Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire! A movie I’ve been looking forward to once the trailers started cropping up, excited and giddy for this ride of a flick. I make it no secret that I really enjoyed Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) despite its shortcomings, so seeing something like it but widening the scope of the Hollow Earth and the dangers that ensue from it should in a thousand respects be even more exciting. But I think there are just a handful of mistakes made that prevent it from soaring above its predecessor for me. What I got was an experience very similar to GvK, but for different reasons compared to it.

I do want to preface this much; I enjoyed the movie. It’s a lot of fun. Though it doesn’t hit above the MonsterVerse greats like Godzilla (2014) or Kong: Skull Island (2017), it was very much an enjoyable storyline that propels Kong in an incredibly fun direction that I wish to see more of. Even the human protagonists I found myself caring for; like an Americanized take of the characters from Son of Godzilla (1967). Serviceable, not the deepest, but still funny and engaging throughout the film’s runtime.

Easily though, the strongest pro this movie has is Kong’s storyline; even better than the individual monster fights contained within, I feel. What I love about it most is that it puts a greater emphasis on visual storytelling and being able to clearly communicate what’s happening within the story without any dialogue for long stretches of time (at least by the standards of a Hollywood movie). So much so, I kinda feel like any of the scenes that do have that expository dialogue could’ve easily been cut without question, or at least rephrased. More than anything, the Kong story I think completely outweighs any of my negative feelings to the movie. If GvK had Kong as the MVP, GxK has Kong as the main character–and it’s fantastic, and I want to see more.

To address any gripes I have with the movie (and sing more of its praises), I will be going into massive spoilers moving forward–but I think what I said above gives a good idea of how I feel about it.

FALA CHEN as Iwi Queen in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “GODZILLA x KONG: THE NEW EMPIRE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

It’s a very trope-heavy movie, but much like GvK, it doesn’t set itself at the highest bar to reach; it’s entertainment first beyond all else. That said, the biggest issues for the movie with me is its final battle. While the fights are incredibly fun and I did enjoy myself (and will probably continue to do so in future rewatches), they don’t quite hit that satisfactory note compared to what the previous outing provided. A big point of contention I feel comes down to the fact that it just felt like our kaiju protagonists don’t take any serious damage once they get their upgrades. The closest stakes there were for the movie, at least to me, was the Godzilla/Kong fight in Egypt. At least there it felt their powers matched each other to some extent and, even if the looming presence of Mothra and Jia bringing the two titans together was an inevitability, it at least felt like Kong’s life was on the line trying to get Godzilla down to the Hollow Earth. I can’t say the same for when Godzilla and Kong go up against Shimo and Skar King; it feels less that both their lives were at stake and more like the story just needing to wrap up its loose ends. The final fight of all things felt weirdly safe compared to what had come before (even the humans didn’t feel at risk, but I’m at least willing to give the benefit of the doubt since the results are dependent on the titans failing or succeeding, not the humans, so I’m willing to be a little more forgiving to a point).

As an example; as much as I enjoyed the spectacle to the BEAST Glove, it was very much a contrived Deus Ex Machina in every sense of the word. I was kinda disappointed there wasn’t more build up to it. It’s almost too good of an upgrade compared to how suddenly it appears into the story and how it practically solves all of Kong’s problems (his frostbitten arm from Shimo, being able to put up a fight against Godzilla, being able to take Shimo’s beam, etc.). This is very much offset to earlier portions in the movie, exploring the Hollow Earth, fighting off monsters and other apes, where it felt like Kong was at risk everywhere he went. There was at least a sense of uncertainty no matter where he went. But after joining forces with Godzilla, upon reflection, he felt good to go and no longer at that same level of risk the movie had with him prior.

KONG in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “GODZILLA x KONG: THE NEW EMPIRE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Another big hampering is the new ice monster, Shimo. Not to say that there isn’t emotional validity with her being a slave to Skar King’s will, but it feels kinda shallow and one dimensional. Her presence feels underwhelming compared to the rest of the kaiju cast, and aside from a passing reference to her causing the previous ice age, has no sense of universe building that she contributes. It’s kinda disappointing she didn’t have more going for her in the confines of this movie. But I will say the ending did give off wholesome vibes I was not expecting, and unlike that of Skar King, hopefully Shimo can be elaborated on in future endeavors.

That said, praises where it’s due; the rest of the monster cast I think hold up substantially better. Skar King was a delight in how evil and cruel he is. Even if it’s one-note, I don’t mean that in a bad way; Skar King is evil and completely owns it through and through. The visual acting of him too is also just so deliciously on-point and oozes personality almost unseen since KOTM’s Ghidorah or Showa-era Gigan (moreso the latter). Suko and the other Great Apes also help round out the story and cast in wonderful ways, with Suko giving the biggest laugh I had to hold in for my theater experience. The return of Mothra, even if it feels a bit nonsensical when you think about it too deeply, was very much both a highlight and a delight to finally see again after her last appearance in Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). And even if some of the Titans for Godzilla’s story were a bit too quickly disposed of for my liking, it was nice to see some recurring parts like Scylla or even the former comic-only Tiamat make their appearances here.

For the special effects, I mostly don’t see too many issues. Its very CGI-reliant, I think that’s going to be expected as much given the focus on Kong’s storyline (and the other monster spectacle sequences). While the monsters lack any real sense of weight, I do understand this leans more into stylistic choices compared to some of the other MonsterVerse entries and a natural continuation from Adam Wingard’s previous outing. As long as it consistently looks good, or at least decent, I generally have no qualms. Although not many stick out to me, the only oddities I noticed where it looked like Kong was missing his metallic tooth, or a point when Godzilla’s charging at Kong and it looks like Kong is missing a thumb. This could just be chalked up to the specific angle chosen for the shot, but it feels odd compared to all the other shots before and after the matter.

(L to R) GODZILLA and KONG in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “GODZILLA x KONG: THE NEW EMPIRE,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

And probably my last real criticism is the music; it was tolerable for GvK, but the GxK score has even less oomph than before. Aside from the one emotional beat after Kong arrives at the Iwi city, the rest of the soundtrack from Junkie XL really is just “in one ear, out the other”; it’s serviceable to the movie, but not anything that stands out (Bear McCreary’s KOTM OST still has a nice energy to it; even the recent original soundtrack for Monarch: Legacy of Monsters (2023) from Leopold Ross has earworms that I can’t get out of my head). Even the licensed music present in the movie sticks out more than the OST. If Wingard is to return for another MonsterVerse project, maybe look into getting another composer for the part.

All in all, even with my issues with it, GxK was still a delightfully fun time. I think the Kong storyline is something everyone should see, even if the fights are just mostly fun visual spectacle.

3 Stars