2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong understood what audiences were coming for and gave them that in heavy doses, along with the human aspect to tie it all together. Director Adam Wingard made sure the legendary monsters fought enough to justify the premise while a world subplot put humankind in danger. Eventually, the two put their differences aside to destroy a mechanical abomination created by the same humans they want to save. The job is completed! With sequels, they almost ask you to be bigger, badder, and to introduce more characters and threads to justify the means. While Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire does retain the popcorn flick-ness of previous installments of the Monsterverse, it gets progressively weighed down by all the things it introduces, putting the lid on its rambunctiousness action elements for too long and not knowing what to do with the many instances of story it presents. 

The writing team of Terry Rossio, Simon Barrett, and Jeremy Slater know that you can’t simply duplicate the previous film. So, The New Empire separates King Kong and Godzilla into different parameters; Kong resides in Hollow Earth, and Godzilla roams the surface world, making mincemeat out of kaiju. If Kong happened to venture up, Godzilla would have a problem. Right off the bat, you understand that New Empire is more concerned with Kong’s story than Godzilla’s. That’s not to say you don’t see the kaiju in action; it’s more so sending him off on missions just to prepare him for the final battle. With Kong, he’s lonely within the CGI-enforced foliage of his new home. After a quick stop to have Monarch do some much-needed dental work for an infected tooth, Kong stumbles upon a hidden place within Hollow Earth that contains gorillas like himself (even a mischievous baby one). But that healthy revelation is shortlived once he discovers the film’s chimpanzee antagonist, The Scar King, and the ancient frost-breathing kaiju the Scar King can control with an enchanted diamond. 

In some instances, you can credit Wingard for how the film lets the Titans lead the conversation, where the tightly digitized movements and facial expressions are enough. You can liken Kong’s plight to something from the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy, where he has to end a tyrant reign to free those like him from pushing around boulders near a fortress surrounded by molten lava. The Scar King himself shows that he has some menacing things about him, but it’s quickly realized that his weapon is the real threat. This goes back to Godzilla, where the film just does a cutback to see him resting in the Rome Coliseum or walking through the world trying to gather nuclear energy for something. It’s clear from the film’s second half what this is for, but what’s funny is that the actual humans don’t catch on until later. Speaking of human characters, The New Empire ties things together with the story of belonging that doesn’t exactly land the emotional impact it intends.

Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) heads the Kong research wing of Monarch, and her adopted daughter  Jia (Kaylee Hottle) is having trouble getting acclimated to what would be considered everyday life, like school. As the last surviving member of the Iwi tribe, Jia has visions that plague her dreams, which coincide with an electromagnetic symbol disrupting things. While Jia has bad feelings about Kong, IIene is tasked with bringing a team together to figure out what’s happening with these shockwaves. That leads her to get the help of returning champion and podcast host Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) and super veterinarian Trapper (Dan Stevens). Hall and Hottle do their best with the material they are given. There’s a hint that IIene and Trapper once had a romantic relationship, but the film quickly discards that other than some dialogue here and there. Jia’s storyline circles Kong as both Titans and humans can long for belonging, but that is built better on the monster level. The real treat is seeing Tyree Henry and Stevens interact together with their characters with the understanding of what The New Empire is supposed to be. 

At times, the films do indulge in how silly it can be. But when it leans into more serious territory, there’s a lack of attention to the scale of things because most of it is within a computer-generated realm. The New Empire contains immense destruction, especially concerning the cities on Earth, which don’t sit long enough to reason with the number of lives lost. By the time the film gets to the final set piece of the huge fight, it’s both fun and rushes through the beats to ensure it checks off every box that previous third acts of Monsterverse films before it. We should switch the names in the title because this film makes it clear it’s invested in one story over the other. Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire has its moments where it works the fun angle well, but it’s often once the endless exposition and point of view switches does a number on it. 


Main Photo Credit: Warner Brothers Pictures