Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Godzilla X Kong
"Video game storytelling has advanced quite a bit, to be clear, but as with so many things large chunks of Godzilla X Kong are trapped in the early 1980s."

Apparently the 'x' is silent, which might be one of the few subtleties of Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire. Its biggest influence is the Showa era of Godzilla movies. If you know that as an Imperial dynasty rather than a convenient shorthand for kaiju movies then you may have different feelings about the film. The cultural changes of the reign of Showa (also called Hirohito) from 1926 to 1989 are more dramatic than the Odessa steps of Battleship Potemkin or their homage in The Untouchables that bracket the age. For many though it isn't about politics but Gamera, Ebirah, Hedorah, and more.

Some of those films are out and out nonsense, but that doesn't mean they're not enjoyable. Men in rubber suits being dragged by the tail, titles that would vex any typesetter. An earnestness that relies upon po- and straight- facedly reacting to fairies and feet so large they can use freight-trains as roller-skates. Firmly in that tradition, Godzilla X Kong doesn't so much not pull its punches as use a dentist in a rocket crane to attach a parking structure full of mining equipment to the fist that will deliver them.

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It's directed by Adam Wingard. He returns from Godzilla vs. Kong. You do, if you're wondering, say that middle bit. He's not alone, Rebecca Hall and Kaylee Hottle reprise their roles as adoptive scientist and otherwise-orphaned Skull Island tribe-member Ilene and Jia. Bryan Tyree Henry returns as podcaster Bernie Hayes, and more of this films joke about the medium land than those of Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. Not that the realities of modern film production don't also have an impact here. There's a scene that exists solely to foreground some flavour of electric Volkswagen, a scene whose absolute lack of subtlety would make either Leni Reifanstahl or Quentin Tarantino feel they'd achieved a foot in mouth moment.

I will grant that the colour palette is slightly different. Teal and orange appear to have been swapped out for hot pink and an Eighties blue that makes me think of neon and sugary drinks. The various fictional vehicles appear to include an anime-inspired wedge that seems to be kept aloft by bisexual lighting and use the score for precision maneuvering. It threads a line between Antonio Di Iorio's occasional borrowings from John Williams and Tom 'Junkie XL' Holkenborg's homage to Daft Punk's score to Tron: Legacy. It's one of several bits of positioning that feel like cost-saving, including the limits on Godzilla's screen time and the absence of their theme.

Writers Terry Rossio, Simon Barrett, and Jeremey Slater all contribute. Rossio has a filmography full of franchises, including the green and the aquatic. Shrek and Pirates Of The Caribbean feature heavily, but there's some horror in there too. Barrett has worked with Wingard several times before, usually also in horror, and Slater's possibly better known for interactions with adaptations, bringing Fantastic Four (2015) and Death Note to the big screen and Moon Knight and the Umbrella Academy to the small. Those are records that are perhaps more mixed critically than commercially, and as fun as it is in places Godzilla X Kong's successes are more likely to be of the latter.

There are loads of monster fights. I counted (of course I counted) a bit more than a dozen, depending on how one tallies rumbles that start in one place and move onto other arenas. Literally so in places. Godzilla displays cat-like behaviours on a few occasions among the laying waste to various landmarks. In fairness some of those aren't in the best condition to start with, but that probably just affects their insured value.

There are a few Brits in the cast, Dan Stevens appears as an animal expert. The film directly references Ace Ventura, but gives plenty examples of its own of an initially amusing franchise extended to animated excess. Alex Ferns appears to have made some success in being typecast as a dour science fiction security type, but he's well on his way to 'That Guy' status though he did have a long run in UK television staple East Enders. They're part of a multinational approach, the action dots around the globe and then quite some way underneath it. Amongst its various video-gamey sensibilities, power-ups unlock new areas and there's a handful of end-of-level bosses. Video game storytelling has advanced quite a bit, to be clear, but as with so many things large chunks of Godzilla X Kong are trapped in the early 1980s.

When, on occasion, I adopt a contrarian position, I am minded to argue that The Last Jedi and The Rise Of Skywalker are both perfect Star Wars sequels. One though is a continuation of an indie filmmaker's difficult second film, a guerilla production operating at the intersection of technical and financial constraints. The other is a salute to a bloated corporate juggernaut, a decades long exercise in the creation of value through licensing for products from cereals to space-themed hotel experiences.

I feel much the same, I think, about this and Godzilla Minus One. At various points in this and that I thought about album covers, but the genres that those gatefold sleeves hinted at are very different. Both are full of nods to their 'originals', but there's a wide gulf between a post-War meditation on destructive forces within a decade of the destruction of almost 70 cities and the excess of VHS-powered international expansionism.

I've got my usual complaints. F-18 Hornets launching from a carrier's deck could be relieving rather than reconfiguring into F-35 Lightning IIs over the target, but I do wish that, just once, aviators would remember to employ what I'll call 'The Kong Doctrine' and the best part of a century after it first came up use their mastery of the air to stay out of punching range of their opponent. That's a genre feature I'll probably never escape, but there are plenty others that can and should be re-examined. Fortunately we're in an era where certain sets of fans will interpret that titular 'x' in ways the film probably didn't intend, and that's despite a reference to 'interspecies romance'.

This isn't a love story, even for the human characters. Our perspective is almost always with Kong or those similarly equipped with opposable thumbs, Godzilla will spend much of the film as deuteragonist despite his placing in the title. In a series of expository instruments relationships between the various major powers of the Monarch monsterverse are explained using video, speech, and breathless declarations over radio or near crevasses. There's no element of story structure that challenges the film's various big triangles for complexity. A certain quippiness isn't the only element cribbed wholesale from the latter Marvel cinematic universe. Godzilla may be one of Earth's defenders but there's been borrowing from both the Avengers and the Guardians Of The Galaxy.

I did wonder if there were things from the Apple TV series I wasn't picking up. I did wonder if at five minutes less than two hours it was too long, and I did wonder if it had too many monsters. That's potentially an odd complaint, and in terms of determining if it'll interest you that's probably the best dividing line. If "more" is the best kind of icing on the cake then The New Empire is a state happy to build up that kind of sugary intensity. If you feel brevity is the soul of wit or (as I continue this sentence) art flourishes within constraint then the closest this gets is a single letter you don't say out loud.

Reviewed on: 01 Apr 2024
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Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire packshot
Two ancient titans, Godzilla and Kong, clash in an epic battle as humans unravel their intertwined origins and connection to Skull Island's mysteries.

Director: Adam Wingard

Writer: Terry Rossio, Simon Barrett, Jeremy Slater

Starring: Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Dan Stevens, Kaylee Hottle, Alex Ferns

Year: 2024

Runtime: 115 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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