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Geek Review – Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

The legacy of Godzilla, initiated by Toho Studios in the mid-20th century, and the emergence of King Kong have got to be the greatest American/Japanese team-up ever conceptualised, and Hollywood has taken the duo to dizzying new heights, forging a collective path towards a monumental cinematic universe. These behemoths have transcended their origins, becoming more than mere monsters and evolving into iconic symbols of nature’s indomitable will, proudly put on display in CGI-filled films that have captivated audiences worldwide. 

The evolution of these MonsterVerse films has been as dynamic as the creatures they showcase, from Gareth Edwards’ drama-centric Godzilla (2014) to Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ retro-styled Kong: Skull Island (2017), as each instalment has donned a unique persona. It was with Adam Wingard’s Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) that the franchise unabashedly embraced the grandeur and sheer madness of kaiju battles, setting a precedent for bombastic entertainment that Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire and the returning Windgard eagerly follow, plunging headfirst once again into the colossal scale of its universe, revelling in the kind of cinematic excess that only stories of giant monsters can justify.

Godzilla

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire elevates the mantra of ‘bigger is better’ to new heights, with more titans on screen thanks to the creative prowess of seasoned screenwriters Terry Rossio (Pirates of the Caribbean), Simon Barrett (Blair Witch), and Jeremy Slater (Moon Knight), who basically have to find reasons for these mythical beasts to do battle. In doing so and allowing Wingard to put Michael Bay to shame in having massive monsters duke it out on screen, the trio had to make a sacrifice and that when the audacious narrative envelopes any human drama that dares to bubble to the surface. But no one watches such a movie for the human drama – we want destruction, massive displays of bravado and takedowns, and Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire delivers a wild ride from the surface, to Hollow Earth.

With Godzilla reigning supreme over the surface and Kong relegated to a solitary journey in the subterranean realm of Hollow Earth, the story swiftly introduces a new dynamic, showcasing Kong’s struggle for belonging in a world brimming with hostile and bizarre creatures, including a new ally that challenges his isolation. Meanwhile, Godzilla’s globe-trotting rampage against humanity’s threats paints him as both destroyer and saviour.

King Kong

Despite Godzilla’s enduring legacy as the king of monsters, this instalment decidedly shifts the spotlight towards Kong, painting him as the protagonist of his own saga. With the focus set solely on the monsters, there is very little dialogue and audiences are left to navigate through Hollow Earth’s enigmatic realm with no unnecessary exposition, allowing viewers to experience the visually mesmerising world through Kong’s eyes. This silent storytelling, punctuated by Kong’s instinctive interactions, offers a riveting glimpse into a world defined by raw survival and ancient rivalries. 

Without the usual human vs. monster narrative, Kong’s journey through Hollow Earth then pits him against a civilisation of ape-like creatures led by the fearsome Skar King, who also commands the legacy titan, Shimo, doubling our expectations for a reptilian and ape fight.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

But where does that leave the humans in the film? While the number of human roles is reduced compared to previous instalments, their presence appears more as guides to lead audiences through the film, from travelling to the centre of the planet to engaging with a lost civilisation, with plenty of humour thrown in. Scientist Dr Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) serves as the guide, along with her now teenage adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle) in tow. The young survivor from Skull Island still shares a profound bond with Kong and serves as the link for the group’s quest to identify a mysterious signal that fellow returning character, the eccentric conspiracy theorist Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), seems to have insights on.

The ensemble is further expanded by the addition of Dan Stevens as Trapper, the adventurous monster veterinarian donning an Ace Ventura outfit and adding a layer of wild charm to the expedition. First introduced as a dentist of Kong, the movie then expects you to believe that he’s also a designer of weapons and a bonafide pilot able to fly with monsters, and is now ready to save the hollow world.  

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

Hall attempts to anchor these explorations with emotional depth, especially in her silent communications with Jia but the film’s reliance on dialogue to navigate its plot often obstructs the storytelling’s fluidity, preventing Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire from achieving a seamless blend of spectacle and narrative coherence.

In a cinematic landscape that has recently been illuminated by Toho’s critically acclaimed Godzilla Minus One, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire arrives with a distinct sense of spectacle, almost in defiance of the refined subtlety that earned its predecessor an Oscar win. This latest entry into the MonsterVerse opts for a deluge of CGI, transforming the screen into a battleground of gargantuan proportions that borders on the overwhelming. The contrast between these approaches accentuates the dichotomy within the franchise, highlighting a departure from the introspective narrative once championed by the inaugural Godzilla of 1954 towards a more flamboyant display of titan warfare. The second time Kong thumps his fist in the air, and this time with an augmented mechanical arm designed to let Kong challenge an energy-emitting beast like Godzilla, you realise that the franchise is moving into more of Transformers meets Power Rangers.

Wingard’s second outing strides into the bombast with a dual identity, attempting to marry unbridled spectacle with a tinge of self-seriousness that occasionally feels at odds with its more ludicrous moments. This hybridisation, while producing a film of undeniable enjoyment – complete with a rock-infused montage of Dan Stevens performing dental heroics on a colossal gorilla, followed by another sequence of him literally arming Kong with his augmented bio-arm –   often stumbles in marrying its gravitas with the inherent absurdity of its premise. Yet, for enthusiasts craving a surge in the franchise’s audacity, this entry proposes an enticing if somewhat disjointed, evolution.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

Visually, Wingard’s commitment to a luminous and colourful tableau sets the film apart from its MonsterVerse predecessors. By bringing its titanic characters into the light, the film forsakes a degree of realism in favour of clarity and spectacle. This decision, though diminishing the verisimilitude of the creatures, underscores the film’s dedication to delivering the visually striking encounters that fans of the genre eagerly anticipate. The neon-lit battles, especially enhanced in IMAX presentations that expand the visual field, are complemented by a vibrant score that melds contemporary beats with retro hits.

Moreover, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire seeks to align itself with the spirit of the foundational Toho classics, such as King Kong vs. Godzilla (1963), All Monsters Attack (1969), and Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973), through its expansive utilisation of CG artistry and its narrative exuberance. These earlier films, characterised by their inventive use of practical effects and their storytelling audacity, laid the groundwork for kaiju cinema. Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire echoes their adventurous essence, albeit through the lens of modern technology and a substantially larger budget. 

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

While the MonsterVerse navigates a saturated genre without delivering a standout masterpiece, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire dazzles with its vibrant visuals and promises enough excitement to pave the way for further adventures, while also settling into a familiar territory, offering a spectacle that falls short of the artistic depth audiences craved after Godzilla Minus One. Shedding the ‘versus’ from its title, the film showcases a more unified front between Godzilla and Kong, especially during the climax that delivers its most thrilling moments. Accepting the filmmakers’ vision requires embracing the antagonists’ challenge and viewing the movie as a nod to the extravagant blockbusters of the 1980s. In this light, Godzilla and Kong’s struggle for supremacy becomes an entertaining, albeit surface-level, extravaganza.

As the franchise marches forward, the challenge remains to honour the legacy of its titanic characters, ensuring their battles resonate not just with the fury of their blows, but with the stories that render them truly legendary.

GEEK REVIEW SCORE

Summary

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire delivers jaw-dropping visuals and a more prominent Kong, but its reliance on exposition and a tonal shift towards campy humour may not resonate with all viewers. While it lacks the artistic depth of Godzilla Minus One, it offers a fun, albeit surface-level, experience that pays homage to classic kaiju films.

Overall
7.6/10
7.6/10
  • Story - 7/10
    7/10
  • Direction - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
  • Characterisation - 7/10
    7/10
  • Geek Satisfaction - 9/10
    9/10