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Movie Review: “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire”

By Bob Garver


Movie Review: “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire”

“Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” is really a tale of two movies. No, not a Godzilla movie and a King Kong movie, rather a movie that follows the human characters and a movie that follows what the movie calls “Titans.” The human portion is terrible, as is the human contribution to all American Godzilla movies (and I specify “American” because the human element in the recent Japanese installment “Godzilla Minus One” made it one of the best kaiju movies ever made). But the Titan portion makes for one of the best movies of the year.


            Let’s get the human portion out of the way. Returning Kong expert Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) notices mysterious signals coming from Hollow Earth, the subterranean world where the giant ape lives. Her adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle), a confidant of Kong’s that communicates with him through sign language, picks up on a telepathic signal as well, one that tells her that Kong is in danger. The government allows Kong to pay a rare visit to the surface to have a tooth fixed by adventurous Dr. Trapper (Dan Stevens), provided he’s kept far away from atomic lizard Godzilla, who lives on Earth fighting dangerous “titans” and desperately wants to throw down with Kong in a battle that will undoubtedly cause massive damage. But the hurt tooth doesn’t explain the alarming signals. It’s time for Andrews to pay a visit to Hollow Earth, along with Jia, Trapper, and unofficial expert Bernie (Bryan Tyree Henry) to find out just how worried mankind needs to be.


            The humans spout exposition and exchange unfunny banter. The talented Hall is wasted on this stock scientist character. She brings no personality to the action scenes, and the few heartfelt moments with Jia are sincere, but unchallenging. I enjoyed the Trapper character at first, but the movie doesn’t know what to do with Stevens’ effortless charm. Bernie is just plain useless and annoying. The character is supposed to be “comic relief,” but I was far from relieved knowing that he was allowed to pollute this movie with his painful presence.


            Balancing out the humans is Kong. He befriends a young ape (allegedly named “Suko,” though I don’t think anyone ever calls him that) that has been forced to work as a con artist by his master, the Skar King. The Skar King has laid claim to a world beneath even Hollow Earth, where other apes work as his slaves. His power comes from a crystal that allows him to control ice monster Shimo, against whom the apes have no chance. Kong challenges the Skar King for control of his empire, and the battle comes to the surface, where Kong has to recruit Godzilla to fight Shimo if there’s any hope of bringing the villains down. But Kong and Godzilla aren’t over their own differences yet. Will the “x” in the film’s title come to mean “vs.” or “&”? As with many things in life, the answer lies with Mothra.


            Almost all of Kong and Godzilla’s scenes play out without human interference, and in fact do not involve dialogue. The fact that the movie can communicate so much without words is highly impressive. As are the anatomy-smashing creature-on-creature action scenes, provided you can turn a blind eye to collateral damage.


            It’s such a shame that there’s so much to detract from what “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” does right. I can completely understand how some viewers and critics think that the humans are a deal-breaker for this movie as a whole. But just because I understand doesn’t mean I agree. I think that the creatures, especially Kong, successfully offset the humans. It’s close, but Godzilla and Kong manage to not be completely undermined in their own movie.

 

Grade: B-

 

“Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” is rated PG-13 for creature violence and action. Its running time is 115 minutes.

 

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu



 






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