The HoloFiles

REVIEW: Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

By George & Josh Bate

Godzilla x kong new empire review

In the 10 years since the beginning of the MonsterVerse, which started with Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, the universe has gone through a number of changes. From the tone, the ratio of monsters and humans, to the lead human characters of this world, the franchise looks quite different now than it did when it started. With its sixth release (including the Apple TV+ show Monarch: Legacy of Monsters), does Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire bring some consistency and stability to the universe? Some major faces have come and gone in this cinematic universe, from Bryan Cranston, to Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson, and Millie Bobby Brown and Vera Farmiga, highlighting the quick turnover of stars in lead roles. Although Godzilla and Kong have remained ever present throughout, first in their own solo films and now in movies that they both appear in, their surroundings have changed so significantly that the universe has felt disjointed as a result. 

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire follows the two iconic monsters as they attempt to stop the Scar King, a dictator-like villain in Kong’s world who wants to return to Earth and conquer the planet. Kong is the main player here as he investigates mysterious events in the Hollow Earth that lead him on a path to Scar King. Meanwhile, the human characters seek to find out what Kong is up to, eventually discovering the Scar King and aiding the giant gorilla in his fight. Godzilla joins the group too, and although he doesn’t have nearly as much screen time as Kong, still makes an impact on the story. 

Godzilla x Kong ultimately does steady the franchise, adding some much needed consistency to the proceedings. Rebecca Hall returns to lead the film, playing Dr. Ilene Andrews, and is joined once again by Brian Tyree Henry and Kaylee Hottle. These characters aren’t exactly the most developed (more on that later), but the fact that the filmmakers are opting to stick with the same heroes means that there’s potential to get to know these characters more and give them real character arcs. 

Godzilla x kong new empire review

As far as character development goes, Kong has perhaps the most substantial arc in the film. Although he’s brought to life with CGI and doesn’t speak at all, Kong’s humanity shines through as he seeks to find other apes like him, after previously believing he was the last one of his species. Even in an up and down universe and up and down film such as this, Kong still stands out as, strangely enough, the most human and relatable character. 

Some praise must go to the writing for the success of Kong as a character in this film, but much of this does have to do with the weakness of the other heroes. Godzilla is virtually nonexistent in this film, and although he comes into the plot towards the climax, he’s largely absent from the story for the vast majority of the movie. Meanwhile, Rebecca Hall and Brian Tyree Henry both have welcomed returns, but their characters still struggle in the same areas that they did in Godzilla v Kong. Hall’s Dr. Andrews and Henry’s Bernie are underdeveloped, with the talented Henry largely reduced to a jukebox of comedic moments to break up the CGI-heavy action sequences. Henry’s character Bernie does have an arc, but not one that is focused on much at all, nor is it memorable or original. His development is essentially the same as it was in the last movie, as he seeks to be taken seriously amidst his various conspiracy theories and claims of the existence of monsters. Henry does deliver the film’s best line, however, with a quip referencing The X-Files.

The new characters don’t exactly help The New Empire with its human problem either. The most significant of the new additions is Dan Stevens’ Trapper, an outgoing veterinarian who treats Kong and comes along on the journey to Hollow Earth. Stevens’ lines and scenes, like those of Henry’s, are largely filled with inconsistent humor that mostly doesn’t land and a dearth of any character development. Stevens’ character is often accompanied by uninspired needle-drops that are a far cry from anything James Gunn achieved with the Guardians of the Galaxy films. Andor‘s Alex Ferns does make an appearance, and although his character doesn’t have much screen time, he does bring some charm and life to the story. The issue with continuing to under develop these characters is that there ends up being no life or spark to the movie, something The New Empire struggles with and, more recently, something Godzilla Minus One exceled with. So, while it’s a nice change to see a degree of consistency in the new film, Rebecca Hall and Brian Tyree Henry can certainly be used in a more effective way.

Godzilla x kong new empire review

The consistency in casting is also coupled with a streamlined approach as opposed to other MonsterVerse movies. Other movies in the franchise like Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Kong: Skull Island, and Godzilla vs. Kong have been overpopulated with far too many big name actors playing disinteresting and ultimately irrelevant small parts. The New Empire seems to have recognized this issue by trimming down the cast significantly, reducing the main human players to essentially Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Dan Stevens, and Kaylee Hottle. This streamlined approach to the cast also applies to the film’s story, which is far more simple and approachable than Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Godzilla vs. Kong.

The argument that some would make regarding the criticism of the human characters in the MonsterVerse is that audiences aren’t watching these films for the people, and are instead tuned in to see large scale action sequences featuring some of the most iconic monsters in cinema history. And, if that is your primary draw to The New Empire, you’ll likely come away satisfied. The action is unrelenting for virtually the entirety of the film, most involving Kong fighting other creatures in Hollow Earth. And it’s because much of the film is set on Hollow Earth with gargantuan creatures fighting one another that it loses its sense of grandiosity and scale. Godzilla in Gareth Edwards’ 2014 film was terrifying in size when compared to buildings, cars, and people he was surrounded by. But, in The New Empire, the screen is often occupied by the monster without reference to humans or buildings, which, in turn, makes the action feel less grand than prior installments. Later in the film, this issue is ameliorated as Godzilla and Kong shine in a particularly dazzling action sequence set at the pyramids in Egypt. Not only is this is the film’s most visually impressive scene, but it also remarkably conveys the immense scale of these creatures. Beyond this sequence, the CGI-heavy action continues to be fun and easy to watch, although Scar King is ultimately a rather uninteresting villain.

Godzilla x kong new empire review

VERDICT: 5/10

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire is the latest installment in an inconsistent cinematic universe. A streamlined approach to the cast and plot make for a film that is more approachable and enjoyable than some of the recent additions, although anyone looking for the kind of emotion that Godzilla Minus One recently had will come away disappointed. The massive scale action sequences, meanwhile, are expectedly grand and entertaining, especially a fight between Kong and Godzilla in Egypt. Kong is ultimately the film’s most interesting character, while Godzilla is relatively sidelined. A disappointing villain and failed humor further take away from The New Empire, a movie that, while an improvement over some of the series’ recent installments, lacks a much-needed spark.

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