3 min read

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

Kong takes center stage in a Monsterverse installment designed to specifically please me.
Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

It is no secret that I'm a big fan of giant monsters. I've seen each of the Monsterverse films several times, often defaulting to them on plane rides or long evenings. They're a place of comfort for me, with their mighty roars, unreal biomes, and punches that thunder across oceans. I cannot claim any objectivity in reviewing them because any film that features Kong just hanging out is instantly five stars in my book.

But that fluency in the genre doesn't make me blind to its many flaws. If anything, it makes me more attuned to its frequent missteps, since I know exactly which parts of every film to fast forward through. Some notable offenders include bloated exposition, illegible action, and, most egregiously, annoying humans. That's the Achilles' heel of every giant monster movie, and a major reason for the critical and commercial success of Takashi Yamazaki's "Godzilla Minus One," which centered human tragedy over giant monster shenanigans. It is a surprisingly thoughtful movie, that deftly interweaves the frustrations of post-war Japan, nuclear fear, and personal sacrifice into a stirring and surprisingly moving story that just happens to have Godzilla.

During the extended and celebrated cinematic run of "Godzilla Minus One," Legendary dropped the trailer for their latest entry in the Monsterverse, "Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire." It featured a bio-mechanical arm, a neon pink Godzilla, and an evil Kong. How did we know he's evil? Cause he's red.

The two giant monster projects couldn't be further apart in tone, despite sharing a central character. And different tones are fine, considering the filmmakers' different perspectives. What had me concerned was how unmoored the monsters felt in the trailer, sprinting without weight, possessing none of the heft that makes them awe-inspiring. It didn't help that the Monsterverse's prior entry, "Godzilla vs. Kong" also directed by Adam Wingard, had the most annoying humans of the series yet. All of this left me to wonder: after "Godzilla Minus One," is it possible to still be entertained by sheer spectacle, without meaningful characters?

My worries were unwarranted. It not only satisfies with its terrific and ridiculous fights; it manages to find some actual heart in its central character. That central character? The beating heart of the films, the undisputed champion, the rightful king. Yes, that's right. The main character is Kong.

The film has three central plots; Godzilla handily taking down Titans across the globe; a bevy of humans locating a mysterious signal; and Kong, lost in unfamiliar territory, with a delightful new companion. It should be no surprise to you which of those are my favorite. But it's also not only because of my biases. Removing the ability to communicate through words seemingly forced Wingard and his team to become more inventive in their storytelling, making for the fullest depiction of Kong yet. The sections with Kong are not weighed down with exposition or dialogue; they're propelled with sheer character action as Kong grunts, snarls, and thwacks his way forward. It's about time these films let the King loose, and, if I have my way, it'll lead to a completely dialogue-free giant ape movie in future.

This time, the humans aren't as annoying either. They're obviously still not the main attraction, but thankfully they don't feel like too much of a distraction either. Much of that is thanks to Dan Stevens, as Trapper, a giant monster veterinarian. Before his arrival into the film, the manic energy of Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) and seriousness of Ilene (Rebecca Hall) were wearing me down. But Stevens' Trapper manages to round out the triangle, with his easygoing, nature-centric perspective. He's why the humans don't feel as obstructive as prior installments, as instead of acting incredulous, he is excited by every development and in awe of his environment. It's also a welcome reunion between Wingard and Stevens, who worked together on "The Guest," a film totally unrelated to this review but one that I heartily recommend on any occasion I can.

"Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire" is not going to make you cry. But its inventive fights and ridiculous action will make you laugh. It's a joyous romp, that has no airs about being a serious drama. It knows what you're here for. And it delivers, without distracting. It makes the correct decision to focus squarely on Kong, and forego any attempts at rationalization or human drama. At one point, Godzilla suplexes Kong. If that sounds good to you, you're going to have a great time. Now, if you don't mind me, I'm going to be rewatching the scene from "Kong: Skull Island," where Kong eats a giant squid.

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