Film Review: Monster Chaos in “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire”

godzilla x kong the new empire - movie poster one sheetLife is pretty slow for the great beast King Kong, who has become a bit of a hermit living in Hollow Earth, the strange anomalous space hidden within our planet. Members of Project Monarch keep an eye on our favorite monkey, but even as he explores the furthest reaches of his territory, he never finds any other members of his tribe. Until, finally, he encounters more giant gorillas, though it’s young ‘un Suko who captures his attention. Suko’s cute and violent!

Meanwhile, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), last of the Iwi tribe and formerly from Skull Island, is just not fitting in at the Monarch Academy. The facility is part of the Monarch base in Bermuda that guards the portal between the surface world and Hollow Earth. Jia is plagued by nightmare visions of Kong and of… something else. Something big. Something mighty unhappy.

Meanwhile, poor Kong has an infected tooth, which hippie super veterinarian Trapper (Dan Stevens) is confident he can fix up, so they lure Kong up to the surface for some quick dental work. When Monarch’s Hollow Earth outpost goes radio silent, Ilene (Rebecca Hall), Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), Trapper, and Jia jump into a super helicopter and drop through the portal along with Kong. Kong promptly dashes off and crashes into a group of giant monkeys subjugated under the cruel control of a new Titan: Skar King. Worse, though, is that Skar has enslaved more than his tribe of gorillas, but… no spoilers!

One of the longest running franchises in movie history, it’s clear from the history of Godzilla movies that what people want to see are giant monsters battling it out for supremacy. Most of the Toho Studio films have “versus” in the title, and indeed, the prequel to this film was 2021’s successful Godzilla vs Kong. That film pitted everyone’s favorite irradiated lizard against the giant gorilla, with massive mayhem ensuing. It ended with the two Titans agreeing to a shaky détente, with a little help from young diplomat Jia.

godzilla x kong the new empire - publicity still - godzilla faces off kong

Godzilla is not happy to see Kong, from “Godzilla x Kong The New Empire”

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire continues the story but the film’s really all about those monster fights, and they’re quite spectacular. This time it’s not Kong vs Godzilla (though they do not get along when they’re in the same space) but Kong and Godzilla versus Skar King and another Titan, with yet another classic Titan mixing things up for an all-out monster rumble!

I saw the press screening of the film in an IMAX theater that’s somewhat infamous for always having the volume turned up to 11 and it was absolute mayhem during the fight scenes. Does the story actually make sense within the larger Project Monarch universe that now includes five films and a very successful, highly recommended AppleTV+ series? Sort of. But the writers and director Adam Wingard were focused on the spectacle far more than the story or any character development. There’s also a diversity checklist feel to the main characters that can be a bit puzzling; how are these people the best available for this critical mission?

Worth noting is that the excellent 2023 Japanese film Godzilla Minus Zero [my review] does not take place in the same universe. In fact, it’s about as different from GxK as two films focused on giant, fire-breathing, radiation-fueled lizards can be.

godzilla x kong the new empire - skar king vs king kong

Skar King vs King Kong, from “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire”

While GxK might not be heavy in story, it’s also not exclusively monster mayhem either. There are a lot of comic moments, particularly the amusing dialog and repartee between podcast and conspiracy nut Bernie (Henry) and hippie vet Trapper (Stevens). We’ve seen both of these characters on screen before, and not just in this particular franchise, but they still offer a good balance to the reality that these creatures can – and do! – unleash mind-boggling destruction. This time it’s not just focused on San Francisco, these beasties get around like they’re the hottest new travel influencers. Well, except for the destruction, that is. Not cool for influencers to destroy the cities they visit!

When it comes right down to it, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire is an early release summer tentpole movie, and if you go into it expecting a little bit of plot, a sprinkling of story, a handful of character development, but mostly big special effects, and monsters knocking heads, you’ll have a great time. Grab popcorn on the way in, and, just in case, have a pair of earplugs in your pocket in case you end up in the same IMAX theater.

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dave taylor vertigo film swirl backgroundPlanet Dave is run by Dave Taylor, who has been writing about film, cars, games, and his lifestyle for many years. He's based in Boulder, Colorado and assures readers he's only occasionally falling into a gravity well or temporal distortion field.

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