Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire Review | Burning Down the House (Again)

by Andrew Parker

Loud, silly, and satisfying, Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire continues the Mosnterverse franchise with giddy, destructive glee. Anyone expecting headier, more nuanced entertainment along the lines of last year’s Japanese blockbuster Godzilla Minus One (or even the American backed Godzilla reboot that started all of this) would best look elsewhere. Those who find comfort in not asking a lot of questions and simply watching lots of pretty colours and things blowing up real good, however, will have a good time with Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire. Much like he did for Godzilla Vs. Kong before it, returning director Adam Wingard turns in a lean, mean monster machine that has a handful of great ideas and no pretensions to be more than what it is.

Godzilla and Kong have reached a tentative truce after their city decimating battle. Godzilla is chilling out in Greece, crashing at the Colosseum for a long deserved nap between gigs protecting the human race from other destructive Titans. Kong has travelled to the monster filled alternative universe below our world – Hollow Earth – to track down the family he never knew. Monitored once again by Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her deaf adopted daughter, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), Kong has been really going through it with the other ornery creatures below Skull Island. Exhausted and beaten up, Kong discovers a gateway to yet another unknown universe, one that holds a lot of dangerous secrets pertaining to his roots. Kong’s discovery wakes Godzilla up, who promptly sets about gearing up for an all out war with terrors the likes of which neither of them have dealt with before.

While not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination and coming with a lot of the computer rendered bloat most modern blockbusters suffer from, Godzilla Vs. Kong was a pleasant surprise because it mostly delivered on the promise of its title: two hours of cinema’s best behemoths going at it with razor sharp teeth and nails. While not quite matching the face smashing fun of its predecessor, Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire manages to quicken the pace even more, which is a welcome turn away from a pair of sequels that suffered from including too many uninteresting human characters. 

Outside of returning cast members Hall, Hottle, and Brian Tyree Henry – once again playing a conspiracy believing, hyper-worried podcaster – the only human addition of note comes in the form of previous Wingard collaborator Dan Stevens, who makes a wonderful impression as a laid back Titan veterinarian with a loud Hawaiian shirt and his own playlist of music to make big entrances. The human element in Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire has been scaled back to bare bones basics, but at least there’s an interesting and engaging enough story that can still take centre stage. Hall and Hottle are effective as the grounded human characters, and Henry and Stevens get a chance to cut loose and crack wise. Their efforts are succinct, but great.

There are three separate storylines at play in Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire. The least engaging is shockingly anything involving Godzilla, who spends most of the film slowly walking towards danger and supercharging his powers. Somewhere in the middle lies all the humans trying to piece together what’s going on, and that’s fine enough, even if the mostly comedic tone of it feels a bit too indebted to the likes of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. But Wingard’s latest is mostly a Kong movie where the big ape tries to find his place in the world. Wingard (The Guest, Blair Witch, You’re Next) continues to do a fine job of humanizing Kong through little touches (like watching him taking a shower after a gruesome battle, befriending a little(r) ape who needs guidance), but here the storytelling is driven by Kong’s actions and journeys, and its accomplished in interesting ways.

An admirably large portion of Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire unfolds through visual, wordless storytelling, as Kong is forced into battle against some of his distant relatives, led by a hulking, cunning, psychopathic ape with a Titan bodyguard of his own. Wingard’s team of writers – this time including You’re Next and The Guest writer Simon Barrett – create a template for the filmmaker and effects department to tell the story of Kong through action and expression rather than forced exposition (which is left to the humans, and thankfully there’s no more than necessary). It’s a big swing that lots of mainstream sci-fi blockbusters tend to shy away from these days, and Wingard finds a way to keep it consistently entertaining and emotionally engaging without bringing the humans in to slow it all down.

The globe-trotting, city destroying rampages aren’t quite as great as what came before it, with only the climactic showdown bringing the proverbial house down in terms of spectacle and excitement, but the viewer still gets what they paid for. Unless, of course, what they paid for was an intelligent, scientifically and logically accurate narrative led by strong human characters. Or, perhaps, if the viewer really wants a movie where Godzilla is the main star there will be some disappointment. But if you’re the type of person willing to buy a ticket to a film titles Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire – a movie that’s also somehow a better yarn about things getting dangerously frozen than last week’s Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire – you’ll get what you came for. It’s not high art. It doesn’t have to be high art. But it all looks pretty great and it captures the feeling being a kid playing with a bottomless toy box.

Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire opens in theatres everywhere on Friday, March 29, 2024.

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