Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire Review

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire promises the ultimate Kaiju buddy movie, but does it live up to claim?

PLOT: When a signal from an uncharted area of Hollow Earth riles up Godzilla, Monarch’s team has to investigate, while Kong discovers a lost society which may give him the home he’s long desired. 

REVIEW: This holiday weekend sees the release of Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, which marks the fifth film in Warners and Legendary’s Monsterverse saga, which, to be sure, has been very hit-and-miss. For every Kong: Skull Island, there’s an entry that leaves us scratching our heads with its shared universe, mostly related to the evil company Monarch, which recently got its own show on Apple TV Plus. Interestingly, this universe has never been tremendously successful with audiences. WB would have likely thrown in the towel were it not that Godzilla Vs Kong was a surprise smash at the box office. It opened almost exactly a year into the pandemic, at a time when no one was going to see movies, but those who did found the dose of escapism it offered rather welcome. It made $100 million domestically and nearly four times that overseas, which is amazing considering that it went day and date on HBO Max. 

Thus, it gets a sequel, Godzilla x Kong, a title which signifies the two are pals now and could become kind of the Tango & Cash of the Monsterverse. 

If only. 

While I had a ton of fun with this flick, I have one big complaint. While the trailers made it look like it’s a non-stop brofest between Godzilla and Kong, the two are kept apart for close to ninety minutes, and this movie is just under two hours. All of the scenes you’ve seen of them doing their thing together are from the last chunk of the film. While that’s a bummer, I must admit that I found myself surprisingly engaged by the build-up. While it has the misfortune of coming out hot on the heels of Godzilla Minus One, my choice for the best Kaiju movie ever, Wingard and his writers did something clever. They made this an action flick, with Kong our Stallone-esque underdog hero. 

The movie concerns a distress call from an uncharted part of Hollow Earth that only Kong’s pal Gia (played by Kaylee Hottle) and Godzilla can sense, leading the latter on a rampage. Thankfully, Kong is up on earth getting some oral surgery via a badass vet named Trapper who works on Titans, played by an excellent Dan Stevens. He accompanies Gia, her adopted mother, Rebecca Hall’s Dr. Illene (who happens to be Trapper’s college ex) and Brian Tyree Henry’s Bernie down to Hollow Earth to figure out what’s happening.

One notable thing about Godzilla x Kong is how minor the human roles are. Kong is thoroughly the protagonist, as he discovers a lost civilization of apes and makes an arch-enemy he needs to do away with. He even gets a sidekick in a cute baby ape. Kong’s been given a bit of an action star makeover, with him having a six-pack and some Kong stubble. Seeing him next to the other apes, I couldn’t help but think how much better looking he is than the other apes. It’s almost like they were trying to make him…sexy?

If you’re more of a Godzilla fan, you’ll be disappointed by his limited screen time, although he does get a nice gag involving his favorite place on Earth to nap. Again, the humans are an afterthought, but Dan Stevens seems to know exactly the movie he’s in. He brings a lot of energy to his cool role. Someone compares him to Ace Ventura, which isn’t far off. Imagine Ace Ventura as an action star, and played by Kurt Russell in the eighties, and you get an idea of what they’re going for here. If anything, he seems somewhat based on Elliot Gould’s Trapper John from Robert Altman’s MASH, with him even dressed the same way in addition to sharing a name. It’s nice to see the often-underused Stevens in an uncomplicated hero role, and he’s the most memorable human in the film. Now, if only he and the director, Adam Wingard, would make The Guest 2 already. The rest of the humans are fine, but Hall is around basically to handle the exposition, while Henry is around to crack jokes. He and Stevens play off each other well and would be excellent in a buddy movie. 

Wingard seems to have been given more creative freedom here than last time, with a lot of synth wave on the soundtrack mixed with the more traditional action score by Junkie XL (a state of his non-Monsterverse films).  There are also a lot of seventies rock needle drops, with Trapper being a music guy. Even if this aspect seems plucked from Guardians of the Galaxy, I enjoyed the song choices, including a nice nod to Canadian rockers Loverboy. The fun, bubble gum-chewing vibe people dug in the original is back here, with it paced like a rollercoaster ride, even if you can’t help but wish the two monsters had more face time (perhaps in the sequel).

Is Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire a kick-ass kaiju movie? Kind of, but it’s not even remotely comparable with Godzilla Minus One. However, just like the last one, I had a more than decent time with it. I turned my brain off and enjoyed the ride. 

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Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/godzilla-x-kong-the-new-empire-review/

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