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New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Review: In ‘Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,’ Godzilla is nowhere to be found

The newest installment of the MonsterVerse franchise is a try-hard successor of “Godzilla vs. Kong.”
“Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” directed by Adam Wingard, released in theaters on March 29, 2024. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The MonsterVerse movie formula seemed impossible to get wrong. How could you mess up bringing together two of cinema’s most iconic monsters? The opening scene delivers on the promise, featuring Kong fiercely fighting off a group of attackers. Having just wanted to live a peaceful life in solitude, Kong lets out a relatable sigh of disappointment. Despite starting on such a high note, this is the only memorable scene in the whole film. Compared to its predecessor, “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” falls short in recreating the original’s excitement.

The film starts by showing what Kong has been up to since “Godzilla vs. Kong” (2021). He is living a solitary life in the Hollow Earth, a portal to the center of the planet, where prehistoric creatures coexist. On the surface, where humans reside, we see Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) consoling her adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle), the last remaining Iwi tribe member of Skull Island, about a hallucination of an impending attack in the MonsterVerse. When Kong starts to receive mysterious signals, Ilene brings a conspiracy podcaster, a Monster expert and her daughter on a trip under the surface to investigate. 

You may be wondering where Godzilla is in all of this. After all, he makes up half of the movie’s title. Well, he doesn’t show up to battle until the 1:18:52 mark of the 1 hour and 53 minute film. Of course, Godzilla is then invited by Kong and a lost ape youngling to defeat the true antagonist, Skar King, a tyrannical leader of an ape tribe. Jia then turns out to be able to summon Mothra, another titan, who joins Kong and Godzilla — despite their previous differences — for the climactic battle. With Kong carrying the majority of the action in the film, Godzilla is like the kid who slacks on a project and then steals the spotlight at the presentation despite having done nothing. 

“Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” not only lacks narrative flair, but feels predictable. Cinematically, the flashy CGI monster battles, and the storyline’s catchy pacing does the bare minimum to entertain viewers —nothing less, but certainly nothing more. It relies on the audience to follow the universe’s convoluted fictional timeline, disguising its lazy and predictable plot. The human characters are borderline irrelevant, with the cast chasing around the creatures like bumbling, mediocre sports commentators. The decisions they make rarely serve to move the plot forward. Rather, the empty screenplay seems designed to fulfill the comedic aspirations set by the film’s predecessors — a promise it tragically fails to uphold. Time spent with these hollow characters detracts from screen time that could have been devoted to fleshing out Godzilla’s role in the conflict. 

Although many parts of the film do feel uninspired and redundant, “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” does offer a new perspective on the colossal ape’s character. Instead of being portrayed simply as a brutish beast, Kong is humanized. He leaves Hollow Earth to escape loneliness by finding companionship in humans like Jia. We also see him adopting a young ape called Soko. The film tries to frame Kong as a champion of the underdog, as most of the plot revolves around the towering primate’s desire to lift his ape brethren from the jackboot of Skar King. 

Kong carries the entire movie on his back. Viewers would only ever watch this film for those few action sequences, the occasional comedic scene and unexpected cute moments from the titular simian. At this point, the movie might as well let the creatures do the talking instead of filling the air with dry, human dialogue. It is surprising that the movie is a box office success, striking an $80 million profit. It is possible that the movie’s financial success is riding on the coattails of last year’s “Godzilla Minus One,” the first entry of the property to have won an Oscar. When looking at both films side by side, there is an obvious discrepancy between the American and Japanese adaptations. Unlike the Hollywood take on the character, filmmaker Takashi Yamazaki embraced the franchises’ origin as a postwar nuclear allegory, tackling the uniquely Japanese context of postwar politics and culture. 

Although “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” leaves much to be desired from a narrative and stylistic standpoint, clearly lacking in comparison to other monster films, it at least managed to craft a surprisingly endearing protagonist in Kong. 

Contact Kaitlyn Sze Tu at [email protected].

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  • J

    James BlackApr 18, 2024 at 10:12 pm

    I truly enjoyed this film.