Film review: Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

Legendary cinema titans team up and go to war in bonkers crossover epic…

Film review: Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire
James Hickie

Echoing the resilience of its titular ancient beasts, 2021’s Godzilla Vs. Kong managed to adapt, survive and even thrive in the face of adversity. A big hit when it was released simultaneously in cinemas and on streaming platforms, it claimed pandemic box office records in the process – something even Christopher Nolan’s Tenet couldn’t do.

Unsurprisingly, then, the Titans are back. This time they’ve been given even more screen time, new allies and antagonists, and a dramatic expansion of the lore surrounding them. Also returning for the ride is director Adam Wingard, who seems hellbent on making this follow-up as big, bright and absolutely bananas as possible. It's a task he’s more than equal to in a film that’s like a cartoon come to life in all the best ways.

Story-wise, it would be spoilerific to reveal too much, though events centre around a new threat to the Hollow Earth, the subterranean realm Kong has made his home. This results in our heroes teaming up, though Kong is very much the focus this time around, which is no bad thing.

For all Godzilla’s atomic-breathed antics, he’s not exactly emotive. Kong, however, has pathos and an expressive face – he’s a misunderstood loner desperate to find others like him. He soon does, though with the arrival of Skar King – a brutal simian wielding a whip made from a giant spine – he may wish he hadn’t.

Kong’s journey here brings welcome heart, because like other entries in this MonsterVerse franchise, the human side of things is rather short-changed. Who’s really watching this for the people, though – however good the actors playing them are? Admittedly, Dan Stevens is an absolute hoot as Trapper, a cocksure wisecracker straight out of the ’80s action movie playbook, albeit with a hippy soul. But his talented castmates, Rebecca Hall and Brian Tyree Henry, are largely relegated to being vessels for the increasingly complicated exposition.

This would probably be less of a complaint if it wasn’t for the existence of last year’s Godzilla Minus One. Made by Toho, Godzilla’s creative home in Japan for 70 years, it was a critical and commercial success – not to mention an Academy Award winner for Best Visual Effects. More importantly, it's as much about PTSD, survivor’s guilt and identifying one’s purpose as it was about a humongous lizard smashing up buildings.

That film is set in a different time, though, and, with its comments on the devastation wrought upon a country’s psyche by the Second World War, a drastically different context. It’s testament to the flexibility of Godzilla as an idea that these two films can exist simultaneously.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire isn’t nearly that deep - and that’s absolutely fine. With the accompanying Apple TV+ series, Monarch: Legacy Of Monsters, doing the heavy lifting in terms of character and historical development, we’re free to focus on the sight of globe-trotting dust ups. And if those don’t appeal to you, then, honestly, what does?

While criticism is often levelled at the bewildering amount of CGI in films like this, The New Empire manages to make it look beautiful. Like Thor Ragnarok did for the Marvel series, it’s shot through with an extraordinary colour palette – from the brilliant blue of Kong’s axe, to the luminous pink infusing Godzilla’s body this time around.

Get ready to have your cynicism stomped on, because this is a spectacular rock opera of a monster movie, replete with destruction, surprises and more than a little silliness – surely what the biggest cinema screens were made for…?

Verdict: 4/5

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire is released on March 29 via Warner Bros

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