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  • Writer's pictureJames A.

Review: Just as Hollow as Hollow Earth — ‘Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire’

Updated: Apr 24

If the previous Godzilla vs Kong (2021) was our Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), then this is our Justice League (2017).


(Image: Courtesy of Legendary Pictures)


WARNING: This review contains spoilers for Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (2024).


If you are here for the fifth film of the ever-expanding MonsterVerse cinematic universe, what you came for should go without saying: Titans brawling on the big screen. Adam Wingard’s Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (2024) does an okay job whetting your appetite.


Following 2021’s Godzilla vs Kong, the two eponymous Titans have fostered a begrudging peace and marked their territories in separate places: Godzilla occupies the surface, acting as its protector against the lingering threat of other Titans; meanwhile, Kong resides below in Hollow Earth.


(Kong: Courtesy of Legendary Pictures)


Kong is our true protagonist, heavily humanized, as we follow him surviving and searching for belonging and family. He’s personable and at times kinda funny—it’s hard not to root for him. He even suffers a toothache, an injury that pushes him to briefly return to the surface, allowing him to reunite with Jia (Kaylee Hottle), an orphaned Iwi native from Skull Island who, like Kong, believes she is the last of her people.


This brings us to the human element of this installment. There are probably two people in the entire world who go to watch a Godzilla/Kong movie interested in the nitty-gritty of the petty human squabbles—regardless, here it is, to remind the audience how insignificant we are in a world of much bigger, much cooler Titans. We see the return of Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), struggling to connect with her adoptive daughter, Jia, who is experiencing weird visions and grappling with her sense of belonging.


The main human cast is rounded out by Brian Tyree Henry returning as the tolerable podcaster and conspiracy theorist Bernie Hayes, and Dan Stevens debuting as the not-so-tolerable Trapper. Both are given little to do other than deliver flat jokes and plot points that were already obvious.


(From left to right, Trapper, Dr. Ilene Andrews, and Jia: Courtesy of Legendary Pictures)


There isn’t much to say about these characters. Dr. Andrews has an unconvincing and hollow subplot about the fears of giving up Jia after a trip to Hollow Earth reveals a telepathic subsect of the Iwi tribe that has survived. Trapper does help Kong out with an upgrade later on, but the movie tries so hard to build him up as this cool, nonchalant, space cowboy that he’s nothing more than a walking, talking, lifeless trope. There’s the beginning of a plot thread involving the exploitation of indigenous cultures surrounding Bernie’s hunger for content, but like most of the emotional beats of this movie, it’s half-baked and falls flat.


I only wish we were able to feel any of these moments as much as the writers want us to. Every time the film focuses on this band of humans though, all you can think about is how much you would rather be seeing what Kong and Godzilla are up to… So let’s pivot to that.


The plot begins moving when a sinkhole near Kong’s home in Hollow Earth leads to—shockingly—another, lower level of Earth, where a tribe of his species has miraculously survived! After getting immediately jumped, Kong is led by a baby, kinda-cute mega-monkey to the tribe’s leader and our antagonist: the enigmatic Skar King. All things considered, the Skar King has a surprisingly dope introduction, as he coolly sits on his throne, draped in shadows, eating raw animals, and wielding a whip made out of bones.


(The Skar King: Courtesy of Legendary Pictures)


I wanted to like the idea of the Skar King, and he does deliver in the realm of being ruthless, cruel, and visually engaging, and one of the few mega-monkeys who can stand toe-to-toe with our Kong. But it still feels like something is missing. He’s not the threat to Kong we are promised he is, at least not anything to shake the table. It’s when Kong is rightfully beating his ass, that we learn about his secret weapon: Shimo! Another ancient Titan who is the most powerful of them all, caused the previous Ice Age and is controlled by Skar King’s bone whip. Kong is outmatched.


(Evolved Godzilla: Courtesy of Legendary Pictures)


And what’s Godzilla up to? He’s busy eating radiation from nuclear plants and Titans to get stronger. Why? Because he senses something is brewing beneath the surface. And because Godzilla doesn’t fight to fight, he fights to win. During this janky, abrupt, and oddly edited journey spliced in between scenes of the humans doing human things we don't care about, Godzilla evolves and obtains magenta plates.


Our two beloved Titans briefly butt heads in Egypt, before they are interrupted by Mothra, reawakened by Jia who has become… the Avatar of all three Titans? (It’s as shoehorned in as you think it will be, as the humans relay the prophecy to us without so much as a flashback to put any shred of life into the storytelling.)


United under the Jia Avatar, the two once-enemies (and Mothra) team up against the Skar King and the still enslaved Shimo delivering everything you wanted from this movie on a silver plate and wide scale, decimating Rio de Janeiro in Titan-level fashion. It’s beautiful.


(Godzilla and Kong: Courtesy of Legendary Pictures)


The verdict? Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire is the popcorn-munching, brain-numbing fun it was intended to be and that the audience craves. It’s evident that we’re making up things as we go along, messily padding the breaches in storytelling as we stumble towards new heights—but that isn’t necessarily an unforgivable thing, even as obvious as it is. It’s fine because, at the end of the day, we aren’t here for human subplots, complex villains, or deeper thematic themes about exploitation, community, or nuclear anxiety, right? We’re just here to see a big-ass monkey and a big-ass lizard fight. And we get that. And it’s pretty cool and mostly entertaining.


But is it wrong to want more? Or should we just accept the movies we think we deserve?


Rating: 3/5



 





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