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‘Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire’ Review: The Titans Of The Monsterverse Join Forces Against Evil But It Is All Still Just More Of The Same Stomp Fest

There is a twist with the latest offering from the now-decade-old Monsterverse, a franchise that has featured Kong and Godzilla in their own movies and then in 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong battling each other to the death. (These monsters never really die. But you knew that). The twist this time is there an even greater threat for these iconic giant creatures to each other and the world, so instead of being on opposite sides of the ring, they team up against an evil new villain, a batshit-crazy ape on steroids named Skar King, in order to save not just Hollow Earth — where most of the action takes place in a dense rainforest — but just about everyone else.

Returning for Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire from the 2021 film is Kong expert Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and the orphaned Iwi girl Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who speaks only in sign language but in this edition is presented as the last survivor of her people — or is she? On a trip to Hollow Earth, she is about to find out. And so is Kong himself, who was thought to be perhaps the last of his line but also discovers the family he didn’t know existed, also on Hollow Earth. That includes cute but a bit wild Suko, a sort of Mini-Me for Kong, the son he never knew living in this community. All threatened by the imposing Skar King. These scenes look like auditions for the next Planet of the Apes film — after, of course, the upcoming May release of Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes — which just might be the next most natural place for Kong and crew to head, especially after he has made nice (sort of) with chief rival Godzilla, who’s virtually a supporting player in this thing.

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In fact, the film opens with Godzilla in Rome, getting some R&R by squatting at the Colosseum (and taking up the entire space) after a hard day’s work. Although he is top-billed and much talked-about, he is just a tourist attraction until well into the movie’s second half, where we really see this lizard in action. And there is also a new look, Godzilla fans — a more colorful, shape-shifted version in pink and blue at different times, a radioactive vision after a necessary fill-up at a nuclear power planet, Godzilla’s idea of a Chevron. The Showa era influence (1954-75) is all over this edition. Director Adam Wingard is a major fan of the original Godzilla movies, and he is coming back for more of the franchise after the 2021 film. Clearly he is going for it with a taste of nostalgia for its roots, and a nice extended cameo from Mothra. There’s No Business Like Showa Business, eh? It is all very stylized, yet still comfortably familiar for fans. You can’t drift too far from expectations.

The humans who have to work opposite these powerful CGI creatures are largely caricatures we have seen in countless movies like this, one-dimensional and there at the service of the real stars. Hall is earnest throughout, while Hottle is adorable and hopeful to find family, even if her adopted family with Hall is the real deal. They succeed in adding at least a nice rapport with each other. Also back is Brian Tyree Henry as the uber monster fan, a Monsterverse blogger looking for the ultimate scoop and basically forcing his way on to the dangerous expedition where they are all thrust into the world beneath the world — Hollow Earth. Henry is providing the comic relief throughout.

Joining them is a confident new character, Trapper (a lively Dan Stevens), a Monarch veterinarian and creature keeper who is ready to rock and roll, especially in one fun scene where he swoops in on his motorized modern contraption in order to equip the seemingly mortally injured Kong with a new metal arm after he lost his own. Nice touch, and especially striking for the endless and pounding ultimate final battle that also takes us from the hellscape of Hollow Earth straight to Brazil because, well, what is one of these stopmfests without a recognizable world city to destroy? Props to the filmmakers for resisting the use of the showtune “Flying Down to Rio” to accompany the carnage.

The script is from returning writer Terry Rossio, this time joined by Simon Barrett and Jeremy Slate, with Story input from Wingard. They aren’t reinventing the wheel here, but fans ought to like it. At least it is playing Imax and the biggest theaters exclusively this time. Warners released the 2021 film day-and-date with its streaming service, then called HBO Max — an unfortunate mistake for the kind of film that, if you must see it, you must see it on the biggest screen possible.

Coming on the heels of what I would call the OG Toho’s return to its roots with the subtitled, terrific and far less expensive but far more impressive Japanese film Godzilla Minus One, this one more than ever just seems especially Hollywoodized. That little Japanese film, which became the first Godzilla movie of any kind to win an Oscar (for Best Visual Effects), probably cost less to make than the crafts service budget on any of these studio Monsterverse epics but still delivered three-dimensional human beings in a story that stands apart.

Perhaps the next stop for Hollywood’s Monsterverse is to hire that Godzilla Minus One team.

Producers of this Legendary and Warner Bros film are Mary Parent, Alex Garcia, Eric Mcleod, Thomas Tull and Brian Rogers.

Title: Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Release date: March 29, 2024 (North America); March 27 (internationally)
Director: Adam Wingard
Screenwriter: Terry Rossio and Simon Barrett and Jeremy Slater (story by Barrett, Slater, and Wingard)
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Dan Stevens, Brian Tyree Henry, Kaylee Hottle, Fala Chen, Alex Ferns
Rating: PG-13
Running time: 1 hr, 55 min

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