‘Godzilla x Kong’ is another forgettable chapter in the MonsterVerse

Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse is a studio-blockbuster franchise that’s been going on for a decade — and yet I have to continually remind myself that it exists.

Seriously, does anyone you know talk about the Godzilla reboot that kicked this thing off 10 years ago, or the King Kong revamp Kong: Skull Island that dropped a few years later? These films are supposed to be behemoth updates of the adventurous, old-school thrill rides of yore, but they have a tendency to evaporate from your memory once you’re done with the cinematic carnage. Honestly, it wasn’t until I did a recent, first-time watch of 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong that I realized, oh shit, I did see that Godzilla: King of the Monsters sequel from 2019. (To be fair, it came out the summer before COVID, and my memories of what happened the year before the whole gotdamn world shut down are a little hazy.)

The big boys are back to tussle in Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, but it takes a long time for that to happen. Whereas Godzilla vs. Kong had them going toe-to-toe in several rowdy setpieces, the monster roughhousers don’t square up in this film until way into the climax. Most of the movie has them going on their own individual journeys. Kong is down in Hollow Earth, lonelier than a sumabitch and forever on the lookout for big, hairy beasts like himself. Meanwhile, Godzilla is back on drier, human-filled ground, on a globetrotting mission that has him destroying a lot of property along the way.

Godzilla is more of a supporting character in this chapter, as we focus primarily on Kong and his search for a tribe. He practically gets his own Gollum when he descends to the “Subterranean Realm” and meets a cute-but-shady Curious George-looking chimp that acts like the Kevin Hart to Kong’s Dwayne Johnson. (Before you accuse me of being racist, keep in mind I’m Black and I can get away with pointing that shit out.)

Kong eventually finds a bunch of mega-monkey slaves controlled by the Skar King, a large, primate prick who also remote-controls a Godzilla-ish reptilian monster who can make everything he breathes on ice-cold. So, just in case Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire didn’t give you enough chilly thrills, here we have another sequel in theaters where the world is in danger of having another Ice Age.

As always, the travails Godzilla and Kong go through are far more interesting than whatever the hell the human characters are doing. Since the last film was overstuffed with people running around and dumping exposition, Empire’s cast of characters have been thankfully streamlined. (Bye-bye, Millie Bobby Brown’s insufferable teen Godzilla ally.)

Rebecca Hall returns as the doctor who looks after both Kong and her adopted daughter (Kaylie Hottle), who can communicate with the big guy via sign language and is also looking for a group to call her own. They link up with Bryan Tyree Henry’s crackpot podcast host (the most annoying character from the last movie) and Dan Stevens’s supposedly maverick Aussie monster veterinarian as they all head down to Hollow Earth, where they keep tabs on Kong and discover that this world isn’t just inhabited by strange creatures.

Godzilla x Kong director Adam Wingard continues the MonsterVerse tradition of making a proudly mid popcorn flick where the computer-generated monsters are more fully realized than the real-life characters, the jumble of a story is obviously cribbed from other movie franchises, and the soundtrack is punctuated with kitschy, ironic needle drops like Jim Reeves’s “Welcome to My World” and Badfinger’s “Day After Day.” As always, the fight sequences are some wildly staged affairs, as the monsters occasionally pop up on land and decimate cities like Cairo and Rome during their matchups. This installment is a must for those who ever wanted to see Godzilla and Kong fuck up the pyramids while carrying on like they’re in a backyard-wrestling video.

Although the sight of Godzilla and Kong teaming up to whup some oppressive ass may seem like the biggest “Twin, where have you been?” moment in pop culture right now, Empire is some half-assed escapism, just like all the previous MonsterVerse entries. Wingard and company put so much effort into making the Godzilla/Kong parts so real and convincing that it looks like they lazily threw together the scenes with real people during a weekend of reshoots.

Considering how the Toho-produced Godzilla Minus One from last winter won over critics, audiences, and Oscar voters, eventually getting a Best Visual Effects Oscar earlier this month, perhaps Warner and Legendary should holla at those filmmakers for help on the next MonsterVerse installment. If they’re gonna continue with this forgetful franchise, shouldn’t they get with the people who not only do giant-monster movies well, but came up with the shit in the first place?

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