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Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

MOVIE | Indiscriminate destruction by hero and villain alike overshadows a weak plot in latest MonsterVerse movie

Warner Bros. Pictures

<em>Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire</em>
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Rated PG-13

IT’S CURIOUS that Godzilla received top billing in Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire because this fifth installment in Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse is really King Kong’s movie. Actually, the movie features a whole host of giant apes, but many of them don’t have Kong’s sweet disposition.

The MonsterVerse is the film franchise in which mighty Titans roam the earth and humans scramble through the streets trying to stay out of the way. But where do these monsters come from? The Hollow Earth, of course.

Godzilla x Kong opens with Monarch, the Titan-tracking government agency, beginning to explore the realm of Hollow Earth, but anxiety levels spike when sensors detect an electromagnetic signal emanating from the mysterious land. Monarch’s also concerned because at the same time Godzilla starts acting strange.

Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) heads down to Hollow Earth to solve the mystery of the strange signal. Her team includes a military man (Alex Ferns), a Titan-tending veterinarian (Dan Stevens), a podcaster (Brian Tyree Henry), and Ilene’s adopted teenage daughter (Kaylee Hottle). I’m not sure which strains credulity more, the existence of a Hollow Earth or the makeup of the crew for this reconnaissance mission. In the subterranean realm, the team learns that a clan of giant apes led by a wicked king plans to ravage the surface. Stopping the invasion proves too much for Kong to handle on his own. He’ll need a little help from his human friends and Godzilla.

Last year, the Japanese film Godzilla Minus One proved that a monster movie can contain compelling human drama. Alas, that’s not the case with Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire. Some of the scenes involving our human explorers elicit a chuckle or two, but the group dynamics feel like a warmed over rendering of those in the original Jurassic Park. In this case, however, the characters are trying to get into trouble rather than escape it, which makes no sense. Every time they stumble across a situation that would cause any right-thinking person to turn around, they charge ahead. But fans don’t go to Godzilla and Kong movies expecting finely tuned plots. They go for the monsters, and Godzilla x Kong has those in abundance.

Kong is the star of this movie, and even though he doesn’t speak, he manages to inject more pathos into this film than any of his human costars.

As I’ve already noted, Kong is the star of this movie, and even though he doesn’t speak, he manages to inject more pathos into this film than any of his human co-stars. The thoughtful visage of the computer-generated giant ape moves from weariness to confidence throughout the film, and his interactions with other monsters provide some silent humor. Godzilla, on the other hand, is harder to read. We’re told an intelligence guides him, but the enormous radioactive lizard seems unaware of the destruction he leaves behind.

There’s a measure of fun in watching giant monsters duke it out, but when the fight moves to an urban center, like Cairo, Rome, or Rio de Janeiro, part of my mind gets distracted by the property damage and number of lives lost. I suppose every Godzilla movie needs street scenes of people running every which way and shots of the fearsome reptile knocking over buildings, but this wanton disregard for human life causes some cognitive dissonance, pulling me out of the action.

Seventy years ago when Godzilla was a villain, it was fine for him to level a city, but this version of the King of the Monsters is supposed to be a hero. No matter. In this movie, both the good guys and the bad guys plow through cityscapes indiscriminately. Perhaps the urban devastation is a metaphor implying that humans aren’t the masters of nature that we believe ourselves to be. But when I consider Godzilla x Kong’s relatively weak plot, I start to doubt the filmmakers intended any deeper meaning.

The only goal with this cinematic spectacle is to see giant monsters tear things up. Mission accomplished.

Collin Garbarino

Collin is WORLD’s arts and culture editor. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Louisiana State University and resides with his wife and four children in Sugar Land, Texas.



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