Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire is Full of Titan Bravado and Computer-generated Excess

It is almost strange to pump one’s fist in the air as massive, burly CGI creations take gargantuan punches at each other. The creators of the MonsterVerse are deliberately provoking the reactions and are transparent in their filmmaking toward it.

The MonsterVerse has reached an exciting Rubicon. After the massive success of 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong, director Adam Wingard heard the call for more monster-centred stories within this franchise of epic proportions. Jump to 2024, and Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire is full of titan bravado and computer-generated excess. The sequel delivers on the fandom front: one which worships a giant gorilla and reptile hulking it out. But as ever, it can’t seem to shake the disservice of its human characters and vapid plotting.

The story, together with the strength of a glue stick and rubber band, centres around the return of the ‘Hollow Earth’. For those who need a reminder, this is a utopia in the centre of Earth where mighty creatures roam (as recently discovered in Godzilla vs. Kong). Back above ground, Godzilla is off being the planet’s mightiest hero, stomping in to fight any monster that attempts to decimate a populated city. After fighting off a giant Spider, he sleeps off his efforts inside Rome’s Colosseum.

Meanwhile, Kong is off on an adventure under the guise of Monarch, the secret scientific organisation observing Kaiju behaviour. He’s also distracted by an infected tooth needing immediate extraction. Returning Monarch scientist Dr Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) monitors him and calls in the aid of titan vet-for-hire Trapper (Dan Stevens) to alleviate his pain.

Kong has the intuition of sensing a new adversary, soon revealed as the muscular but lean Skar King. Ilene’s adoptive daughter, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), also senses the threat. She is the last Iwi native, and her connection to the Hollow Earth is vital to expanding the mythology. Explaining any more of the narrative would require functional logic the film severely lacks, nor does it try to contain.

The return of old characters, while benching some others, is both an intelligent change to focus more on Kong’s journey and an unbalanced one. Rebecca Hall is still trying her best despite some one-note characterisation as a maternal protector of Jia and a titan enthusiast. Dan Stevens knows precisely the sort of film he is in – hamming up his role as a wise-cracking companion excited at the thought of upgrading Kong with an electricity-pulsing, mechanical arm. It is comically reminiscent of a particular mad titan’s gauntlet.

Alexander Skarsgård, Kyle Chandler, and Millie Bobby Brown are all notably absent, a savvy choice to lessen the human fodder bogging down the momentum. Unfortunately, Brian Tyree Henry’s conspiracy theorist and online blogger, Bernie Hayes, is still running around without any other reason than to be the clumsy comical relief. He is a brilliant performer, but The New Empire offers little for the character beyond screaming and reacting like an infant to the crazed surroundings. Jia is chiefly a pawn for the narrative. 

It is hard not to compare this to the most recent Godzilla Minus One, a now Oscar-winning entry in the Kaiju universe. Minus One maintained dynamic storytelling with interesting human characters, mainly through World War II kamikaze pilot Kōichi and his internal struggle. He represented the depression and trauma of a post-war Japan – filled with grief, turmoil, and guilt. It reminded audiences that you can tell a worthy and engaging Godzilla story from a meaningful human perspective. The New Empire, unfortunately, uses its human characters once again as budgetary padding – simple buffers between the more expensive and complex monster fights for which most audiences buy tickets. The proximity between both films’ releases may have given The New Empire a comparative disadvantage.

It is worth noting that the Japanese iterations of Godzilla, currently in its Reiwa era, operate with different artistic intentions than their American counterparts. For Japan, Godzilla has represented differing societal fears over time. In the original 1954 Godzilla, the dinosaur-inspired creature was analogous to the atom bomb itself – a deadly force that never discriminates in its path of destruction. In 2016, Shin Godzilla was the manifestation of environmental devastation, a reaction to the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. He was a metaphor for both nuclear power and the changing climate.

Cut to the now, and these Hollywood counterparts are less about presenting societal fears – and more about evolving the characters to the status of anthropomorphic superheroes. It is obvious Wingard loves the Shōwa era of Godzilla. It comprised the first fifteen Kaiju films through 1975 when Godzilla slowly became an anti-hero. It introduced many other Kaiju characters into the roster, approached a more goofy and silly tone aimed at younger audiences, and featured Godzilla pitted against many monsters that fans know and love to this day. The New Empire is a hybrid state between all these ideas – working both for and against the film. Its disco-synth score will have its audience dancing to reckless insanity, surprise characters, and faux-scientific nonsense.

King Kong’s history has been equally as colourful. The 1933 film, hailed as one of the era’s greatest adventure and horror films, has since been evaluated as a piece of anti-miscegenation propaganda – which ironically became pro Kong in the eyes of audiences. Writing Kong of the MonsterVerse as an emotional and sympathetic lead intends to overturn its racial underpinnings. The massive Gorilla has also had the success of multiple remakes and sequels. Still, he has found his footing mainly inside the Godzilla universe, and this time, being paired off with a charming and cheeky ‘Mini-Kong’ works to his favour. Kong has far more screen time than any other character, and pivoting the focus toward his humanising journey strengthens this universe.

In promotion of the film, Wingard had stated that specific sequences would feature the monsters fighting for multiple minutes straight without cutting back to human interference. The exciting part to confirm is that these sequences exist in all their punching, digitised glory. However, they come far into the third act, where the action starts to feel more palpable and noisier after a meandering and un-funny first two acts. The opening hour feels like a floundering filibuster – dancing around a skeletal narrative without proper intrigue.

Relegating Godzilla to a minor role is bound to disappoint those who expect to see the nuclear lizard more regularly, but the final battle will surely appease once it comes hurtling into focus. Multiple cities here will be added to the ever-growing death toll no one seems to blink an eye at. Skar King is neither an exciting antagonist nor a complete bore—the expanding mythology does little to expand. Thankfully, the film knows how silly it is and sticks to it.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire will not disappoint those seeking pulpy, excessive monsters fighting in magnitudes that barely fit within an IMAX frame. It is easy to find some fun here when it is not in broad daylight so often, exposing the more unrendered sides of the CGI and committing more to its neon and fantastical elements. While the characters once again desire greater embellishment, and the narrative pace is severely lop-sided, it is hard not to have an unapologetic grin as a giant Gorilla and reptilian behemoth team up and fight an even angrier simian titan – smashing and crashing their way through the Egyptian pyramids.

The ‘vs’ in Godzilla and Kong is gone – all that remains is the X factor (apparently not even to be pronounced in the title according to Wingard) of what two titans can achieve together.

Director: Adam Wingard

Cast: Rebecca Hall, Dan Stevens, Kaylee Hottle

Writers: Terry Rossio, Simon Barrett, Jeremy Slater, (Story by Terry Rossio, Adam Wingard, Simon Barrett)

Producers: Alex Garcia, Eric McLeod, Mary Parent, Brian Rogers, Thomas Tull

Music: Antonio Di Iorio, Tom Holkenborg

Cinematography: Ben Seresin

Editing: Josh Schaeffer

Streaming Availability:

Kahn Duncan

Kahn is a passionate Melbourne based film lover who looks to film as a tool for both entertainment, education, but also feeling. Attempts to watch at least one feature film a day, but unfortunately life gets in the way sometimes. Prospective Graduate of Media Communications (Screen Studies) and Business (Marketing) at Monash University.

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