movie reviews

‘Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire’: Titanic destruction and massive gaps

Carljoe Javier

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

‘Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire’: Titanic destruction and massive gaps


Warner Bros. Pictures

There are funny bits, fun fights, and city-sized smackdowns, but the film underperforms in terms of storytelling craft and tonal consistency

MANILA, Philippines – When I saw the trailer of Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, which ends with the two titular titans running alongside each other, in the direction of the camera, I could not contain a battle cry. I was… excited.

It’s for viewers like me who will lap up anything kaiju. The thing with kaiju films and TV shows is you go into it kind of expecting that you’re rolling the dice on quality. Some stuff is going to be brilliant, some stuff is going to be bad.

And boy did we roll the dice here on Godzilla x Kong.

Kaiju movies under the Legendary banner are interconnected, aspiring to Marvel Cinematic Universe levels, with various titles and timelines overlapping and linking up. It has to be said that probably the most cohesive title overall and the one that brings the most “reality” and depth to the otherworldly proposition of titans existing is Monarch: Legacy of Monsters.

As the work that most directly precedes Godzilla x Kong in release, you would think that there’s some clear connection between Monarch. Not only did Monarch deliver some solid character work, but it grounded the giant kaiju attacks in the human experience, showing how their arrival changed how people lived, and explored PTSD – because really how do you live your life after being confronted with all of this?

Well, Godzilla x Kong sidesteps all of that and brings us a superhero movie starring kaiju. I immediately faced the challenge that many people encounter with Marvel movies: trying to remember who is who and what happened when. I’m starting to think that movies that exist with shared universe ambitions need to start putting “Previously on” recaps. I get it, people enjoy this interconnectedness stuff and they are trying to build a mythos, but at some point, there’s just too much to remember.

From there we get a pretty basic setup here. Kong is having a bad go of things, keeping monsters at bay in Hollow Earth. Godzilla is sleeping and wakes up every once in a while to fight threats here on the Earth’s surface. At some point they will team up to fight a big bad.

Less humans, more titans

The human side of the story connects with the events from Godzilla vs Kong. We have Rebecca Hall and Kaylee Hottle continuing their storyline and connection with Kong. Joining their team are Brian Tyree Henry and Dan Stevens who are real bright spots in this movie.

Tyree Henry’s Bernie could definitely have come across as more obnoxious and insufferable in other hands, because that character’s very outdated desires for acknowledgment (given how conspiracy theory kook podcasters hold so much sway in our real world right now) are hard to bear with. But he has such a likability and charisma to him that it transcends the character on the page.

Stevens comes in with a character that’s a mix of both Ian Malcolm and Alan Grant but with the showmanship of an ’80s glam rock frontman. This movie shifts and moves so much tonally, and yet, Stevens seems to help keep it all together when he is onscreen. He is, of course, kind of absurd, but also how else should we expect a person who can perform dentistry and experimental prototype weapon-building for kaiju to be?

As usual, the group of humans in play only serves here to move one aspect of the story along as we look forward to titans battling. We get a load of battles. And I’m not sure that’s a good thing. From the start, we have big sequences with Kong and Godzilla fighting and often making quick work of their opponents. It’s thrilling, but at the same time, when there’s so much titan-sized action, at some point, the frequency of it all diminishes the impact.

This is my own opinion of course, but my tastes veer more toward Godzilla (2016) where we get glimpses of the kaiju, for the majority of the film we see it sparingly, and then we get overwhelmed finally. Either that, or we get a clear sense of human scale, such as Shin Godzilla. Or the aforementioned Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, which while providing kaiju action, found a good balance with the human side.

Looking for meaning

Here, it feels like we get three (maybe more?) films instead of something cohesive. It’s because the tones vary so wildly. Sometimes we are meant to imagine that something is horrific. Then we get a silly comedic sequence. There’s cuteness, then sudden brutality. There’s even a bit of body horror. I understand that all of these things can exist in one movie. But it takes real craft to do that. And at least as far as writing and storytelling are concerned, it’s not here.

You get info dumps, melodrama, rushed mythology, and often, action for the sake of action. That’s a problem because these things, at least in the context of a film, should have some sense or meaning.

But at the root of it all, we get titan defenders of Earth teaming up to face a villain. And this villain faces the challenge/weakness of most superhero villains. They lack believable motivation.

Look, I know it might sound absurd that I’m looking for believable motivation from a giant evil ape who wants to dominate the world… but for me to care about the action, I need to know what’s going on. Instead, we get a fairly generic “bad guy wants to rule and you need to stop him because he is evil.”

And as I sat there watching glorious kaiju battles, one after the other, I had to stop and think about what happens when you are given exactly what you want, but you realize it’s not what you want. Because if you asked me before seeing this, I would’ve told you I would be happy to see a movie of a bunch of action sequences of kaiju on kaiju. Godzilla x Kong provides extra-large-sized servings of this. But perhaps to continue the metaphor, the battles lack the seasoning that would bring them to life – that seasoning being story and motivation.

I am critical of the movie because it’s so glaringly clear where it’s lacking as a movie, in terms of storytelling craft and tonal consistency. And yet, I know that I also enjoyed myself. There were funny bits, there were fun fights. There were city-sized smackdowns. So there was stuff to enjoy, even as I felt it overshot on scale and underperformed on stakes. –

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