Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

Goji's bulking journey and Kong's abusive family - 4.5/10

by Jad Sammour

2 Hours of apes and radioactive dinosaurs howling and screeching at each other while a bunch of forced human characters excrete some nonsensical dialogue and contextual exposition.

The Monsterverse seems to be a successful one, a shared universe that did not crumble under the weight of reception and studio meddling. While Godzilla (2014) was a unique film with its approach to monster visuals - a realistic approach from the POVs of pedestrians heightening scale, awe-factor, and the insignificance of man in the natural order. Its follow-up, King of the Monsters ditched this visual style and opted for a conventional approach but with with stunning visuals and a theological undertone to the story - Godzilla is almost a Jesus-like figure that has to be killed by man and die for their sins, only to rise from the dead, and then with the help of Mothra’s energy (Holy Ghost) defeats the fallen angel, King Ghidorah who is baptized with apocalyptic weather and fire, then Godzilla’s reign brings paradise to Earth after people regain faith in him. Skull Island is a film I saw once and I did not really put much thought into. I don’t know what was Godzilla vs Kong: I saw it twice (once when it was released and I rewatched it earlier this month) and it put me to sleep on both occasions: I did not like it. I am not a fan of Kong’s, you see. I did do a Godzilla deep dive earlier this year because of Godzilla: Minus One (which was not released in Lebanon and I still haven’t watched it yet) and it got me more familiar with everyone’s favorite radioactive dinosaur.

Unfortunately, Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire is mainly a Kong film with Godzilla napping in the Colosseum like the cute cat he is and going on a bulking rampage. Kong here takes center stage, being a more human-like character with physical emoting that can help the audience easily connect with him. Although I was not a huge part of the Kong scenes, there were stretches in the film where Kong interacts with other members of his species where wordless interactions take place and the viewer can easily follow what’s going on, which I highly appreciated. This is achieved by reading facial expressions, body language, character design, and hearing the sounds they make. This comes up around halfway through. As usual, we are condemned to sit with human characters for the majority of every monster film and here they’re as flat as ever, useless, and nearly inconsequential. Rebecca Hall is good, working with bad dialogue like everyone else. Brian Tyree Henry is a great actor turned into a jester here, shoved into the story as if he is the only expert on the subject of Titans in a multi-billion organization (which he isn’t even a part of). Replacing Alexander Skarsgard as  the male protagonist with whom Rebecca Hall has a mild sexual tension, is an actor whose name I do not know and I will not bother to look up. He is also a comic relief but with charm, like a hipster nature-loving Han Solo. The girl who plays Jia is back; she’s a good child actress. I was surprised by how few human characters were in the film. Usually there are many players in different places and roles but here they’re left to a minimum compared to previous entries in the Monsterverse. The main cast is mostly non-consequential to the events of the film that they can be taken out of the film (minus a few changes). And speaking of humans, why are we as an audience just used to rampage and destruction at a colossal scale without caring about civillians? The final battle has some considerable destruction and you don't think about people dying under the rubble or from a... checks notes, half a building getting tossed at Kong using a lasso made out of bones, hm. Is the type of destruction so unreal that it is perceived as expressive noise without any actual supporting layer of realism that makes bars you from extending the destruction to its natural consequence? In every film you see destruction at a traumatizing scale that never gets addressed, and when they do they only mention material casualties (nothing about civillians when they mentioned Hong Kong)... I will not get into it.

The screenplay is baffling. Dialogue primarily reduced to exposition aside, the story surprised me by how they pulled it out of nothingness. Hollow earth? There’s another hollow earth within hollow earth, almost making the original hollow earth useless. There’s a huge lore dump with a backstory never previously referred to in any way, and introduces a lot of elements that come off as baffling and nonsensical- but we’re here for the monstermashing so whatever. And the villain is very forgettable. I’m not done with the story: it is not good, it’s too inconsequential with fabricated stakes that are never sharpened. Things happen that don’t make sense… I will not get into it. Where are the monsters fights? Oh yes third act… I WAS HAVING A BLAST. I know why I bought that ticket and I had a good time with the final battles. The director was really having fun with the fight scenes and some things happened that were batshit insane (maybe I’m exaggerating, probably) but since you have the tech and the budget to pull this off… have fun with it, that’s the purpose of the film ,I guess. I will not discuss if this money is better served on other projects (yes it is, but the studio wants to make a lot of money with the lowest risk possible). I think the film could’ve worked as a dialogue-less film… just sound effects and music. Different music, of course because Tom Holkenberg’s music for this film, like its predecessor, did not fit it at all. The sound design is really good; good stuff. The 1h55m runtime helps a lot because this film is just long enough for what it is.

Some moments made me LAUGH; a few funny visual gags but the humor that was supposed to originate from actors rarely landed and it is borderline annoying - MCU humor. The visuals are okay. The CGI works when everything is computer-generated but the fall-off is felt when they transition to on-location photography. No I am not mentioning the scenes in the jungle which use lenses with weird, stretched , murky distortions in out-of-focus areas - it’s either a stylistic choice or to blend the real jungle with the computer-generated jungle. The visual style is very generic and does not feel exciting. The images are overstimulating descriptive noises. Not a bad thing for what the film is: weak overall though they serve the screenplay. 

So in conclusion, Godzilla X Kong is a bad movie but an enjoyable one if you are in the right mood for it.

If you want something more serious that does not include Godzilla suplexing Kong or Kong using a child ape as a bat to beat up other apes, then I’d recommend Shin Godzilla (2016) and Gojira (1954), or monster fights without the campiness, then Godzilla, Mother, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001) - it has multiple monsters but it harkens back to Godzilla as a metaphorical subject of war crimes and collective terror.

This turned out a lengthy review but oh well, that’s just the way things go sometimes.

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