‘Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire’ Review: Dull Humans Prove a Drag on Monster Mayhem in So-So Franchise Entry

The fifth and latest entry in the Warner Bros. MonsterVerse franchise has the misfortune of arriving on the heels of the Oscar-crowned Godzilla Minus One. That Japanese film demonstrated that it’s still possible to make a monster movie involving the iconic, irradiated giant lizard that also features a compelling narrative and memorable characters. Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, on the other hand, mainly traffics in the sort of CGI-generated mayhem resembling a video game that will please the series’ fans but doesn’t bring anything new to attract non-diehards. At one point in the film, Godzilla, weary from all that stomping around, lies down to take a well-deserved nap in the middle of Rome’s Colosseum. It’s the most relatable moment in the film.

Godzilla actually doesn’t have all that much screen time in this effort, which largely concentrates on Kong as he continues his lonely quest to find others of his kind. He’s also somewhat the worse for wear, bearing the scars of previous battles and suffering from an infected tooth that drives him to leave Hollow Earth in search of medical attention. Fortunately, he finds it in the form of Trapper (Dan Stevens in entertaining gonzo mode), a veterinarian who specializes in larger-than-usual animals and who finds it great fun to be dropped from a helicopter into a sedated Kong’s mouth to perform some emergency dentistry.

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Several performers reprise their roles from the previous installment, including Rebecca Hall as a scientist who delivers so much exposition that she might as well be narrating a National Geographic documentary; Brian Tyree Henry as a blogger whose main role is to provide comic relief; and Kaylee Hottle as the deaf Iwi girl who’s become the official Kong whisperer.

But the human characters take a back seat to the film’s titular stars who, as the title indicates, are no longer quite the foes they were in 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong. They’re not bosom buddies, mind you, still engaging in a scrappy brawl that looks impressive in Imax. But they’re ultimately forced to team up to deal with such mutual foes as the story’s chief villains: Skar King, a giant simian cult leader who appears to be suffering from vitiligo and wields a whip made out of some unfortunate creature’s spinal column, and Shimo, a reptilian Titan whose frosty breath renders one of Kong’s hands useless due to frostbite. Not to worry, though, since Trapper is able to help him out by equipping him with a giant robotic hand that makes a newly confident Kong even more formidable.

Kong also discovers an ally of sorts in the adorable Mini Kong (his name is Suko, apparently), who seems mainly designed to be a plush toy. He and Kong get off to a rocky start, with the scrappy little guy demonstrating that he’s no pushover. But he soon realizes which side his bread is buttered on when Kong shares a meal with him, the contents of which are pretty unpleasant.

The rudimentary storyline involves the human characters descending into Hollow Earth, where they discover an ancient Iwi civilization that, after an initially frosty reception, turns out to be quite welcoming to their visitors. After all, they have a mutual goal, which is to prevent Skar King and his minions from wreaking havoc both above and below.

Speaking of havoc, Kong and Godzilla create a lot of it. They’re apparently unable to show up anywhere on the planet except the most iconic tourist destinations, including Rome, Paris, Cairo, Gibraltar and Rio de Janeiro, where many landmarks get destroyed in the process. (Hey, the pyramids had a pretty nice run.) You’d think that just once they’d manage to appear in some nondescript, unpopulated location, but no. Thousands of innocent people are presumably killed during their rampages, but no one onscreen seems to give it a second’s thought.

To the filmmakers’ credit, they manage to lend the proceedings something resembling an emotional arc, with Kong movingly displaying more relatable emotions than many of today’s overpaid human stars. (Godzilla, though, is still a bit of a lug.) MonsterVerse fans will be happy to learn that Mothra also makes an appearance and will almost certainly show up again in future installments.

Director Adam Wingard (reuniting with Stevens after the terrific 2014 thriller The Guest) orchestrates the monster madness with impressive visual flair even if he relies on an excessive number of ‘80s-era pop song needle drops to make things seem more exciting than they actually are. But if the series is to continue, and there seems little doubt that it will, the human characters are going to have to be treated with the same loving attention as the monsters.

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