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Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (Film Review)

4 min read

x Kong: The New Empire is a strange film, and I'm not talking about the subterranean world full of monsters the film mostly takes place in. Director Adam Wingard, who helmed the previous flick, has crafted a bonkers sci-fi actioner that takes the franchise one step forward with an assured tone but one step back with pacing and structural issues.

As the title suggests (the x is silent, by the way), the Titans put their hatred aside and together face a new threat: the Skar King. Wingard clearly has a love for the different kaiju, with more time spent with them in their natural habitats. There's only so much you can show of a giant angry lizard, but hanging out with the more humanoid Kong is a terrific decision. Kong is a grumpy old ape surviving the dangers of Hollow Earth in search of a family that doesn't exist, all whilst dealing with a killer toothache. Thanks to amazing work from the visual effects artists and mocap performers, Kong is the standout character; funny, sympathetic, and exhilarating to watch when fists start flying. The facial and body movements of the giants have never been better, making Kong and the entire non-human cast more engaging than ever. 

Of course there's a non-human cast, with Dr. Andrews (Rebecca Hall), Jia (Kaylee Hottle) and Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) returning to join newcomers Trapper (Dan Stevens), an excitable hippie veterinarian and Mikael (Alex Ferns), a stern armed officer tasked with looking after the gang as they venture into Hollow Earth. The human cast has consistently been a weak element throughout the series thus far, and here they provide mixed results for the overall experience. Not everything is bad; the solid chemistry between the characters provide good laughs, a couple of surprisingly introspective scenes add a modicum of depth, and the mother-daughter relationship between Dr. Andrews and Jia makes for a somewhat interesting arc. 

What drags Godzilla x Kong down is how the humans are utilised. Most of the runtime is spent with them figuring out uninteresting mysteries around signals and vague threats. The marketing, and common sense, tell us it will all lead to big monsters fighting, so why have the filmmakers forced audiences to sit through plot riddled with techno-babble just to get to the parts they've bought tickets for? An egregious issue, one which wasn't present in the franchise until now, is how characters will constantly audibly describe what we've just seen in the previous shot. There's a fine art to making good “big dumb” movies, but some of the decisions here are plain stupid. It takes far too long to get to the juicy smackdown we were promised. 

After an uneven slog, the final conflicts are set up and thankfully they're a treat. Sceptics of Skar King, seen in trailers as another big ape, will be surprised at how great of a villain he is when he's eventually introduced. This chimpanzee, orangutan hybrid is an evil dictator with a swagger, accentuated by its lanky stature. But don't be fooled; he's fast, brutal, and utilises deadly tools, as well as a terrifying trick up his sleeve. Again, it's the amazing work of the digital artists and performers that make Skar a great addition to the MonsterVerse lineup. The finale is one of the best in the series too. There's some genuinely surprising twists and additions, and an absolutely ridiculous but awesome fight sequence that I shan't dare spoil. This is a modern take on the run of 70's and 80's kaiju features that had massive alien monsters drop-kicking each other.    

Wingard seems more confident in that pulpy direction. The score is infused with synth notes and beats, the story leans into gonzo sci-fi concepts, and the colourful Hollow Earth settings are adorned with luminescent pinks, greens and blues. Still, though, this style doesn't feel as prominent as others seen before; such as Gareth Edward's massive take on Jaws, Jordan Vogt-Roberts' playful Vietnam War visuals, or Michael Dougherty's biblical scale. Whilst it feels like the MonsterVerse is settling into a more Saturday-morning cartoon tone, there's a feeling that the filmmakers are still being held back from fully embracing that direction. 

Looking closely, there are some welcome improvements and unwelcome issues, but overall this won't convert new fans. Godzilla x Kong is a MonsterVerse film through and through; pairing brilliantly silly Titan fights with subpar human narratives. Leave that to the Japanese, with the excellent Shin Godzilla and Godzilla Minus One, and, in the wise words of Ken Watanabe, let them fight!   

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire releases in UK cinemas on March 29.