Film reviews and more since 2009

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (2024) review

Dir. Adam Wingard

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★

The dubious nature of Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire starts with its title. According to the press junket for the film, the “x” in the title is silent (unlike the consonant’s use in the musical landscape, which signifies “and” in a collaboration). Once you finally figure that out, you might recall that Godzilla vs. Kong was like a much-anticipated Pay-Per-View event between two monsters that hadn’t shared the screen together since 1962.

Fast-forward nearly three years later, and just several months removed from one of the most acclaimed Godzilla releases in the franchise’s multi-decade history (which saw it win an Oscar), and Godzilla x Kong just doesn’t have the same gravitas behind it. This element runs through the film itself, which feels like a weightless experience in comparison to its predecessor. It’s a sporadically engaging, but mostly flimsy monster mash dominated by CGI and human characters who don’t even live up to the lowest expectations of their worth.

Following the events of the previous film, the two titular monsters are fending for themselves in their own corners of the universe. Godzilla resides in Rome, spending his days curled up like a cat in the Colosseum until another creature starts wreaking havoc. Then, he’s in action mode. Meanwhile, Kong rules over Hollow Earth, a vast and mostly uncharted wilderness that exists under our planet’s surface.

The film begins with a lonely Kong suffering from a toothache so severe that he crawls back the Earth’s surface in order to see a dentist. I can’t even make that up — nor can I deny that seeing the big brute sulking in pain is quite a sad sight to witness. Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) phones a daredevil animal veterinarian named Trapper (Dan Stevens) to perform oral surgery on Kong; he replaces the infected cuspid with a replica one in a matter of moments. Kong doesn’t even have to deal with a copay. I envy his dental insurance.

Once Kong’s surgery is complete, Dr. Andrews, her deaf adopted daughter, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), and Trapper follow him back down to Hollow Earth to locate the source of a mysterious signal. The noise has been causing Jia to experience vivid hallucinations, and being that she has a special connection with Kong, there is some purpose in her tagging along. Then there’s Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), the conspiracy podcaster who tags along so the characters have someone to direct explanations of the film’s plot. Henry has gone from an Oscar-nominated actor in the under-seen Causeway to a thinly written vessel for comic relief.

Deep in the bowels of Hollow Earth exist an army of giant apes led by The Scar King, who wants to lead his army in an attack on the Earth. In response, Kong takes a younger, more feeble ape under his wing in order to protect him and his human friends from the Scar King’s reign of terror.

As you can assume, Godzilla x Kong is more of a Kong movie than a Godzilla one (which is perfectly fine by me, as my rooting interest always lies with the hulking gorilla). The King of Monsters does eventually make his way to Hollow Earth to join the fight against the Scar King. It’s then you learn why this movie has a silent “x” in its title as opposed to “vs.”

As divisive as Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla was almost 10 years ago, one of its most creative elements was mostly keeping the camera at civilian level, so we got a sense of the titular monster’s hugeness. There was a vulnerability baked into the filming techniques Edwards employed. Director Adam Wingard shoots everything to match the size of the many monsters that overtake the film, so there’s no real sense of scale. Being that Hollow Earth is also one giant computer-generated creation, it suffers from the same issue as Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. When everything is artificial, very little holds weight, save for some pained expressions from Kong and close-ups on his face, which appear to reveal some intense graying. Wingard doesn’t even seem to know what to do with Godzilla.

Consider one fight, which takes place amongst the pyramids in Egypt. The monsters crash into and subsequently destroy the pyramids in reckless fashion, but because Wingard rushes through a hodgepodge of international locations, and the trio of writers (Terry Rossio, Simon Barrett, and Jeremy Slater) don’t have the patience for human relationships, there are no stakes that render the destruction of ancient history very meaningful.

Godzilla x Kong does have some fun with its musical cues. It begins with Jim Reeves’ “Welcome to My World,” which slowly fades out into a distorted, garbled mess as soon as Kong appears. Later on, Loverboy’s “Turn Me Loose” is heard, and there’s also some Badfinger and Golden Earring thrown in for good measure. I would’ve been fine with more needle-drops. In a film with such little humanity, you start to relish these fleeting moments of silliness.

This might be where I tap out of the MonsterVerse, barring another Kong-centric installment. I’ve confessed in the past that these movies are where the life I’ve chosen feels more like an obligation than a sense of excitement. If you can’t trust a popcorn flick pitting two of the biggest kaijus on the planet against one another, it might be time to redirect your attention elsewhere. That goes for myself and anyone else who felt underwhelmed by this latest work of CGI madness.

NOTE: Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire is now playing exclusively in theaters.

My review of Godzilla (2014)
My review of Kong: Skull Island
My review of Godzilla vs. Kong

Starring: Rebecca Hall, Dan Stevens, Brian Tyree Henry, Kaylee Hottle, Alex Ferns, and Fala Chen. Directed by: Adam Wingard.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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