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Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire (12A)

Director: Adam Wingard
Screenplay: Terry Rossio, Simon Barrett, Jeremy Slater

Starring: Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Dan Stevens

Running time: 115 minutes

Cinema release

Review: David Stephens

It seems odd looking back on the car crash that was the US version of Godzilla in 1998. The film still routinely pops up for occasional showings on a variety of channels, despite the fact that it has a small fanbase and has dated horribly. This was mostly because he was redesigned by Hollywood because the Toho design “didn’t make sense” … although a box-chinned iguana with velociraptor children did apparently. Since then, the Big G has been reinvigorated a number of times by Toho, most notably with the Oscar-winning Godzilla Minus One, arguably one of the best films (in all genres) from last year. Despite the reset button on the Toho version having clicked into place so successfully, Legendary and Warners in the States have continued to stick with their MonsterVerse version, embracing the inclusion of classic Kaiju such as Mothra, Ghidorah, and … of course … the Mighty Kong. After the Apple TV series gave some background to the history of Monarch, the watchdogs of the Titans, we now have the follow-up to Godzilla Vs. Kong. Director of the previous film Adam Wingard, who also filmed several genre faves such as You’re Next and The Guest let’s not forget, returns to carry on the tale of the oddest couple to pair up since Freddy and Jason. Rebecca Hall is back in her scientist/exposition role from the last outing and is joined by Dan Stevens as a new character. Opening around the world (and with surprisingly good box office as this is being written), it’s time to enter the MonsterVerse once again.


Since the events of G Vs. K and the defeat of Mecha Godzilla, Kong is living permanently in Hollow Earth as an Alpha animal but is having difficulty finding a purpose. Whereas Godzilla remains topside, snatching some Zs when not beating the crap out of city-smashing Titans. A typical day sees Kong confronting a pack of wolf-like creatures, ripping one in two, and bathing in its blood. Not making this up. Godzilla spends his working hours tackling a Titan in Rome before breath-blasting it into goo and having a nap curled up in the Coliseum. Again, not making this up. When Kong’s greatest challenge arrives, (it’s tooth decay, he’s got a gammy incisor… and still not making it up), a collapsing fissure in Hollow Earth sets in motion the return of an ancient enemy that has a dark plan for humankind and the world above. Kong can’t face this alone, so it’s time for the two classic Kaiju to put their differences aside and team up to save the world.


Before we go any further, let’s just address the monster in the room. Godzilla Minus One was bloody awesome and set a new standard for these kinds of movies. It reestablished the substantial fear and terror of facing such a creature in real life, not only making the destruction jaw-dropping but also making the human characters relatable and actually matter in the story. G X K is not that sort of movie, and you should not expect anything even remotely close to the same kind of storytelling, depth, or emotion. This is typical dumb studio stuff that only seeks to provide wacky entertainment, revelling in its own preposterousness to a remarkable level. As per ALL of the other MonsterVerse movies, the humans matter not a jot. In fact, they’re even more expendable in this narrative. Try to tally up the thousands of people that must perish as collateral damage in Rome, Rio, and Cairo. Watch as tourists get crushed, and cars fly off bridges whilst a non-shit-giving Godzilla sweeps them aside without a second thought. Famous ancient monuments are broken, crushed, and frozen… and not an eyebrow is raised.


This kind of wastefulness extends to the human characters, with Hall acting as a female version of Basil Exposition (from “Austin Powers”) and saying “Oh, my God!” every so often for effect. Stevens seems to be having a ball working again with Wingard, as he plays a Titan-specific Vet (!?!) with a taste for cheesy music. Or “Hippy Ace Ventura” as another character accurately describes him as. But despite both their efforts, they really could be played by anyone for the impact that they have on the sub-plot. What is interesting and could lead to a different focus in potential later entries, is the way that much more time is given over to telling the story from the viewpoint of the Titans, albeit mostly from the Kongster’s POV. There is much more effort in expanding the narrative (such as it is) by having long (human) dialogue-free sequences where CGI creatures bark and growl at each other… and it genuinely progresses the storyline.


Take the character of the “Skar King” for example. By the time Hall finds some hieroglyphics and reads aloud his origin story, we’ve already learnt what we need to know about him, and the human interjection feels like needless padding. That’s because Kong has confronted him and let their characteristics speak for themselves. The antagonist shows clear acts of cruelty, a lithe arrogance in his body language, and even a villainous chuckle. His control of another Kaiju is also simply told through visuals and doesn’t require any further logistics. It’s actually quite effective and belays the need for huge amounts of explanation, which sticks out like Kong’s frostbitten thumb when it’s shoehorned into the plot.  


This is where the strength and fun of the movie stand out. There’s nothing challenging or complicated about it whatsoever. All of the gravitas and slight pomposity of the 2014 Godzilla and 2019’s King of the Monsters has been squeezed out, and that’s a good move. Remember when you were a kid and you got two action figures and simply smacked them together, creating an epic battle in your imagination? This is pretty much that made into cinema. Either that or a CGI-ed version of a WWE match. (No. Seriously. Watch out for the Godzilla suplex). It also helps that some things which looked like they were going to be horrendous in the trailer, actually work much better in the film. Mini-Kong (or “Suko”) could have been a hugely irritating kid sidekick in the style of Godzooky or Scrappy-Doo. In actuality, he’s actually more like a sassy Gollum with a sneaky side, who gets used as a physical club by Kong to batter the bad guys with. You can’t make some of this stuff up!! As a result, you’ll be rooting for him come the conclusion.


Sure, there’s a hell of a lot of things that don’t make sense. Such as the hastily rushed introduction of “Project Powerhouse”, which is so conveniently placed within reach. Also, just why does Godzilla need to “power up” exactly? And what is the point of the anti-gravity trap? It’s all very random (as you may have worked out with some of the synopsis details), and goofier than “A Goofy Movie”. If we’re being totally honest, we were expecting to hate or dislike this, especially after Godzilla Minus One proved that Kaiju films could still be done the right way and honour the past. Despite that, it’s good fun. Nothing more. Nothing less. It absolutely beats the disappointing Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire for similar family-appropriate entertainment hands down. You’ll forget the “story” within hours of seeing it, but you’ll appreciate the decent FX and crowd-pleasing smackdowns that occur, meaning that it’s very unlikely that you’ll be checking your watch to see how much longer it’ll be to the credits. And sometimes that’s just a good enough reason for an escape to the cinema. Don’t be ashamed to embrace the ridiculous and give it a chance. Just don’t expect Oscar-worthiness or any kind of subtlety.

The recent quality of other Kaiju projects made us want to dislike this, but we couldn’t. It’s as goofy as hell and makes no sense, but it’s still entertaining on the simplest of levels and somehow manages to work better than you’d think. Lightweight and disposable, but oddly charming and enjoyable, as long as you keep x-pectations low.
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