MOVIES: Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire – Review

Adam Wingard returns to the Monsterverse franchise, which is very much in franchise movie mode now. Gone are the auteurist ventures of Gareth Edwards’ 2014 reboot Godzilla instead, we’re in grand, globe-trotting, landmark-smashing, pulp fun. It pales in comparison to Godzilla Minus One, let alone Shin Godzilla, yet it doesn’t try to be a copy-cat, it instead trades it in for something new and different: a big monster mash that answers: what if we put King Kong and Godzilla in a supersized buddy cop movie?

The result is a mixed bag. Much of the Monsterverse worldbuilding bogs down the fun and the film feels very plot-driven, which means the action sequences are few and far between, but when they hit, they hit! If you wanted a film where the Titans fight in a fun, more light hearted way than the self-serious King of the Monsters, this feels like closer at home to Skull Island in how it goes about it and recognises the mixed reception of the previous entry, Godzilla vs. Kong, which focused on what many perceived to be too much on the human characters. They’re still present here, no more Millie Bobby Brown, but I love how Godzilla vs. Kong has made deaf actress Kaylee Hottle front and centre of this film. She’s the humans’ sole connection to King Kong and it’s their dynamic that really makes this film so watchable, Kong really is the movie’s beating heart and it lets the audience emphasise with his quest to find more of the Great Apes, his species, more empathetic and relatable. The animation on Kong in particular is spectacular – with Godzilla taking a relative back seat as always, but the King of the Monsters is best used in small doses – not as impactful as prior entries, but always a force, with a cool new look.

I do think Godzilla vs. Kong struggles with a sense of scale and substance. The Hollow Earth focus and it being so empty most of the time robs the film of watching the titans showcase their sheer size so that it feels jarring when they’re pulled into places like Egypt and Brazil for the final battle – we watch cities smash but the sudden change of location feels stilted and awkward; the film spent the whole time making us care about the conflict on the Hollow Earth only for us to be dragged back into the main Earth in the final act. It’s stilted and disjoined – and it doesn’t quite land the epic feeling that this film is going for as a result; but it’s still quite a bit of fun all the same – there are echoes, as with any vs. movie, of Batman v. Superman, but the tone is more light-hearted and jovial. It isn’t really a vs. movie, which helps – it’s a buddy cop movie; and watching Godzilla and Kong join forces was superb. But that leads to a new problem – you have to have a villain fearsome enough for the two to fight, but I never felt that was the case about Godzilla vs. Kong. It felt like victory for the two titans was assured from the moment the film started, and yes, we know that’s happening anyway, but some suspense wouldn’t have gone amiss – there’s never a real sense of danger or fear that this film has; because how can you create something that rivals Kong or Godzilla working together? You just can’t – and that’s why this film doesn’t quite get everything right.

The fun factor, thankfully is there in spades. Adam Wingard very clearly loves Dan Stevens more than the rest of us and he really shines in the role of a Titan Vet; giving Kong the advantage that he needs. The chemistry between Stevens and Hall is serviceable for their roles and Bryan Tyree Henry’s podcaster conspiracy theorist plays comic relief but grows tiresome quickly. The balance is there so that these characters don’t overstay their welcome or take too much time away from the monsters, yet them too, are never in any real peril. I did like how Wingard plays with the needle drops that play a crucial part of Stevens’ character, yet if you’re watching a Monsterverse movie for the characters you’re not really there. I wonder that said; how things would’ve turned out different if or the Monsterverse if it had had people like Stevens around from day one, rather than the bland cast that was the weak link of the 2014 film.

There’s a couple of scenes of blatantly obvious commercial product placement, nowhere near as bad as Michael Bay’s transformers, but noticeably glaring to the point that it takes away from an otherwise tender emotional moment that is the film’s beating heart – Rebecca Hall and Kaylee Hottle. I would’ve liked a bit more time with these two characters to flesh out their relationship as if anything Godzilla vs. Kong is course-correcting too much in the other direction: gone are the days of too much human characters, instead; not enough. That feels like a watchword for the entire film – not enough. It’s perfectly serviceable but it could be so much more.

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