Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (2024) Review

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (2024)
Director: Adam Wingard
Screenwriters: Terry Rossio, Simon Barrett, Jeremy Slater
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Dan Stevens, Kaylee Hottle, Alex Ferns, Fala Chen

Three years ago, Adam Wingard gave us big monsters beating each other up in Godzilla vs Kong, ending with a big smash fest in a neon-soaked Hong Kong. It was big and stupid but a lot of fun, and the cyberpunk kaiju combat at least looked great with all that neon light illuminating them. Now, Wingard (who also directed Death Note, 2017) returns to give us the sequel, and the fifth film overall in Legendary Pictures’ Godzilla era, the so-called Monsterverse. In this film, Kong’s in Hollow Earth and Godzilla’s up above, the two kept separate from each other’s territories, but Kong discovers a new existence-threatening menace down below and it’s going to take both monsters to save the world.

There are hundreds of things wrong with this film, and there’s certainly not enough time in this review to cover them all. The sheer stupidity – being big and dumb and just there to have monsters smash stuff up – is obviously the whole point of it; this is acknowledged from the start. Anyone who thinks this is simply a product of these films hasn’t seen some of the sillier Godzilla films of the 70s and 80s, and even beyond. Back in the day, Godzilla used his atomic breath to fly, did a tail-sliding dropkick, got scolded by Mothra for using bad language; the list goes on. But at least they had a certain amount of charm, and tried to use their monsters to give some kind of message, be it about pollution or corrupt organisations. 2014’s Godzilla started out this run by refiguring the nuclear war metaphor from the original 1954 film to reflect the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, so Hollywood has attempted to add more than the beat-em-up mentality to its films. Attempted.

In this one, however, there isn’t much in the way of any socio-political underpinning. There’s ham-fisted attempts to talk about needing to find family and home, using Kong and Jia (Kaylee Hottle) to reflect off each other once again, but it’s so infrequent and badly done that it’s not of any real note. It’s more a case of being in there so that the filmmakers could defend their characters for actually having purpose and being more than just pawns, manoeuvring the plot to allow more CGI kaiju action, which is what they are.

The characters being almost pointless and cardboard leads us into one of the film’s myriad of issues: that although there’s stuff about family and finding a home attempted to be squeezed in, this goes for roughly 5% of the cast. The rest are useless. Alex Ferns’s character, Mikael, a member of a squad that goes off on a small Indiana-Jones-old-school-boys-adventure, gets eaten by a giant tree mimic. He was the pilot of their spacecraft, and so vitally useful to the mission if they hope to get back. But his death is never mentioned again, and neither is the threat of being eaten by trees, which they never seem to be the least bit concerned about from that point on. To add insult to injury, one of the other characters along for the ride (Dan Stevens’s Trapper) runs back to the ship half an hour later, flies it all the way back to their Monarch base in Hollow Earth, grabs a prototype King Kong Infinity Gauntlet (which just so happens to have been designed for the hand Kong needs it for), flies all the way back, and attaches it to Kong, in a montage that lasts roughly thirty seconds. Why was the pilot needed for the trip if one of the more major characters can fly the ship, and therefore why was he in the film to begin with? Nobody knows.

The film tries to do far too much in too short a space of time. Everything is contrived and convoluted and there’s a sense that the storyline was intended to be for a far longer runtime, a 150-minute film (at least) rather than the 115 we ended up with. Maybe that could have explained why this base was destroyed by a threat which shows no intention of leaving its domain save for highly specific reasons. Why this base was destroyed now, when it was established earlier that it had been there for years, posing no threat to this big bad that is dozens of miles away even by giant monster standards, is never made clear, save to give some forced sense of danger and a big, threatening handprint on a mountainside. There is an Indiana-Jones temple section that looks cool with a trap-like activation of a series of water channels, but it does nothing except get them to look in a direction they were probably going to look in a few moments anyway, and introduces a character that was going to be introduced regardless because of the plot need to stop the big bad. It’s pointless.

As per some of the other films in the franchise, characters spout ideas which, with no evidence at all, just happen to be true and correct without even a single possibility of misinterpretation or mistakes. Rebecca Hall’s Ilene Andrews manages to read a series of hieroglyphics instantly (ones that were created by a civilisation she has never seen before) and give the plot exposition to the backstory of our antagonist. If they were that easy to decipher upon looking at them for half a second from across a dimly lit room, she surely wouldn’t need the two PhDs she claims to have to work it out. If you do need them, perhaps some work at interpreting them would be more realistic, with a slight misstep here and there. In any case, not once does she misinterpret something, or need to double check an earlier hieroglyph. What she says is gospel, because the film’s runtime is short and we certainly aren’t worried about verisimilitude.

Both Godzilla and Kong face their own small battles, apparently with very big, powerful enemies, who struggle with our kaiju heroes for about twenty seconds and then are seemingly dispatched instantly off-screen. These enemies probably could have had their own films and been worthy adversaries, but now will never get that time.

In addition to these fundamental issues with Godzilla x Kong, the cut to the film’s title card is absurd. The title card graphic used in the trailer, with the smoky blue-purple background, is the exact one randomly cut into the film. It looks cheap and nasty and, considering every other bit of production information gets its own text, why use this one? Just after a montage for the other credit information, there’s a cut to black for this cheap-looking title that has no relevance to the imagery of the rest of the film. It looked like a stand-in that they forgot to change come the final cut and is, quite frankly, an embarrassment. Its inclusion is evidence of the lack of care evident in every element of the filmmaking.

For what it’s worth, a fight at the Egyptian pyramids is decent fun, and it’s good to see the return of another familiar monster near the end of the film; one that is perhaps better than any of the others. It’s certainly more interesting than Godzilla or Kong, who are generic and bland superheroes at this point, rather than anything menacing or imposing. And if you try hard enough (or don’t try at all), you can have a fun, stupid time with this movie; after all, Adam Wingard set out to deliver exactly what the title promised and certainly did that.

But there are other films, even in Legendary’s own Monsterverse, which are better for fun, stupid times, and you don’t have to try and ignore everything else which is so badly done in The New Empire. This kaiju matchup will make its money back at the box office without a doubt, and people will get a kick out of the spectacle on the big screen, but that doesn’t make it good cinema.

Score: 8/24

Rating: 1 out of 5.

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