Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

The fifth film in the 'Monsterverse' franchise gets Godzilla and King Kong on the same team — and sees returning filmmaker Adam Wingard again embrace fun chaos.
Sarah Ward
March 28, 2024

Overview

Godzilla is finally an Oscar-winner. It's about time. But the septuagenarian reptile didn't score Hollywood's top trophy for curling up in the Colosseum for a snooze, rocking electric-pink spikes, thundering into Hollow Earth — the world literally within our world where titans spring from — and teaming up with King Kong to take on a rival giant ape that rides an ice-breathing kaiju and uses a skeletal spine as a rope. Japan's exceptional Godzilla Minus One, which took home 2024's Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, wasn't that kind of monster movie. Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, which hails from the American-made Monsterverse, definitely is. Reaching cinemas in the same month as one of its titular figures received such a coveted filmmaking accolade, this sequel to 2021's Godzilla vs Kong is patently from the goofily entertaining rather than deeply meaningful brand of Godzilla flicks. Yes, there's room for both.

It might seem a hard job to follow up one of the best-ever takes on the nuclear-powered creature with an action-adventure-fantasy monster mash that also features a Hawaiian shirt-wearing veterinarian dropping in via helicopter to do dental work on King Kong, the return of the Monsterverse's resident conspiracy-theorist podcaster and a mini Kong called Suko — plus, in its very first minutes, several other animals being ripped apart by Godzilla and Kong. When he took on the gig of helming pictures in this franchise, however, You're Next, The Guest, Blair Witch and Death Note filmmaker Adam Wingard chose fun chaos. His two entries so far aren't dreaming of competing for thoughtfulness with the movies coming out of the country that created Godzilla. Rather, they're made with affection for that entire legacy, and also Kong's, which dates back even further to 1933. Getting audiences relishing the spectacle of this saga is the clear aim, then — and Wingard's attempts put exactly that in their sights above all else.

It may also appear difficult for Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire to arrive so swiftly after related streaming series Monarch: Legacy of Monsters achieved a feat that hasn't been easy in the Monsterverse: delivering human drama that leaves an imprint. Godzilla vs Kong couldn't. 2014's Godzilla, 2017's Kong: Skull Island and 2019's Godzilla: King of the Monsters seesawed in their efforts (some admirably, some woefully). The small screen continues to reign supreme, but Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire values its people. There's fewer of them than in its predecessor, with just four at its core. Dumping exposition or acting as comic relief stay among their tasks, respectively, and yet Rebecca Hall (Resurrection) and Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta) are treated better by the material in their saga comebacks. As the aforementioned monster zoologist, Dan Stevens (Welcome to Chippendales, and also from Wingard's The Guest) knows exactly the type of part and flick he's in; he's the bulk of the film's mood personified. As the orphaned teenager tied to Kong, and similarly cast out from her home as he has been, Kaylee Hottle (Magnum PI) capably remains the feature's human heart on what also becomes a coming-of-age journey.

Doing the scripting, Godzilla vs Kong screenwriter Terry Rossio (also The Amazing Maurice), Wingard's regular collaborator Simon Barrett (You're NextThe GuestBlair Witch), plus Jeremy Slater (Moon Knight) — all working with a story by Rossio, Wingard and Barrett — can't be accused of putting people first in Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire. It's a low bar to say that they don't play as an afterthought, but it's an improvement from the last movie. The storyline's quest: to show how its eponymous beings are managing to co-exist, then must join forces to protect the world. Initially, they're like a divorced couple still sharing the same abode. Godzilla has taken over the planet's surface, while Kong is swinging around in Hollow Earth. The Skar King can't be quickly vanquished, though, requiring their combined might to try to stop his maliciousness wreaking havoc upwards as well as down.

Around the simple but welcome Godzilla + Kong = titan siblings-in-arms saviours equation, and before pop culture's biggest lizard and monkey pal around, the humans-driven aspect of the narrative is likewise as straightforward. Kong's troubled tooth, odd signals from below and visions seen by her adopted daughter Jia (Hottle) have Dr Ilene Andrews (Hall) pondering what's happening beneath the planet's crust. Still as obsessive as ever, whistleblower-turned-blogger (and documentarian wannabe) Bernie Hayes (Henry) is one of her ports of call for assistance. The Ace Ventura-esque Trapper (Stevens) is another. Also, Jia's shared time on Skull Island with Kong as one of the landmass' indigenous Iwi tribe, alongside the fact that the teen, who is deaf, can communicate with the simian using sign language, keeps proving relevant.

By throwing away the obligation to dig thematically below any surfaces, akin to a beast disposing of the carcass of its last meal — apart from knowing that its namesakes are guardians, and the blunt Jia and Kong connection — Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire revels in animals being animals. Painting Godzilla and Kong empathetically, and as more than fright-inducing monsters, has always been Wingard's angle, even when they were going claw to paw; Andrews is the Jane Goodall of Kong, after all. Here, the movie's main pair are basically towering pets, including while clambering around, snatching some rest, needing medical attention and securing their territory. As the film hops to Cairo, Paris, Gibraltar and Rio de Janeiro as well — and does ample exploring in Hollow Earth, where the Skar King has an army obeying his commands, but Suko sides with Kong — it's no wonder, then, that the good doctor and company are left endeavouring to react and respond as best they can. Cat owners especially can relate.

Although Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire's VFX crew likely won't nab the same Oscar as Godzilla Minus One, this CGI-heavy affair has a vibrant look to it. Nothing matches the neon-lit Hong Kong throwdown of Godzilla vs Kong but, amid 80s needle drops, that isn't Wingard's mission. Instead, he enjoys putting iconic landmarks in peril and going all Journey to the Centre of the Earth — and his splashes of pink, purple-topped mountains, crystals, other eye-catching titan and animal designs, and the swirling cinematography by fellow returnee Ben Seresin (The Mother). Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire is the cheese to Godzilla Minus One's chalk, clearly, as it fittingly tells of a chalk-and-cheese twosome, but always eagerly and happily.

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