Friday, April 19, 2024

“GODZILLA x KONG: THE NEW EMPIRE”

THE STORY – Godzilla and the almighty Kong face a colossal threat hidden deep within the planet, challenging their very existence and the survival of the human race.

THE CAST – Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Dan Stevens, Kaylee Hottle, Fala Chen & Rachel House

THE TEAM – Adam Wingard (Director), Terry Rossio, Simon Barrett & Jeremy Slater (Writers)

THE RUNNING TIME – 115 Minutes


Monster Mania seems to have kicked into high gear within the last few years. “Godzilla vs. Kong” (2021) was a serviceable blockbuster that thoroughly entertained audiences, including myself, during the pandemic when audiences were starving for big-screen spectacle. The film was nothing game-changing regarding large-scale filmmaking, but the serotonin of seeing two dumb beasts collide in a blockbuster on HBO Max felt somewhat special. Then, within a couple of years, Japan’s “Godzilla Minus One” was released to overwhelming praise from general audiences and critics alike. The Oscar-winning film was a necessary counter-balance to the “Monsterverse” that Warner Bros. has been steadily building over the past half-decade.

After these two films, it’s clear that Godzilla as an IP has never been more in demand. Now, immediately following up on “Godzilla Minus One,” audiences are switching gears once again and heading back to the world of Hollow Earth. The direct sequel to “Godzilla vs. Kong,” Adam Wingard returns to direct “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,” which sets itself up to raise the stakes the previous installment built up and simultaneously demolished. Wingard aims to deliver audiences an experience that can rival the heavy match-up of the previous film. However, all that is served up is a passable entry that might diminish the established interest in this franchise for many people.

“Godzilla x Kong: A New Empire,” for the most part, follows everyone’s favorite former resident of Skull Island, King Kong. He’s somewhat adapted to life on Hollow Earth as he attempts to make it his home. You see Kong evade prey, create traps, and explore the vast terrain. Meanwhile, above ground, Godzilla appears to be roaming the seas and even assisting the kaiju-fighting organization, Monarch. This all becomes upended as secrets of Hollow Earth are revealed, forcing Kong to face adversaries that force him to once again unite with his former sparring partner, Godzilla. In terms of coherent storytelling, that’s all that’s needed to follow along; however, not only is the primary human story incoherent, but worse, it’s mostly uninteresting. Audiences are coming to this film for one reason only: They want to see giant monsters beat the hell out of each other. Sure, audiences eventually receive that, but only after enduring a bland story filled with forgettable human companions, a myriad of dumb decisions, implausible storytelling, and cheap sentiment.

The human storyline is comprised of various characters from the previous film installment. Dr. Illene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), alongside her daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle), are front and center again, with Brian Tyree Henry’s kaiju-obsessed podcaster, Bernie Hayes, returning with an even more prominent role this time (for better or for worse depending on if you were a fan of his quirky performance in “Godzilla vs. Kong“). The universe lacks consistency in terms of retaining other major actors across the films, as characters played by Millie Bobby Brown, Kyle Chandler, and Alexander Skarsgård are unceremoniously removed from the overarching storyline with little to no mention.

This time around, Dan Stevens steps into the franchise. His character, Trapper, is a daredevil machine of charisma that will conveniently bail out everyone from everything and is the catalyst for every single needle drop that plays throughout the film. While he brings a fun energy, and his rapport with everyone is effortless, you’re just left questioning why Stevens, Hall, or Henry are attached to these films in the first place since there’s little for them to do. The screenwriters want to garner more interest from audiences about these human stories without showing actual interest, which makes it all the more distressing that the time devoted to the monster storylines is equally as dull.

For a film where everyone’s favorite giant lizard is billed first in the title, he’s shockingly absent for large portions of the runtime. If Godzilla isn’t sleeping inside the Italian Colleseuam (a genuinely funny visual gag) or charging up on nuclear energy, he barely factors into the story in a meaningful far too late in the final act. “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” feels more like a standalone Kong film and an exploration into a civilization of monsters who are against him. The main antagonist, Skar King, a tremendous ape even bigger and stronger than Kong, is serviceable at best and draws unfavorable comparisons to a superior monkey against the monkey action blockbuster in “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes.”

The designs for the creatures are well-done, thanks to the quality of the visual effects work on display. Much attention is given to making Kong and Godzilla have more human characteristics, as there are long scenes of creature interaction without subtitles to explain anything, relying on their physicality and expressive faces to convey emotion. Wingard’s decision to assume a modern audience is smart enough to use this context and discern those reactions to inform what is happening is admirable. Besides the satisfactory visual effects work, there’s little to appreciate beyond the surface. The novelty of the film’s special effects wears off eventually, leading audiences to stare at the oversized monsters fighting in mostly unmemorable action set pieces that resemble the brainless smash em’ sensation of something out of a Michael Bay film.

Despite its flaws, “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” never gets to a point where it becomes completely unwatchable. There’s plenty to satisfy the hardcore fans of both monsters. Frankly, the film suffers from being merely a digestible viewing experience rather than a unique one following the critical and financial success of “Godzilla Minus One.” It feels like leftovers from a meal you already had earlier in the week, repackaged in a new manner for you to consume all over again with little to no dietary or health benefits. The meaning behind the film’s very existence on an emotional and intellectual level ultimately feels pointless. One major storyline involves the return of a character from a previous feature with no explanation for how it’s possible. That lack of clarification is embedded in many aspects of the story, furthering a disinterest in engaging with the material. There’s no sense of urgency to the story, and the build-up is ineffective compared to “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which justified its existence far more by at least promising the titan match-up of the decade. This one promises a team-up between both movie monsters, but once it comes, it feels far too little too late.

Compared to the non-American takes on everyone’s favorite Kaiju, western filmmaking doesn’t seem to have the same care or respect for this property — which is fine. Each of these films serves an entirely different purpose, and sometimes audiences just want to witness massive action on the biggest screen possible with all the visual effects money can buy. It’s great that cinema can be a vast landscape where both perspectives can exist on separate planes. That doesn’t mean we have to settle when we’re given something sub-par like “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,” especially when Takashi Yamazaki and his crew overseas have shown that it can be done better. Audiences would do right to remind themselves that they deserve better.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Some quality visual effects work, and sound design make for a watchable experience even when it drags.

THE BAD - The human counterparts are as enjoyable as watching wet paint dry. The story's incoherent nature leads to confusion on multiple occasions. It ultimately feels more of the same and never reaches the urgency or excitement that the previous Monsterverse installment built up.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - Best Visual Effects

THE FINAL SCORE - 5/10

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Giovanni Lago
Giovanni Lago
Devoted believer in all things cinema and television. Awards Season obsessive and aspiring filmmaker.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Some quality visual effects work, and sound design make for a watchable experience even when it drags.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The human counterparts are as enjoyable as watching wet paint dry. The story's incoherent nature leads to confusion on multiple occasions. It ultimately feels more of the same and never reaches the urgency or excitement that the previous Monsterverse installment built up.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b><a href="/oscar-predictions-best-visual-effects/">Best Visual Effects</a><br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>5/10<br><br>"GODZILLA x KONG: THE NEW EMPIRE"