‘Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire’ Review: Bonkers Escapism

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Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (2024) © Warner Bros. Pictures

Kong is enjoying his new life as King, but when cracks in the peace start to grow, he must seek the help of Godzilla to face down a new foe. Some humans help!

★★★☆☆

Type ‘Komodo dragon’ and ‘silverback gorilla’ into a document. Enlarge them to size 72. Then drag them around the screen so they keep colliding with each other until the computer crashes. That’s pretty much the story for the triumphantly playful fifth entry in the ‘MonsterVerse’, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (hopefully the sequels don’t take title inspiration from Ed Sheeran albums).

Much of the story takes place within the ‘Hollow Earth’, a Jules Verne-esque biome within our planet. Here gravity obeys different rules, all the creatures want to eat you, and everything is shot in IMAX. As Kong and his human team separately investigate the strange goings on down there, they discover, would you believe it, yet another hidden world within that one. This Russian doll of ecosystems stretches credulity but it does showcase some consistently superb computer effects and provides a new villain in the form of Scar King, a lanky, agile orange primate who rules over a kingdom of giant apes. 

Incredibly, it was 10 years ago when the franchise’s first film, Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, was released. It received a ubiquitous criticism: why was Godzilla barely in his own film? The franchise has evolved, particularly since 2019, in direct response to that criticism. If the John Wick films embraced the ideology of ‘total action’, then the MonsterVerse has embraced ‘total monster’. There’s a whole subplot to this film just about Kong’s exploration of the centre of the Earth, all told without dialogue. It’s a big swing, but it’s proof that the director (Adam Wingard, who helmed pandemic-era hit Godzilla vs Kong) is listening to the kaiju fans: they want monsters, so they will get monsters.

That being said, Godzilla, whose athleticism takes on Olympic levels here, is barely in the film, nor does he interact with the main characters until the last twenty minutes. Juiced up with sugary pink crystals to look more like a Tangfastic than the embodiment of nuclear anxiety, Godzilla’s diminished presence might have been more of a concern if fans hadn’t been so recently spoiled with Godzilla: Minus One. It proves the versatility of the character that he can be used in two separate films as both metaphor and as a vessel for totally bonkers WWE-style action scenes. Will producers ever be able to do this with a human character like James Bond?

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (2024) © Warner Bros. Pictures

The human characters anchor the film in the same way parents watch over a laser-tag 8th birthday party—they have to be there but it is more fun if the kids can just run riot. Rebecca Hall is lumped with exposition and does her utmost best with the Sisyphean task of trying to make all the plot conveniences believable enough. Brian Tyree Henry brings the comedy. Sporting a Hawaiian shirt is Dan Stevens (who worked with Wingard on The Guest 10 years ago, for about a 40th of the budget), the latest MonsterVerse male who is irrepressibly handsome. Kaylee Hottle as Skull Island native Jia gives the story some heart, and her sign language scenes with Hall’s Dr Ilene Andrews calm the film’s frenzied tempo to a more agreeable level. 

There is an awful lot of rubble in Godzilla x Kong. Rubble in Rome, rubble in France, rubble in Egypt, rubble in Rio. Everywhere these titanic beasts meet for a rock-em and sock-em there is debris scattered across the vast IMAX lens; the next step for the MonsterVerse is a tight legal thriller about the clean up jobs. But it doesn’t get dull; Wingard stages scrap after scrap, some within the gravity defying (and somehow still sunlit) Hollow Earth. The creative camerawork captures the lunacy of the fights with such audacity you can’t help but admire the total commitment to insanity. It feels heavily indebted to Super Smash Bros

The film clocks in under two hours which is joyous. Kong’s segment with a ‘mini Kong’, who bizarrely gets one of the series’ more fun character arcs, leads to a literal Planet of the Apes sequence that, dialogue-free, is the most entertaining part of the film. Yet something starts to drag in the second act as the storylines split, the humans become bland without an accompanying monster and exposition is applied with the same abundance an elderly person might use to butter a crumpet. Not even the cast’s charisma can make up for the long-winded set-up for the film to deliver on its title. Meanwhile, when the film remembers him, Godzilla is just hitting the radioactive gyms of the world.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (2024) © Warner Bros. Pictures

The film is critic proof. The utterly ludicrous title will tell you if you’re interested or not; fans of monsters, monkeys and mayhem will have a blast whilst first-timers for the franchise will probably be wondering if their Tango Ice Blast was spiked. If you’re on the fence about whether to buy a ticket, consider: do you want to see an ape use another ape as a weapon to fight more apes?

The Verdict

Relentlessly eye-popping with action and special effects, Godzilla x Kong does not work the brain for a second. Nor does it need to: for a go-for-broke piece of nonsense, it’s entertaining, ultimately satisfying and allows you to leave the outside world behind for a safe two hours. Guilty pleasure has a new face, and it’s hairy. 

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire is in cinemas now.

Words by Jacob Hando


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