Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
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Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire — Adam Wingard

March 28, 2024

With 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong, director Adam Wingard became one of the few Western filmmakers to realize that the kaiju movie is more a graphic exercise than a narrative one. Over the many years and films and iterations of all of these characters, they’ve been avatars for all manner of social and cultural ideas, seemingly infinitely malleable, existing mostly as a pretense to end up grappling with each other and causing havoc and destruction. It doesn’t matter why they’re fighting, so long as they do. Or maybe not. While this new installment, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, is suitably colorful and jammed with kaiju incident, its narrative is so sloppy and comprised almost entirely of expository gibberish that when the fights happen — and make no mistake, there are plenty of them — you may not care this time around because you have no idea what’s even going on. Strangely, The New Empire isn’t materially different from the last one, and yet it seems so much more arbitrary and scattershot.

Picking up where vs left off, we’re reunited with scientist Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), who is continuing her research into the secret underground realm of kaiju that was revealed last time: the Hollow Earth. She’s also raising her adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who may or may not be the last member of her tribe, indigenous to that place. When King Kong emerges from underground with an infected tooth, this triggers Godzilla, who’s been curled up inside the Roman Colosseum like it’s a giant dog bed. Ilene calls on old buddy (and perhaps old boyfriend) Trapper (Dan Stevens) to help fix Kong with a replacement tooth, and then everyone goes back underground with the big guy to find out where he came from… maybe? At least it seems like that’s what is going on. Anyway, for some reason that leads to the discovery of a vast society of gigantic apes led by a tyrant dictator gigantic ape who has somehow contrived to harness the power of a big monster that shoots ice rays in order to make Kong and Godzilla fight and kill each other off so that he can take over Earth. Meanwhile, Mothra shows up for some reason, and every other scene is just characters explaining things to each other by adding minutes upon minutes of new expository plot data until it’s time for another CGI monster fight.

if that synopsis didn’t make it clear, The New Empire is so, so tedious. It shouldn’t take so much explaining to make up a reason for two monsters to smash each other. And this one doesn’t even have any material subtext; there’s no stand-in for climate change or nationalistic pride or any other thing that Godzilla has been about at one point or another. It’s just the boring people talking about what’s happening without actually saying anything while standing in front of some massive greenscreen background for two hours. It’s to the point that the fights, the reason we’re all here, just feel like more time-wasting filler. It’s even more pointless to discuss the actors, who basically have nothing to do but react to dialogue or VFX. The New Empire happens, and then you go home.

The question, then, is how exactly did we get here? The kaiju films of old have equally stupid stories and are jammed with special effects spectacle to the degree that they might as well be the same damn thing over and over. Is it the missing metaphor? Not really, no, because this is hardly the first entry to exclusively trade in the silly stuff. Does it look bad? Not any worse or better than any other massive CGI extravaganza, although the tactility of a guy in a rubber suit certainly has a lot more charm. Maybe the entire genre is finally exhausted. Maybe there never needs to be another kaiju movie ever again. Godzilla Minus One would certainly seem to contradict that theory, but on the other hand, that’s a polar opposite to this movie. Frankly, if it’s a choice between Minus One’s somber cultural legacy re-reckoning and The New Empire’s nearly entirely virtual IP cartoonery, the answer is clear: neither.

DIRECTOR: Adam Wingard;  CAST: Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Kaylee Hottle, Dan Stevens, Rachel House;  DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Bros.;  IN THEATERS: March 29;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 55 min.