-titled* Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire to be a return to the quality level of Godzilla vs Kong.  The films are quite similar, in my estimation.  They’re both fun to watch, if all you’re looking for is monster mayhem.  The visual effects are impressive.  But I found them both to be superficial.  There aren’t really any characters I care about or invest in.  And so there’s no emotion to go with the spectacle.  It’s just CGI monsters smashing into one another.  It’s fun to sit in a comfy theater chair and eat popcorn watching this for two hours, but I doubt this is a movie I’ll want to see again any time soon.

(*Speaking of the weird title, the filmmakers apparently want us all to know the x is actually silent.  I find that hilarious.)  (And yes, I know that the x is slang for a collaboration.  I get it.)

I wonder why these “Monsterverse” movies keep including human characters if they’re not going to spend any time or effort to develop them.  They always seem to cast great actors, and that’s once again the case here.  I’ve been a fan of Rebecca Hall’s ever since 2008’s Vicky Christina Barcelona, and she’s been great in movies such as The Prestige, The Town, Frost/Nixon, and Iron Man Three, but she has little to do here.  She plays scientist Dr. Ilene Andrews, who seems to be a big deal within Monarch, but what does she have to do in this movie other than worry about her adopted daughter Jia?  Why doesn’t she get to use her scientific knowledge to actually help at some point?  Why does she have to turn to crazy podcaster Bernie for help??  What can he do that she can’t?  Bernie is played by Brian Tyree Henry, and, like Dr. Andrews and Jia, he is returning from Godzilla vs. Kong.  Mr. Henry demonstrated in Atlanta his incredible comedic and dramatic chops, but here he’s tasked with playing a goofy nobody, and I found his antics tiresome.  Wouldn’t it be nice if Bernie was actually able to know or do something that in some way was important to the plot of the film?  (How would this film be different if Bernie wasn’t in it at all?)  Young Kaylee Hottle returns as Jia, the last survivor of the Iwi tribe who, as introduced in Kong: Skull Island, used to live with Kong on Skull Island.  Ms. Hottle is terrific; she’s able to bring so much emotion through her face.  Jia is the only human character in whom I was remotely interested.

One new human character introduced in this film is Trapper, a Hawaiian-shirt-wearing veterinarian adventurer.  He’s played by Dan Stevens, who I loved in Noah Hawley’s brilliant and under-seen show Legion (and who most people probably know from Downton Abbey).  He’s a great actor, and he brings a fun charm and charisma to his character.  (He’s certainly a thousand times more interesting than the character from Godzilla vs. Kong who he’s replacing, Alexander Skarsgård’s weird, creepy Dr. Nathan Lind.)  But this character makes no sense — what is he doing with his life when he’s not jumping out of a helicopter to replace Kong’s broken tooth?? — and, like all the other human characters, he has no real arc nor does he contribute in any way to the larger story of the film.

Compare this movie to films like Alien, or Aliens, or Jurassic Park, or The Abyss, or T2, or other great sci-fi-ish monster action-adventure movies.  We LOVE and care about the human characters in those movies, and it’s what makes those movies great.  That core is missing here in these Monsterverse films.

Thankfully, the filmmakers once again do a great job with Kong.  They made him look really old at the start of the film, which surprised me.  (He has an old man’s beard!)  But Kong has a great story here, going in search of his people, and finding them only to discover that they’re actually villains — or, at least, in thrall to a villain.  Once again, the CGI visual effects used to bring Kong to life are extraordinary.  He is 100% completely convincing and believable as a real live creature.  It’s an incredible visual effects achievement, and one that should not be overlooked.

(I’m not sure why they felt they needed to give Kong a robotic arm, so he now looks like he’s part Transformer.  Actually, I do understand — it’s the common sequel idea that they have to add in more stuff to keep the audience interested.  Personally, I think they could have trusted the coolness of Kong as a character.)

I also really enjoyed the character of the young Kong-like ape, Suko.  Suko has the best character arc of anyone in the film, as he shifts from being an angry, vicious ape in league with the villains to being inspired by Kong to be a hero.  It’s great stuff, and again, the visual effects the bring Suko to life are absolutely extraordinary.

Weirdly, Godzilla has very little to do in this movie!!  They really needed to have worked harder to find something for him to do before the final battle.  Am I supposed to be interested in Godzilla’s wandering around to absorb other creatures’ radiation?  Am I supposed to be excited that he changes from shooting out blue energy to shooting out purple energy?  It’s quite a surprising failure of imagination that they couldn’t find a way to involve Godzilla more in the story.  (Just an off-the-cuff idea: what if Godzilla knew he needed something but somehow the other Titans were united in trying to stop him, and so he had to battle those Titans in a more coordinated way?  Even something like that might have made the Godzilla scenes more exciting or interesting.)  Frankly the only cool Godzilla moment in the film was the shot of him curled up, taking a nap in the middle of the Colosseum in Rome.  I loved that!

If you’re looking to enjoy more giant monster mayhem that you don’t need to think much about, then sit back, get some popcorn and enjoy.  Everyone else’s mileage may vary.

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