‘Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire’ review: Do the puny humans spoil the fun again?
8 mins read

‘Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire’ review: Do the puny humans spoil the fun again?


About halfway through Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, I turned to a fellow critic to ask a desperate question: What the hell is this movie about? 

Well, for one, it’s less of a big showdown between these two ancient beasts than its title teases. Rather, this sequel to Godzilla vs. Kong relies way more on convoluted exposition and explanation than is necessary for a big dumb kaiju movie. Somehow, director Adam Wingard’s latest installment gives viewers exactly what they want — bouts of noisy, crashing, rampaging blows — but for much of its runtime, it’s giving us nothing at all.

By the end of Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, I still didn’t have the foggiest idea why anyone needed to sit through its meandering maze of dysfunctional world-building for its lone rousing bout.  

What’s Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire about?

Dan Stevens as Trapper, Rebecca Hall as Dr. Ilene Andrews, and Kaylee Hottle as Jia in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.


Credit: Daniel McFadden / Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

The ramshackle screenplay by Terry Rossio, Simon Barrett, and Jeremy Slater never tires of providing mountains and mountains of exposition. Through lumbering dialogue, we catch up with the film’s returning players from Godzilla vs Kong. Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) is the head of Kong research division for the secret organization Monarch. Her adoptive daughter, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), the last surviving member of the Iwi tribe, is struggling to adjust to her new school during the day and being plagued by nightmares featuring pyramids at night. Her terrors and the odd seismic activity observed by Dr. Andrews, the latter of which has perplexed the scientists at Monarch, have pushed Dr. Andrews to seek out Titan Truth Podcast host Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry). 

Complicating matters are the fates of the film’s two titans: Godzilla, for unexplainable reasons, has been traversing the globe for nuclear energy sources in a bid to power up for a fight the film exhaustingly works toward. Kong, meanwhile, is behaving weirdly too. At one point, he suddenly leaves his Hollow Earth habitat to seek treatment from Monarch for a sore tooth (work with me, here). When he returns home, Kong discovers evidence of an uncharted region of his mystical land — not only that, other primates live there too, and they’re ruled by a nasty ape known as Scar King. 

The script, at times, attempts to parallel Kong and Jia’s respective loneliness. But then among the race of massive subterranean apes, Kong does discover a cute high-flying Baby Kong, only to drop the subject altogether. At other moments, the movie intimates revolutionary ideals: Kong ultimately wants to free his brethren and is often seen brandishing a raised fist in the air. But mostly the script leaves these threads dangling. It opts to sell a mythological premonition requiring Kong and Godzilla to combine forces if they hope to save the world. 

Dan Stevens and Brian Tyree Henry are the humans we’re looking for.

Brian Tyree Henry as Bernie in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire," a Warner Bros. Pictures release.


Credit: Daniel McFadden / Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Let’s be clear: The human characters in most kaiju movies are worthless plot devices and discardable chum. (Godzilla Minus One is a rare exception.) The surrogate mother-daughter relationship between Dr. Andrews and Jia is a barely passable diversion. Jagged editing further struggles to place either character within the film’s thrashing narrative. 

And yet, Henry and Dan Stevens (who plays the gung-ho veterinarian Trapper) are notable highlights. The pair are thrown together when Dr. Andrews decides to venture with Jia to Kong’s homeland; there, she hopes to discover the origins of the anomaly affecting the world above ground. Once on the treacherous terrain, Hayes records the group’s adventure for a possible documentary. Trapper, bedecked in a Hawaiian shirt, uses his sixth sense to warn the troupe when trouble is just around the corner. 

Henry and Stevens are the only ones who seem to know what movie they’re in: They play their characters for broad laughs, eventually becoming a side-splitting double act. By the end, you wish we simply had a Godzilla/Kong movie starring these two, or really any adventure where they can perform their hilarious antics. 

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire is an ugly monster movie.

Baby Kong


Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

While Henry and Stevens are a winning duo, the visual aesthetics surrounding them never rise to their level. This is simply a garish movie. It’s an observation that isn’t wholly surprising; the VFX acumen of the entire MonsterVerse has always been touch and go. Godzilla: King of the Monsters, for example, was so wretched that even the nighttime scenes couldn’t obscure its unattractiveness. Kong: Skull Island, on the other hand, featured an exhilaratingly punchy palette, given greater texture through several scenes making winking references to Die Hard

Godzilla x Kong crumbles under the same rendered failures of the former film. The mucky lighting looks like smeared mildew. The once-lush terrain of Hollow Earth is more akin to slushy half-rendered moss. Disney World attractions have greater tactility than the in-world advanced tech and sci-fi ships on display here. Worst yet, despite the tangible choreography on display — Kong and Godzilla do at least move fluidly — Kong’s facial expressions lack emotiveness. How did we backslide so far from the graphic highs of the Andy Serkis-led Planet of the Apes movies? Unlike Godzilla Minus One, this franchise forgot its political roots long ago. Without any substance, you’d like for its projected images to be transfixing, at the very least.

The dearth of definition also translates to the film’s very scale. Godzilla x Kong wants to be a big globe-trotting lark, but it treats the streets of Gibraltar and the sidewalks of Rome as nearly interchangeable. I would have much preferred seeing Wingard hone in on one or two locations to build a better sense of geography for the audience, which no doubt would translate to better composed fight sequences.       

The final fight in Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire happens far too late.

Godzilla and Kong


Credit: Daniel McFadden / Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

It takes so long for the major showdown to occur. Godzilla x Kong is a movie perpetually in a state of setting up. Sure, a misplaced needle drop by Kiss may provide a minor pulse to the kind of rushed, overactive editing that feels geared toward spoon-feeding its audience rather than making space for the film’s many elements to come together. But too much of this movie is about setting up the climactic battle

If you manage to sit through the previous nauseating 80 minutes, then you’re at least rewarded with Kong, Godzilla, and Mothra teaming up against the Big Bad. The destructive scene, set in Rio de Janeiro, does at least live up to the hype — enough so that I’m sure many will depart the theater solely satisfied by the large-scale demolition of an entire city, the colossal punches thrown by Kong, and the roaring cannonball that is Godzilla. For others, though, this one admittedly entertaining exhibition won’t be enough. You’ll come out wishing the entirety of the film had the verve, imagination, and sheer power of its conclusion. In that regard, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire isn’t an obvious triumph. It’s more like a passable draw.  

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire opens in theaters March 29.





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