Review – Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

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Overview

Synopsis Godzilla and Kong reawaken to face a new threat from deep within the hollow earth.

Length 1 hour, 55 minutes

Release Date March 29, 2024

 

Rating PG-13

Distribution Warner Bros.

Directing Adam Wingard

Writing Terry Rossio, Simon Barrett, Jeremy Slater

Composition Tom Holkenborg, Antonio Di Iorio

Starring Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Dan Stevens, Kaylee Hottle, Alex Ferns, Fala Chen

The recent releases of Godzilla Minus One and Monarch: Legacy of Monsters have caused a minor renaissance among the Godzilla fandom. Following the previous successes of Shin-Godzilla and Godzilla vs. Kong, the franchise is now in its strongest phase in decades, with both the Japanese and American fanbases energized, and the most recent cinematic release having recently won a Best Visual Effects Oscar; marking the first time the franchise has seen awards season recognition after seven decades. There has never been a better time to be a Godzilla fan; with both the Toho-produced movies and the American franchise managing to successfully operate in parallel.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: PG-13 action violence; monsters battling, being torn apart, crushed, severely injured, and bleeding. One human character is eaten alive. Several decapitated kaiju heads are depicted in one scene.
Language/Crude Humor: Limited to none.
Drug/Alcohol References: Limited to none.
Sexual Content: None.
Spiritual Content: Some allusions to religion but nothing relevant to the plot. “The Redeemer” statue in Brazil is depicted in the final battle.
Other Negative Content: Some excessive city destruction scenes, with undepicted but likely high casualties.
Positive Content: Themes of kingship, discovering truth, overcoming conflict, and protecting the innocent.

Review

It is a shame that the trailer for Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire happened to drop last fall while two critically acclaimed Godzilla properties were fresh on the movie-going public’s consciousness. The immediate sequel to Adam Wingard’s Godzilla vs. Kong had big shoes to fill, both being a sequel to a nominally successful post-pandemic blockbuster and the immediate followup to an Oscar-winning kaiju drama with sharp satire and complex characters. It’s almost unfair that the American film had to operate in such a huge film’s shadow, given that Godzilla Minus One became one of the highest-grossing Japanese films of all time in the US, grossing more than $51 million.

Godzilla x Kong couldn’t quite fill the shoes of what proceeded it, and that reality has colored the discussion of the film. Many film Twitter accounts went as far as to condemn the new American film as a reflection of Americans’ inability to grasp the franchise, how they didn’t take it seriously or respect it while their fellow filmmakers across the Pacific were making serious satirical artworks.

While understandable, this common view somewhat fails to grasp the wider swath of the Godzilla franchise going back through the 1960s. As much as fans regard the original Gojira’s serious anti-nuclear themes in high regard, the franchise has always been a monster-fighting franchise since its second entry Godzilla Raids Again. There are more films in the franchise with UFOs, laser blasters, giant butterflies, robots, and time travel than there are introspective satires, and there is nothing wrong with that. Many of those sequels are arguably better made than the more serious entries.

Godzilla x Kong is best viewed in this light, not as a meaningful complex artwork but as a visually sumptuous lark. It is a $135 million remake of goofy films, drawing from lighthearted and bizarre monster movies like King Kong Lives and Godzilla and Mothra: Battle for Earth—with giant apes receiving surgery, secret underground civilizations, and futuristic weapons being commonplace.

The film picks up several years after the final battle in Godzilla vs. Kong. Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) has continued her work as a Kong observer for Monarch, with Godzilla and Kong having mutually retreated to rule their realms. When a mysterious signal begins emerging from deep inside the hollow earth, Godzilla begins rampaging once again, and Kong finds himself drawn deeper into his kingdom to discover the truth. Deep within the hollow earth, two truths have been hidden that could spell doom or salvation for the human world above.

Once again, Kong ends up the central character of a film where its human characters and rival Kaiju are left to orbit his story. Godzilla is somewhat sidelined into a distant B-plot and only breaks into the story in the third act. The movie almost gives Kong something of a hero’s journey, showing him on a quest to gain a greater knowledge of his people and connect with others which results in him facing his primevil rival, attempting to cease a kingship, and even finding his own version of Excalibur. There are long stretches of the story where the monsters only communicate entirely through their eyes and grunts.

Wingard’s direction continues to be among the best the franchise has ever seen. While Gareth Edwards and Michael Dougherty approached the franchise with their own senses of panache and vision, Wingard approached his films with a particularly colorful and whimsical approach. His Godzilla films are surreal and drenched in neon and synth-pop. To descend into the hollow earth is to enter a new world and he immerses the screen and senses into this completely alien world.

Godzilla x Kong manages to be somehow more garish and colorful than its predecessor. It is more streamlined, self-assured, and comfortable in its willingness to be absurd. It’s operated at a reduced budget from its predecessor, so the cast and story are somewhat slimmed from the previous ensemble. Its tendency to embrace the absurdity though has proven to be a notch against the film, as audiences seem to be somewhat weirded out by the film’s bizarre creative decisions—including turning Godzilla pink, giving Kong a power glove, and making the villain an evil ape ruling over this universe’s version of Hell.

Your patience for such a bizarre story may vary, and depend on your willingness to groove on the weirdness. Early reviews are coming in fairly negative, with reviewers generally regarding it as mindless and insane. It certainly doesn’t help that its immediate predecessors are much more serious and character-driven. However, I enjoy the Godzilla franchise equally in its serious moments as I do in its most absurd moments. This movie leans much harder toward the latter, and I can’t help but feel a bit affectionate and engrossed in a film this committed to its absurdity.

Positives

+ Beautiful cinematography and effects
+ Some fun character moments
+ Fun monster fights

Negatives

- Incredibly dumb story
- Bizarre creative decisions
- Proximity to more intelligent films

The Bottom Line

Godzilla x Kong is not a film for everybody, but the right audience will find it to be an absurd and fun monster flick that lives up to the silliest moments of the franchise.

 

7.2

Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

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