Godzilla x Kong – The New Empire is a fun but brainless beat ’em up – Review | Films | Entertainment

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire fully leans into the silliness but becomes a surprisingly dry affair whenever the two titular titans aren’t on screen.

10 years after Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla kickstarted Hollywood’s answer to decades of Japanese cult classics starring the iconic giant reptile, the Legendary ‘Monsterverse’ is beginning to buckle under its own weight.

Featuring a bevy of forgettable human characters, including Rebecca Hall and Brian Tyree Henry returning from 2021’s equally ludicrous Godzilla vs Kong, The New Empire wastes no time trying to get audiences invested in humanity.

Instead, all the pathos is on Kong in this outing, who begins wandering the Hollow Earth as a primate pariah, mindlessly chewing up various monsters, polishing his axe and looking for his missing species.

His loneliness will be unexpectedly affecting for fans of the famous ape, but he’s soon forced up to the surface by a toothache and Dan Stevens’ monster medical expert Trapper is called to assist. Kong’s presence up top seemingly triggers Godzilla’s primal instincts, thus the stage is set for an all-out monster brawl.

However, things take a sharp left turn when Kong stumbles across a young ape, Suko, who leads him to a hidden outpost of giant primates ruled by a cruel overlord, dubbed the Scar King. Meanwhile, Godzilla is benched after taking on an underwater titan, leaving Kong and his human companions to restore balance.

With a plot straight out of a toybox and clunky dialogue to match, The New Empire is a mind-melting distraction with just enough jaw-dropping action to keep the audience awake but, unfortunately, this franchise is getting more forgettable with each installment.

The Monsterverse still hasn’t cracked the code to make its human characters worth investing in, despite Hall trying her best to bring some life to Dr. Ilene Andrews’ strained relationship with her adopted Iwi daughter Jia (played by Kaylee Hottle).

Their mother-daughter pairing is clearly the stand-out, but any moment of genuine connection is invariably undercut with bottom-of-the-barrel quips from Stevens and Henry one can only assume were salvaged from a pile of Marvel rejects.

A lot can happen in a decade, admittedly, but the tone is way off-kilter considering the dour atmosphere of the franchise’s first entry. Countless civilians are presumably crushed or stomped to death off-screen and beloved national monuments are callously destroyed by our titan heroes. Stakes are practically non-existent, and Earth only serves as a playground for monsters we’re told are humanity’s greatest protectors.

But Warner Bros and Legendary knows fans aren’t here for the slice-of-life family drama, and Kong especially really shines. This is not the best he’s looked on-screen – and his augmented metal arm featuring heavily in the film’s marketing only serves to prove just how cartoonish the characters have become – but his subtle movements and expressions are as endearing as ever.

Kong’s reptilian ‘frenemy’ is unfortunately parked for most of the runtime, whether he’s literally napping in the Rome Colosseum for The New Empire’s best visual gag, or charging up his nuclear strength for the final bout. Thankfully, hit Japanese blockbuster Godzilla Minus One scratches that particular itch for monster mayhem.

Meanwhile, Kong and Suko’s Lone Wolf and Cub dynamic forms the emotional crux in Godzilla x Kong, and is the closest thing the film has to a character arc.

Suko smartly has scrappy, “little stinker” energy, like a hootering, hollering Bart Simpson, to counter any accusations he’s only there to sell plush toys for kids. Of course, they’ll still be flying off the shelves, but his burgeoning relationship with Kong, his grizzled surrogate father figure, is genuinely well-drawn and sweetly earnest considering their dynamic plays out with no discernible dialogue.

There are also several moments where the feisty young ape gets involved in the action in surprising ways that will trigger alarm bells for anyone with even a shred of parental instinct.

Some guest appearances and a playful twist on the third-act skirmish were appreciated, but nothing we’ve not seen before, and the underserved cast quickly gets lost in the CGI sludge. Now Dune: Part Two has set 2024’s standards for modern blockbusters, Warner Bros seriously needs to invest in some quality control.

Director Adam Wingard has confirmed he’s interested in at least one more outing for cinema’s most iconic giants, but it’s clear the titan well is starting to run dry.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire is in cinemas from Friday, March 28.

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