Godzilla x Kong – The New Empire Hollywood Movie Review


Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, The fifth chapter of Legendary Entertainment's MonsterVerse is in cinemas from March 29.

The fifth installment of Legendary Pictures' MonsterVerse hits theaters on March 28 from Warner Bros. Pictures. It's called Godzilla and Kong – The New Empire, it's directed, like the previous Godzilla vs. Kong (2021), by Adam Wingard, and is written by Terry Rossio, Simon Barrett, and Jeremy Slater. The 2021 film had all the weight of the world on its shoulders, but it wasn't just about keeping the franchise going. The stakes, it makes you smile to think back but this was the climate, it was the survival of the cinematographic experience.

Godzilla vs. Kong had to be the driving force behind the rebirth of the theater after the dark times of the pandemic. It contributed in its own way, but it is clear that the context - masks and distancing, remodulated capacity - did not play in favor of a type of show, which due to its extremely noisy and imposing nature, requires two things, essentially: a gigantic screen. And a room full of people. Let's specify: a room full of people who know what to expect, that is pure wild entertainment. Seeking refinement in details (psychological, figurative, thematic) would be a sterile and poorly reasoned exercise.

In reality, kaiju cinema – the term is Japanese and means monster – hides an unprecedented depth behind the mask of its apocalyptic and entertaining spectacle; think of the undisputed star (also of this film), Godzilla, the lizard horribly disfigured by radiation, the symbol of the Japanese atomic nightmare and, more generally, the manifesto of humanity's self-destructive instinct. That's not the case; Wingard chooses the path of lightness (of content) and systematic destruction unleashed by his legendary monsters. Kong and Godzilla are the stars; along with them, Rebecca Hall, Dan Stevens, Brian Tyree Henry, and Kaylee Hottle.

Godzilla x Kong, Many monsters fighting for the future of the Earth

The planet is too small for both of us. So, very simply, one stays on the surface, the other goes... elsewhere. Godzilla makes a clean sweep of the monsters infesting "upstairs"; where there is a threat, no matter how distant, he intervenes. His base of operations remains Rome, with many regards to the integrity of the historical and artistic heritage of the Eternal City (he chose a pretty good doghouse). Kong leaves Skull Island and "moves" to the so-called Hollow Earth, thousands and thousands of kilometers away from Godzilla, to learn to fend for himself. 

A scenario in which the two most fearsome and celebrated Titans share the same horizon is unimaginable because there is no way to stop them from beating each other up every time they cross paths. The narrative input of Godzilla and Kong – The New Empire is, consequently, double: first, finding a way to bring them together again, because the suspense and distance work but only up to a certain point, the spectator demands a little from the film of healthy general destruction and Adam Wingard has to get busy. Second, give monsters a good reason to team up.

Doctor Ilene Adrews (Hall) manages the Titan emergency trying to reconcile the needs of the creatures with the safety of humanity. Ilene has adopted Jia (Hottle), the last survivor of the Iwi, the Skull Island tribe that serves Kong. Jia struggles to find her place in her world, to the evident dismay of her adoptive mother, who cares greatly for her when she discovers that the girl is tormented by mysterious visions. Her visions drag her into the Hollow Earth, almost as if they were a warning, and bring up Kong and Godzilla. The first is very unhappy in the Hollow Earth. 

Overwhelmed by an invincible loneliness, just like Jia, no one looks like him, in those parts or even on the surface, and for this reason, he feels aimless. The film tries to balance the lightness of the characterizations of the human protagonists by opening a passage into the interiority of the monsters. Without exaggerating, of course, we discover something more about Kong's soul. Ilene, Jia, Bernie (Henry), and Trapper (Stevens) venture into the Hollow Earth to understand the meaning and secrets of the mysterious visions: they have to do with the past of the Titans and the wisdom of the Iwi.

The monsters convince, the humans, and the story a little less

The question is whether the MonsterVerse is capable of conveying a different and more complex emotion than the amazement and excitement in front of the spectacle of pure destruction. Of pure destruction, Godzilla and Kong – The New Empire has a lot to share with the viewer, mostly concentrated in the adrenaline-filled and explosive finale, which pits Kong and Godzilla – and not only that, but it's better not to spoil too much here – in a position to do what he does best, that is, sweep away any obstacle that slows him down, regardless of the losses in human lives and material goods. Nothing can be said to be safe from the fury of the Titans, even when they fight for the salvation of humanity.

Adam Wingard responds to the expectations of the public, passionate fans or not, cooking up an explosion of sounds and noises that devoutly pays homage to the visceral power and intrinsic spectacularity of the genre. He must say that kaiju cinema is a subtle art and not so easy to handle. Beyond the frame of destruction and violence, beyond the creativity of the design and the character profile of the creatures, the genre lives on an undercurrent, impalpable and necessary, made up of emotional solidity and the significance of the narrative, which the film struggles to bring out. 

The story is too thin, too in love with monsters and its (external) spectacularity to try to give itself some strength. The idea of (monstrous) spectacle that Wingard has in mind for Godzilla and Kong: The New Empire has a lot to do with the self-deprecating muscularity of the action classics of the '80s. With an eye and perhaps something more, in terms of tones and atmospheres, too much more or less recent fantastic cinema, from Jurassic Park to Guardians of the Galaxy.

The film doesn't take itself too seriously and invites the viewer to do the same; this is what Dan Stevens' light-hearted characterization refers to as vaguely hippy and very in tune with the environment. But, as it goes for him as for the calm dignity of Kaylee Hottle, the empathy of a very sacrificed Rebecca Hall, the clumsy genius of Brian Tyree Henry, Godzilla, and Kong – The New Empire is didactic and cumbersome when it comes to setting in motion the story is too schematic, too damn prone to stereotype and lazy characterization towards the characters. 

If it is true that what matters here are the monsters, what they think (!), and how they act, if it is true that the imagery and mythology of the story are entirely at their service and at the service of the explosion of violence that will follow – so over the top as to be harmless and almost playful – it is equally true that the thinness of the story and the flatness of the psychologies, in retrospect, soften its surrender. You don't live by monsters alone.