Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire Review – A Roaring Spectacle Of Kaiju Carnage

Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire Review - A Roaring Spectacle Of Kaiju Carnage

EDITORS' RATING : 7 / 10

Pros

  • Over-delivers on spectacle whenever the Titans are on screen

Cons

  • The human element isn't balanced well and drags the film down more often than not

 

In the decade since Legendary Pictures' "Monsterverse" was established, this stateside franchise modernizing an international lineage of kaiju into a timely cinematic universe has expanded beyond the theatrical space into the comfort of viewers' homes. Two streaming series, Netflix's animated "Skull Island" and Apple TV+'s "Monarch: Legacy of Monsters," have filled in the blanks of the mythology while offering appetizer-sized offerings between the blockbuster additions. But ultimately, these stories belong on the big screen, as "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire" so effectively asserts.

When this reviewer screened the franchise's last theatrical effort, 2021's "Godzilla vs. Kong," it was digitally, streamed on a 27-inch 1440p desktop monitor, as in-person showings for the press had yet to return to the mid-pandemic marketplace. But absorbing the new sequel from under the majesty of an IMAX screen, where the film's gargantuan Titans are scaled at a size closer to the skyscrapers they casually topple, was a far better experience. Returning director Adam Wingard once again aims for the low-hanging fruit of the last film's success, providing audiences with the carnage and spectacle this genre delivers in spades. There's still more to be desired from the finished product, but it feels wrong to quibble about.

Where the last film sated the cultural desire to see Godzilla and Kong fight in a new movie with modern effects, this one feeds the need to see them team up and battle monsters together. On that front, "The New Empire" is a rousing success. But anyone looking for more, even a tiny, little bit more, might want to adjust their expectations.

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Booking the return match

Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire Review - A Roaring Spectacle Of Kaiju Carnage

 

Abandoning the last film's reliance on two dueling sets of supporting players, each dedicated to one of the titular Titans, "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire" keeps its focus on Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her adopted daughter, Jia (Kaylee Hottle). Jia struggles to fit in at her new school, and Andrews has difficulty balancing her work at Monarch with her newfound motherhood. Luckily for both of them, that plot is little more than window dressing for the film's larger concern: There may be a new threat deep in the Hollow Earth that Kong cannot face alone. 

Given the rules that every Godzilla film follows, the atomic lizard god works better as an enigmatic anti-hero figure than a scrappy underdog. In professional wrestling vernacular, Kong fits the "babyface" role so much better. In the last outing, the defeated Kong threw his hat in the ring to aid Godzilla in defeating a new mechanized adversary. But here, the duo is finally more of a tag team than a reluctant duo, and the narrative has to treat Kong like a "face in peril," the good guy who takes the brunt of the damage while the audience salivates for his partner to tag in and even the odds.

We'll avoid spoiling every beat, but the initial gist is that Jia and others are receiving some kind of distress signal from deep within the Hollow Earth. Kong is drawn to it and runs afoul of the Scar King, a nefarious primate who rules part of the terrain with the assistance of another Titan under his thrall. Even the addition of "Baby Kong" isn't enough to aid Kong this time. But Adam Wingard does an admirable job taking what viewer wants to see the most, that "hot tag" from Godzilla, and building to it with remarkable aplomb. Some movies can take too long and pave a road too rocky on their way to the fireworks factory, such that no amount of colorful explosions will make the wait worthwhile. Without divulging any of the particulars, the climax of "The New Empire" somehow bests the final fights from "Godzilla vs. Kong," and it's capable of jolting even the most jaded moviegoer to their feet.

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All the little people

Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire Review - A Roaring Spectacle Of Kaiju Carnage

 

As delightful as all the Titan action remains, any time the film lingers on the human element of the story, either to further their meager character arcs or to offer largely needless exposition, it's difficult not to see these passages as missed opportunities. In the wake of the Oscar-winning success of "Godzilla: Minus One," we know that kaiju films can deliver on more than just surface-level theatrics. Yet "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire" gleefully sticks to the basics, delivering on them for sure, but possessing little to no ambition when it comes to the non-gargantuan players.

Rebecca Hall, one of our finest modern actresses, does an astonishing job imbuing Dr. Ilene Andrews with real pathos at the right times. Luckily, she's joined by franchise newcomer and Adam Wingard veteran Dan Stevens as Trapper, a doctor who specializes in helping Titans. Stevens has charm to spare and brings great energy to all his scenes. He is instantly the best human character in any of the Monsterverse flicks. But the very talented Brian Tyree Henry returns as conspiracy theorist and podcaster Bernie Hayes, both more irritating than he was in the last film and even more superfluous, too. It's downright painful watching an actor this gifted saddled with a character this shrill and untethered to reality. It's a part begging to either be cut from the final draft of the screenplay or to be given to an unhinged comedian who can fill in the blanks with his own persona, neither of which happened here.

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It seems pointless to complain about the relative blandness of the human undercard in this narrative versus the main event that's putting the butts in seats. But if this franchise is going to keep trying to get bigger, badder, and more smashmouth with the monsters, it's either going to need to level up the quiet moments amid the bombast or find a way to reduce them entirely.

"Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire" roars into theaters March 29.

 

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