The Spool / Movies
Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire is Godzilla minus soul
The MonsterVerse's latest is the stupid Saturday morning cartoon counterpoint to last year's Oscar winner
SimilarBack to the Future Part II (1989), Back to the Future Part III (1990), Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), Ghostbusters (1984), Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001), Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), Jaws: The Revenge (1987), King Kong (1933), King Kong (2005), Shrek 2 (2004), Shrek the Third (2007), Spider-Man 2 (2004), Spider-Man 3 (2007), Superman Returns (2006), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999),
MPAA RatingPG-13
5.5
Read also: the best live TV streaming services with free trial>

The most frustrating thing about Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire isn’t that it’s stupid. It knows it’s stupid; it’s banking on that. It’s not even that its luster has been eclipsed by Japan’s most recent entry in the terrible lizard’s decades-long rampage on the cinematic landscape, the now-Oscar-winning Godzilla Minus One. It’s that somehow, director Adam Wingard and the team behind the MonsterVerse have forgotten how to be the right kind of stupid, fumbling the formula that 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong captured with surprising charm. (Then again, our assessments of 2021’s COVID-era output are innately suspect, considering most of us were just glad to be back at the movies at all.)

But the more you settle into the latest entry in Warner Bros. and Legendary’s “MonsterVerse” — the Americanized shared universe of Japanese-sourced kaiju movies that started with 2014’s Godzilla — the more confounding this exercise becomes. The end of the previous film in the series teased a kind of detente between Japan’s favorite reptile and Skull Island’s favored son, the two working together to take down MechaGodzilla after a movie’s worth of preening spats on cargo ships and among the skyline of Hong Kong (no relation). You’d think screenwriters Terry Rossio, Simon Barrett, and Jeremy Slater would double down on the “what now?” of it all: how would these two reluctant allies share the Earth? That might be fun.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire Review (Warner Bros./Legendary)
Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire Review (Warner Bros./Legendary)

Instead, The New Empire feels like a semi-retread of Godzilla vs. Kong — actually, scratch that, more like a King Kong movie with a few bits of Godzilla peppered in here and there. Like so many sitcom roommates before them, the pair have drawn a chalk line halfway down the planet and decided to each keep to their own territory. Godzilla protects humanity from rogue Titans on the surface, and in between bouts, he curls up in the Roman Colosseum like a cat bed, one of the film’s more charming images. Meanwhile, Kong searches for other giant apes like him down in the Hollow Earth. (Yeah, that exists now.)

Yes, Monarch is still around, now led by Godzilla vs. Kong lead Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), tracking the big beasties and making sure the Earth’s major cities and landmarks only get slightly smooshed by monster feet. But when a mysterious distress call from the Hollow Earth attracts the attention of Monarch, Kong, and Kong’s indigenous friend from Skull Island, the now-teenage Jia (Kaylee Hottle), Andrews brings Jia and Kong below the surface to investigate. As backup, she drags conspiracy theorist/Roland Emmerich movie side character reject Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) and kaiju veterinarian Trapper (Dan Stevens, the only one having fun here) along for the ride.

What follows is a messy, day-glo punch-em-up that, for all the size and scale of the beasties that inhabit it, feels remarkably weightless. Where Godzilla vs. Kong‘s CGI battles had a bit more oomph to them (again, that cargo ship duel is a masterwork), The New Empire throws far too much at the screen to lend any one figure or fight any weight. And the battles themselves, well-choreographed as they are, are too busy with secondary bad guys and Lisa Frank-style neon colors to feel as impactful as previous bouts from the other MonsterVerse pictures. Godzilla used to stomp with all the power of a nuclear blast; now, he sprints like a linebacker.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire Review (Warner Bros./Legendary)
Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire Review (Warner Bros./Legendary)

As if terrified its Ritalin-addled audience will get bored if things slow down for even a second, this installment also packs itself chock full of exposition, interstitial fights (two of which happen entirely off-screen), and rushed character dynamics that only hint at something more interesting under the surface. Dialogue feels run through ChatGPT for clarity and not character, and plot points are repeated ad nauseam to make sure the kiddies got a decent grasp of the stakes this time. There are the requisite ancient caves full of wooden exposition, the gainsaying security guy who gets marked too early to make an impact, the “well that just happened”-esque stammering of Henry’s superfluous Bernie. Both our boys get upgraded in ways that feel tailor-made for the screenplay, rather than anything organic — hell, Kong gets a robotic gauntlet flown to him across the Hollow Earth in the span of about five minutes, making The New Empire feel more like Transformers than a kaiju flick.

There are glimmers of something interesting in the mirrored story arcs of King Kong and Jia, two lost souls searching for home in the Hollow Earth; Kong takes in a young, traumatized ape who constantly tests his patience and sense of loyalty, having grown up in the cutthroat, me-first world of the Hollow Earth. Jia, meanwhile, is torn between her love for her adoptive mother, Ilene, and the mystical people with which she shares ancestry. But the balance is off; we can’t spend too much time on that. We need another dustup with another anonymous beastie, rendered with glossy but unmoving CGI.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire Review (Warner Bros./Legendary)
Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire Review (Warner Bros./Legendary)

But what about Godzilla, you may ask? Well, what about him? The big guy spends most of the film swimming around the periphery, supercharging for the big climactic fight he knows he’ll be dragged out to finish. It’s one thing to keep your big monster off-screen to tease him out till the end — but when all the other monsters get entire scenes and subplots to themselves, one wonders if this was really the best usage of ol’ Zilla they could come up with. And by the time other familiar Toho monsters come up, they feel little more than plot contrivances, as if the writers couldn’t come up with any better way to make the two frenemies reconcile and work together when they already did that last movie.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s absolutely room for big, dumb monster movies that feel like the director gleefully smashing action figures together. (That’s what made Godzilla vs. Kong so infectiously appealing.) But rather than find new directions to go, Wingard et al. just burrow further down into the Hollow Earth, emptying out the human and non-human characters alike and slathering another coat of neon paint on the screen to distract us from the fact that none of this means anything — even to Godzilla.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire stomps into theaters March 29th.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire Trailer:

SimilarBack to the Future Part II (1989), Back to the Future Part III (1990), Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), Ghostbusters (1984), Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001), Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), Jaws: The Revenge (1987), King Kong (1933), King Kong (2005), Shrek 2 (2004), Shrek the Third (2007), Spider-Man 2 (2004), Spider-Man 3 (2007), Superman Returns (2006), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999),
MPAA RatingPG-13