Film Review: Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire; The titanic monsters of cinema flex their wild abandon in overtly big sequel

A film like Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire is what one might call “critic proof”.  I mean, it’s ultimately a near-2 hour over-indulged CGI fest based around two giant creatures and their evident animosity towards each other.  But, rather ironically, these two titans are battling each other at the tail-end of a cinematic universe – the “Monsterverse” – that has, predominantly, earned points from those you’d expect to be above it.

2014’s Godzilla, the first film in this now fruitful franchise, Kong: Skull Island (2017), and GXK‘s immediate predecessor, 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong, were all critical successes (76%, 75% and 76%, respectively, on the Rotten Tomatoes scale), with only the Godzilla sequel King of the Monsters (2019) falling under with 42%.  That’s a healthy track record for a series so often dismissed, but is clearly indicative as to why these movies continually get made; the fact that this series has collectively earned close to $2 billion at the box office doesn’t hurt either.

Despite the overall well-being of the series, it’s fair to say that the mentality of the films haven’t always correlated with one another.  Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla favoured narrative drama and its characters over the destruction of its titular monster.  Kong: Skull Island, which came courtesy of Jordan Vogt-Roberts, had a 1970s era of filmmaking influence behind it.  Only was it with Godzilla: King of the Monsters that the exaggerated lunacy of these stories proved to be more embraced, something that the two films have run with to no end; the fact that the aforementioned Godzilla and Skull Island had single story credits perhaps indicative of their stronger structures.

Whether it’s a case of too many cooks in the kitchen or not, but the personality shift in these films is far more noticeable when you view them as a whole, with this New Empire continuing with the temperament that bigger means better.  Indeed, director Adam Wingard and screenwriters Terry Rossio (the Pirates of the Caribbean series), Simon Barrett (who’s worked with Wingard on such horror efforts as You’re Next and Blair Witch), and Jeremy Slater (Death Note, the forthcoming Mortal Kombat 2) lean into the “bigness” of it all, and the wild abandon they flex here is so bombastically ridiculous that you can’t help but have fun.

Fun doesn’t necessarily equate to quality though, and, once again, the human drama that so many of these films have padded their time with proves its downfall.  The balance between the human characters and that of Godzilla and Kong has continually shifted in the favour of the latter, and The New Empire continues with this trajectory, but not enough to the point of harmony.  I mean, with such a cast as Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry and Dan Stevens, I understand wanting to utilise their talents, but the fact that this is the least-stacked in terms of ensemble speaks to the writer’s understanding that these movies should ultimately be about Godzilla, Kong, their conflict, and whatever other creatures are coming out to play.

Perhaps because we’ve seen what a genuinely great Godzilla movie looks like in the recent Godzilla Minus One, not to mention how the tone was navigated in the first film, it’s difficult to not want something more with these creations.  Even when this leans into its campy possibilities – you want unapologetic rock music accompanying the imagery of Dan Stevens performing dental surgery on a giant gorilla? This got you! – The New Empire still honours a sense of self-seriousness that doesn’t gel with what’s predominantly being adhered to.

Ultimately, you will know if a movie like The New Empire is one you will vibe with.  If the series hasn’t grabbed you so far, this isn’t going to change your mind.  If you’ve wanted more lunacy from a Godzilla vs. Kong movie – and should we ever be wanting more? – Wingard’s approach does feel like a step in the right direction; there’s no denying the worldbuilding here is intriguing, with an ancient civilisation introduced to help flesh out why the character of Jia (Kaylee Hottle, proving the most accessible emotional point for us as an audience) is so telepathically linked to Kong.

With the title removing the versus tag, the indication that moving forward could be more of a collaborative effort for the titanic duo is evident in the eventual climax, which is arguably when The New Empire is at its most unbridled fun.  You ultimately just have to submit to what the creatives have concocted – the antagonists here certainly prove worthy, that’s all I’ll say – and if viewed as a type of homage to 1980s tentpole cheese, where everything plus the kitchen sink is thrown on the screen, this battle for domination, one that threatens the very existence of Godzilla and Kong, proves mindless fun.

TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire is now screening in Australian theatres.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.