‘Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire’ Review: Plus Vibrant Fun

Aaron Neuwirth reviews Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, a rock 'em sock 'em blast of a kaiju brawl, adding more fun and color to the MonsterVerse.
User Rating: 8

When it comes to the reverence being put toward kaiju cinema these days, what a time to be alive. Godzilla, in particular, can now be referred to as the Oscar-winning King of the Monsters after smash hit Godzilla Minus One managed to go the distance (one step closer to EGOT, I say!). With that in mind, the MonsterVerse has once again revved its gears to deliver Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire. This entry aims to capitalize on the success of 2021’s original savior of movie theaters, Godzilla vs. Kong, and push into new directions that further embrace the ridiculous. With returning director Adam Wingard and some familiar cast members back on board, it’s now a matter of how to make the latest monster smash-up event stand out. Fortunately, with a streamlined focus, psychedelic visuals, some cool kaiju creations, and the delivery of epic brawls, I was more than pleased to see how the Super Monster Bros.™ would win the day.

Story-wise, we’re looking at two major plotlines. One involves the humans. Yes, I know we’re coming off the critically acclaimed ‘Minus One,’ which allowed for deeper characterization than typically seen in Godzilla movies. That said, while the previous films in this universe boasted their excess number of talented cast members (who all signed on because it’s fun to be in a giant monster movie – because why wouldn’t you? What’s the worst that happens? They lose their SAG card?), this film boils it down to basically four characters to keep track of, and they all stick with each other.

See Also: Director Adam Wingard Talks ‘They Live,’ Colorful Toys & Other ‘Godzilla x Kong’ Inspirations

Godzilla x Kong

What are they up to? Well, that has to do with Kong, who leads the other half of this story. While getting older (the guy Titan has toothaches, a bad back, etc.), he’s been exploring his new residence – Hollow Earth. During this time, he discovers others like him, but they are led by a reddish menace known as the Skar King. This gigantic primate-like monster looks like what would happen if an orangutan was also a pole vaulter. Anyway, Skar King has plans to invade regular Earth, and Kong’s presence has given him some ideas for how to make that happen.

In a film like this, one should just be ready to let the plot ride along as it does, not unlike a roller-coaster. Wingard and writers Terry Rossio, Jeremy Slater, and Simon Barrett seem to get that, as this is perhaps the slightest entry for the MonsterVerse, but no less engaging, let alone lacking in scope. There’s still a good amount of globetrotting thanks to the side adventure Godzilla is on, and the sense of wonder is plenty accurate thanks to further exploration of Hollow Earth.

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This Jules Verne-inspired location that humans reach by literally traveling down giant holes in the Earth’s surface means having the chance to see a lot of trippy visuals inspired by everything from the third act of 2001: A Space Odyssey to the 60s Showa Era Godzilla films that Wingard clearly loves (he’s particularly big on Invasion of Astro-Monster and Godzilla vs. Hedorah). There’s also the 80s cartoon/toys angle to appreciate, but I can return to that when discussing the action. As it stands, much of the film’s runtime is spent watching Kong and the small human crew figure out what sort of dangers are on the rise in this mysterious land, as well as other surprises.

Doing their best to disguise exposition and standard movie elements as outlets for fun are Rebecca Hall as Dr. Illene Andrews, a foremost expert on all things Skull Island. There’s also kaiju conspiracy theorist and podcast host Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), who helped stop MechaGodzilla last time around, and Jia (Kaylee Hottle), the Kong whisperer (she’s a deaf girl who signs with Kong and is seemingly the last living member of the tribe that once lived on Skull Island). Most importantly, however, is Dan Stevens as Trapper, the kaiju veterinarian.

Godzilla x Kong

Having worked with Wingard on his wonderfully subversive dark comedy-thriller The Guest, Stevens seems more than game to play this outgoing oddball who steps into the film fully formed and pushes audiences toward being willing to embrace the outrageous. Better yet, as fun as he is, the script and Stevens wisely know how to keep him from taking over the show. He works well with the other actors while offering his own sense of whimsy to add to this very colorful picture. Case-in-point, Trapper’s job allows us another way of acknowledging just how successful the visual effects are in creating these Titans who are full of personality themselves.

It’s fitting that another Planet of the Apes movie is coming along this year, as it will go nicely with what ‘GxK’ has to offer. So much of the film allows us to watch Kong explore, meet new characters, including young Suko (a lil’ Kong easily lined up to become a fan favorite), and have genuine moments of pathos. It’s impressive to see and speaks to what this filmmaking team is after. While there are so many Godzilla movies (and King Kong films), having full-on narrative threads tied to what the actual monsters are up to is in short supply. Simple as it may seem now, various things about the 70-year history of Big G means taking these sorts of chances are welcome.

Godzilla x Kong

Speaking of, no, I haven’t mentioned Godzilla much regarding the plotting yet. It’s because, for one thing, the King of the Monsters likes doing his own thing, but he only needs to get involved when some big-time monster thinks it’s their turn to go after the planet. With an attitude largely inspired by Wingard’s own cat, Godzilla is presented, once again, as an anti-hero in so far that he’ll take on threats but has little concern over the wanton destruction he causes in the process (you may want to take Egypt, Rome, and Rio off your potential vacation lists after this movie). That said, with efforts to make himself more powerful, once Godzilla is tapped for action, this film knows how to deliver (and provide Godzilla a glow-up, no less).

So much of the joy in GxK comes down to seeing the inevitable team-up between these two alphas. Does creating that bond come easily? Not in the least, but the major smackdowns that weighted heavily toward the second half have plenty to offer any fan of massive creatures wailing on each other. This is where Wingard’s clear love of this stuff shines brightest, as the variety of the fights, what they mean to the story that has unfolded, and what monsters we end up seeing (this film has enough to challenge the two Kings), do plenty for those armed with excitement for vibrant colossal action.

With a darker and moodier approach to some of the earlier MonsterVerse films, it has been interesting to watch them evolve and be shaped around the visions of different directors. Wingard is clearly embracing the energy of the youth-skewing Toho flicks from the 60s/70s, along with his own joy for recalling the times of colorful toys that really heighten one’s imagination. The result is another towering blockbuster more concerned with its comic book breeziness and gigantic spectacle, looking to engage those embracing their inner child. In a world that can fit both the prestige excellence of a film like Godzilla Minus One and the broader strokes of a Titan team-up, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire may not be looking to make too many scholarly friends, but it aims to leave a giant crater of fun in its wake.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire opens in theaters and IMAX on March 29, 2024.

godzilla x kong

8
Great
Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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