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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire' review: Swinging back, swinging big

Godzilla and Kong roaring at each other whilst standing on sand
Warner Bros. Pictures

Ready, set, activate your lizard brains, everyone. Let's check out what's happening in the MonsterVerse franchise as sci-fi action blockbuster Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire, a sequel to 2021's 'Godzilla Vs. Kong' and based on characters by Toho Co., Ltd., punches its way through the ground beneath us and onto the big screen.

A few years after the events of that previous film, Kong is living his best life in Hollow Earth where he comes across other massive apes of different kinds, all the while Godzilla has been fighting other monsters on Earth. As far as humans are concerned, Monarch's linguist Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle) team up with monster veterinarian Trapper (Dan Stevens) and podcaster Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) as they travel to Hollow Earth to investigate a mysterious signal that Monarch received. This reunites them with Kong who himself must come together with Godzilla to battle Kong's new monster foes who also end up threatening human life on Earth.

As the title would suggest, ''Empire'' is very much a two-sided story, although not one where they combine neatly later but one where one side is constantly undermining the other. To put it more bluntly for our lizard brains' sake: it's a fairly entertaining Kong movie and a really ugly Godzilla movie, both battling for the championship belt. Director Adam Wingard clearly shows that he's interested in a tongue-in-cheek approach as he uses some exaggerated angles and camera moves with DoP Ben Seresin, childlike playfulness in the CG action and appropriately cheesy music before a presumed studio note seemingly tells him and the team to hold back.

In stark contrast, the screenplay credited to Terry Rossio, Simon Barrett and Jeremy Slater has none of that whimsy. Cluttered with an egregious amount of exposition for a movie about giants punching each other, paper-thin characters and a questionable portrayal of an indigenous tribe coming from this creative team, the script seems to be a monster created by commercial intentions of big companies solely hoping to sell merchandise with little interest in the craft of storytelling. Big ape hit second big ape, big lizard roar, no extra words—that simplicity should be the starting point and yet the movie insists on explaining every single new action, reaction and development again and again.

Because of the quality of the writing, Hall and Hottle are completely wasted since they're tasked with delivering the exposition or using dialogue that is too simple even for three-year-olds. This is a sad attempt to try and manufacture some kind of emotional depth in the end. Henry falls somewhere in the middle of that whilst Stevens is the only one who fits the director's vision of a silly movie about silly things. Trapper as a character is as wacky as the situations he's in, he gets all the best lines and Stevens has clearly done his homework about eccentric sidekicks in action spectacles based on his fun, energetic performance that makes you at least breathe out of your nose if not laugh along. The power of a great entrance also helps.

That conflict is also noticeable in the filmmaking, Josh Schaeffer's editing being the first victim as it sucks out the energy of those goofier moments with overly eager cutting, very basic coverage and at one point a truly absurd shot of a car, required by the manufacturer that paid for that placement. Composer duo Tom Holkenborg and Antonio Di Iorio's score has some fun with its synthwave and techno flourishes but it also struggles to breathe in the same space as the boring action cues, which are notably reminiscent of Holkenborg's previous work in other mediocre films.

What is nice to see is that the visual effects (supervised by Alessandro Ongaro) have impressively improved when it comes to Kong, other apes and their surroundings with really distinct and detailed design work and digital photography in Hollow Earth, whereas the Godzilla mayhem is pretty much the same as before and all the human adventures just look like an afterthought. When you're trying to display scope and danger, how you're presenting them unfortunately can't be an afterthought because it also impacts the performances as explained above.

Empire is sometimes the sort of dumb fun that you'd want, like when a big ape swing small ape to hit things or whenever a character named Trapper is allowed to swing big, but it's mostly an atonal choir comprised of the few who want that and the many who wish to play it so safe that the movie ultimately becomes a chore. You'd hope that the car commercial was lucrative enough to warrant that sacrifice. Well, I don't actually hope that because I'd much rather see a fun movie.

Smileys: Character design, Dan Stevens

Frowneys: Screenplay, editing, dialogue

They're fighting tooth and tail.


[Editor's note: We apologise for the image quality and possible inaccurate credits. The film's distributor didn't provide high-quality stills or proper information about the film before the publication of this review.]

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