GODZILLA x KONG: THE NEW EMPIRE [2024]

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Directed by:
Written by: , , , ,
Starring: , , ,

 

USA

IN CINEMAS NOW

RUNNING TIME: 115 mins

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera

Three years after defeating Mechagodzilla, Kong has established his territory in the Hollow Earth, while on the surface, Godzilla continues to maintain order between humanity and giant monsters, known as “Titans”. A Monarch observation outpost stationed in the Hollow Earth picks up an unidentified signal which on the surface causes Jia, the last known survivor of the Iwi tribe from Skull Island, to experience hallucinations and flashbacks, worrying her adoptive mother Dr. Ilene Andrews. Also sensing the signal, Godzilla attacks a nuclear plant in France to absorb the radiation, and heads for the Arctic. Why? Meanwhile Kong discovers an uncharted region and a tribe of his species, including a juvenile named Suko, but its leader, the Skar King, with the aid of an ancient ice-powered Titan, Shimo, rules with an iron fist. And Andrews and Jia, alongside Titan veterinarian Trapper and conspiracy podcaster Bernie Hayes, travel to the Hollow Earth to locate the source of the signal….

It’s certainly great for fans to have two Godzilla films out in cinemas in quick succession, but I did wonder if Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire has suffered from coming soon after Godzilla Minus One, which was a surprise major hit despite being in Japanese with English subtitles, and was critically praised too, even winning an Academy Award for visual effects. As the trailers and the clips increased, the reaction to this follow-up to 2021’s Godzilla Vs Kong, and the fourth instalment in Legendary Pictures’s “Monsterverse” franchise, by some so-called Godzilla fans who seemed to want it to be like Godzilla Minus One has been odd, they not seeming pleased with the way that this film was recalling the less serious, sometimes downright daft Godzilla films of old, even though many of these people probably grew up watching such films. I already felt obliged to stick up for Godzilla x Kong, especially as Godzilla Vs Kong, despite some issues, certainly revived the franchise after the borderline disastrous Godzilla King Of The Monsters, which should have been magnificent and instead dropped nearly every ball. And not ignoring the fact that, while I love the likes of Gojira and Shin Godzilla, my heart lies more with the silly stuff – hell, it was one of the big things that got me into the wonderful world of Kaiju in the first place. No American films would dare do this kind of crazy shit with their monsters, and in a sort of “cinematic universe” too. Well, things change, and in terms of Godzilla Japan has gone serious while the United States has gone silly, while cinematic universes are now a big thing. But is Godzilla x Kong a film worth defending so much once one has actually seen it?

Well, the answer is a “yes”, but not nearly as big a “yes” as one might have hope for, because the result has some major issues. Adam Wingard returns as director and co-writer, so the feel of Godzilla Vs Kong is largely repeated, but the plot is even more haphazard, with sections where stuff just seems to happen – I know that this is a film about creatures so big that they probably couldn’t actually move at all, with over half of it taking place in Hollow Earth, a land inside our planet which has its own ecosystem, but it does seem as if screenwriters Jeremy Slater and Simon Barrett, who’ve both collaborated with Wingard before, and the returning Terry Rossio, were very rushed and just threw a load of things in. Indeed “rushed” seems like an appropriate word to use elsewhere, with the CGI being variable in quality. On the other hand we get loads of what we came primarily to see – monsters, and monsters fighting, with a fairly high number of Kaiju and brawls taking place in a variety of locations which manage to be both thrilling and amusing, which is just what we want. The human dimension, often the weakest aspect of these films though I disagree with those reviewers of Minus One who claim that Takashi Yamazaki’s film was the first Godzilla film to do it well, has been reduced to just four main characters who do share some chemistry but are nonetheless absent from the screen for some time. In fact for some of the time we just follow the adventures of Kong, and it makes one wonder if a film like this could be made with no human characters at all. Unfortunately it also causes me to make the point that, even more than in the previous movie, Kong is really the star, having almost three times the screen time as does Godzilla, whose segments are short and and sweet until the final quarter.

We open, of course, with Kong, fleeing a pack of hyena-like animals. He comes to a cliff edge so has to turn and fight, throwing one at others, dislodging loose ground so some fall in, and ripping one in half so he gets green [can’t have red I suppose these days] blood all over his face, which makes him look like Toho’s Gaira the Green Gargantua, something which may or may not have been intended. One gets the impression that this is a typical day for poor old Kong, doomed to just wonder about the Hollow Earth, though then again most Kaiju must be lonely, if you think about it, except for those days when they were confined to Monster Island. We’ve been introduced to Kong, and now we’re introduced to Godzilla, in his role as International Titan Destroyer. Rome is being threatened by a huge sort of spider with tentacles around his face named Scylla [though not really the one Jason and Odysseus encountered], but never mind, Godzilla is here to save the day, and he kills Scylla in around a minute before going to sleep in the Colosseum. It’s mildly irritating that Godzilla’s first scene is so short compared to Kong’s, but you’d better get used to it, because this is what much of the film is going to be like. Yes, Kong is front, left and centre, but Godzilla is frequently cut away from just as soon as we think we may be getting to spend a decent amount of time with him. I wonder why this decision was made? I get that the plot needs Kong to interact with humans in a way that Godzilla doesn’t, but surely Godzilla’s two fights that he has in the first half could have been a decent length?

Talking of humans, we now meet our four chief ones, three of which have returned from Godzilla Vs Kong. There’s Dr Ilene Andrews, her adoptive daughter Jia who’s the last known survivor of the  Iwi tribe from Skull Island which used to be Kong’s domain, Bernie Hayes the “conspiracy theorist” who with Ilene helped save the world three years ago, and new addition Trapper, a doctor. You might wonder why a doctor is around? Well, it seems that Titans sometimes need doctors too, so we have a really stupid scene where Kong travels to the surface [he’s able to go back and forth via a gravity tunnel very easily and quickly] with a bad tooth so that Trapper can remove it with the help of some large machinery – and not just that, he has a spare tooth just ready! You could say that I shouldn’t mock this and other scenes when Toho had even sillier scenes way back, but those mostly involved the interaction of the monsters with each other; the human side of things was generally if not entirely played straight. Trapper then joins the other three on their mission to Hollow Earth to find the source of this mysterious signal; one military guy is with them but that’s all, and they take no weapons with them, which is pretty dumb considering that Andrews has been there before and knows it’s a dangerous place. Meanwhile Kong has found this uncharted region and a whole tribe of giant apes like him. He bonds with baby Suko, but has to contend with the Skar Kong and Shimo, a Titan under his control, while Godzilla absorbs radiation from a nuclear plant in France [the sole major scene set at nighttime] then heads for the Arctic, which is the domain of Tiamat, a snake / Chinese dragon-like thing with definite shades of Toho’s Mango. Why is Godzilla doing this? Will he and Kong battle again? What else will be found in Hollow Earth? And did five year olds actually write this script?

Okay, that last line might be a bit harsh, but much here is extremely childish or just clumsily executed so it comes across as extremely childish even if that wasn’t intended. A good example is when Kong’s right hand has been damaged. Trapper remembers that he has just the thing that will help, goes off in his craft to his laboratory which is on the surface by the way, finds it, comes back and fixes it onto a waiting Kong. The way that this is done gives the impression that all this only took a couple of hours, when it would have taken a considerable amount more than that. Some material seems rushed, including that revolving around Shimo, an ice-breathing reptile with crystals on his back, sort of a cross between Space Godzilla and Barugon [the Daiei Studios Kaiju, not Toho’s Baragon]. Shimo is controlled with pain via another crystal by the Skar King, so he’s not really a baddie. He’s given a potentially dramatic beat towards the end, but it happens really quickly and inattentive viewers could miss it. The four main monsters, which – ignoring Scylla, Tiamat and a certain other Titan who I won’t mention but who’s wasted again and doesn’t even get to fight – all get to fight each other in terrific battles, again handled by Wingard with a minimum of vomit-can; he really does seem to have almost left his horrid juddery style behind but has developed a liking for unusual camera angles which is just fine. A fairly early bit of Kong swinging Suko around, using him as a weapon against some enemy gorillas, sets the scene for the often silly but so damn fun sights that we see later. A fight in reverse gravity feels like it belongs more in a superhero movie, but creatures smashing the pyramids as they fight is a great spectacle, and the Rio De Janiero-set [in a really globe trotting movie] climax is adrenalising and the best battle in this American series so far, even if it’s a little short. If this is your thing, it doesn’t get much better. In fact I don’t think even Toho have given us such a great monster battle for ages. Honestly, it’s that good!

N0t so good is some of the CGI, particularly when on Hollow Earth; the landscapes sometimes look amazingly fake and when Kong is among loads of other apes and it almost feels like we’re already watching the next Planet Of The Apes episode, some of the animals appear indistinct. And why is it with CGI, creatures opening their mouths to roar never looks good? Even Kong’s face isn’t always quite right, though Godzilla always looks fine despite his new power making parts of him light up in pink, which makes Godzilla look rather girly – unless of course Godzilla is a she, which is something that’s been debated by fans for decades though now is neither the time nor the place. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a film made today, the heroine is super smart, efficient, you name it, while the two leading male characters are buffoons, but at least both Brian Tyree and Dan Stevens do well with the interplay between their characters, even though most of the lines that they’ve been given aren’t especially funny, Tyree helping immensely with his expressions. In one odd scene, even though it’s not explicitly stated, both characters seem to have a gay crush on each other, though it’s never referred to again, so why have it in the first place? Kaylee Hottle continues to impress as Jia, conveying so much with just a look, and her part of the story compels and intrigues even when things become rather random and more often than not we’re just seeing a load of CGI being thrown up on to the screen [and often not the monsters], though there’s a nice reprise of one of the loveliest plot elements of Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster. Indeed, dotted about there are a fair few nostalgic bits for longtime fans, but material is often hurried through because too much has crammed in. We could and probably should have more bonding scenes between Kong and Suco so we became more invested in their part of the story. And again little attempt has been made with the score, Tom Holkenberg’s music typically droning away without actually providing anything memorable.

I was honestly expecting to love Godzilla x Kong, thinking that this would be when the American Godzilla series finally totally nails it, and was considerably let down, hench the fact that this review possibly contains more negativity than it ought to. But at the end of the day it does try to deliver in terms of what we most want to see from a film like this. There’s some absolutely fantastic Kaiju action in it that will get anyone who adores the sight of giant monsters wrecking cities and wrestling with each other going bigtime, and which makes the often crappy stuff in-between definitely worth sitting through.

Rating: ★★★★★★½☆☆☆

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About Dr Lenera 1971 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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