Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire strands its two titans in a bland, ugly movie

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire strands its two titans in a bland, ugly movie

There’s this old webcomic I used to read created by two brothers. Drawn by 28-year old Ethan Nicolle, Axe Cop follows a cop with an axe who fights dinosaurs, bad guys and the accurately but unfortunately named villain “Baby-man.” The comic was written by Ethan’s younger brother, Malachai Nicolle. He was five.

Nothing has ever reminded me more of that sugar-fuelled, sticky-fingered storytelling than Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire. In the scene where an evil orangutan wields a diamond-tipped whip made out of a monster’s spine while riding an ancient ice-dragon inside a lava-filled hollow Earth’s super-secret anti-gravity dome, I thought of Malachai. 

While Axe Cop went on to win a few comic-of-the-year awards, I doubt there are many Oscars in this film’s future. Godzilla x Kong is one of the most aggressively bland, overwhelmingly stupid and insultingly ugly things I’ve had to sit through since Master of Disguise taught me as a 10-year-old that movies can, in fact, be bad.

Godzilla x Kong and its prequels exist to show off 300-foot kaijus beating each other, the occasional skyscraper and their own chests.

And there’s nothing wrong with movies that are just sort of slide shows of fights, explosions and squinting action heroes. They have a style, vernacular and goals all their own, and (usually) shouldn’t be judged by how deep and insightful their stories are. This is coming from the guy who actually defended Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.

WATCH | Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire trailer: 

Barely coherent plot vs. creative monster design

But Godzilla x Kong takes that style to the depths of its own hollow Earth. Its barely coherent plot flips between three impossible-to-follow arcs, it’s populated with characters less sympathetic than the cast of Succession, and it has all the aesthetic flare of ChatGPT art.

That said, its action sequences can at times be entertaining (if you excuse the legitimate nausea a perpetually flipping camera can inspire), and the monster design is at least consistently creative — if largely limited to either giant monkey, giant lizard, or spiny eel. 

But the paper-thin plot duct-taped together to weave between those scenes and monsters stumbles into the genre’s inch-high bar.

The first group to knock it down are the humans, led by a few franchise familiars: scientist and Kong research specialist Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), her comic-relief blogger buddy Bernie Hayes (Bryan Tyree Henry) and the last surviving member of the Kong-defending Iwi people, Jia (Kaylee Hottle). 

The three come together for confusing semi-scientific, semi-spiritual and all-cliched reasons.

As Jia struggles to make sense of her new school following the death of her entire tribe, she’s plagued by visions of film’s most reliably creepy shape: pyramids. Her vague scribblings end up perfectly matching something Ilene has been studying. 

A small ape looks down from a cliff.
Suko, pictured here, becomes King Kong’s sidekick — unfortunately. (© 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. )

Kong and Godzilla join forces (finally)   

For reasons that are never really clear, that prompts Ilene to grab the absolutely vital conspiracist and podcast host Bernie and a few other friends to delve into the centre of the planet, a hollow cavern that hosts its own forested, monster-filled world.

While the first half of the movie does little to actually explain what’s going on here, it at least brings us to the lair of the main star: Kong. 

A cross between Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry and Joaquin Phoenix in C’mon C’mon, Kong roams by himself in his jungle prison. He’s apparently lonely enough to take on a migraine-inducing rat-monkey named Suko as a sidekick just minutes after he tries to kill him, but not quite lonely enough to keep from murdering every other living thing foolish enough to cross his path.

A giant lizard and giant ape stand next to one another. Both are roaring.
Godzilla and Kong appear in a still from the film. (© 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. )

On the outskirts of all of this is Godzilla, in a virtually unrelated road movie of his own. While he does eventually stumble into the fray with the others, it’s as an overpowered to the point of being anticlimactic final boss.

And with the twist of Godzilla and Kong uniting in a battle to save humans and the natural world, it would be interesting to estimate how many thousands their building-smashing battles end up wiping out.

But that bad faith criticism (or even the deeply odd reality of casting nuclear bomb metaphor Godzilla as a hero) isn’t even necessary here. Because outside the surprisingly sparse boss battles, there’s something sick and wrong at the heart of Godzilla x Kong.

LISTEN | Godzilla is an enduring favourite: 

12:18Why we can’t get enough of Godzilla

With the latest installment in the Godzilla franchise becoming the highest grossing Japanese film ever released in the U.S., Godzilla superfan and expert William Tsutsui and Asian culture critic Michelle Cho join Elamin to review Godzilla Minus One, and look at the long Japanese and American history of one of the most popular movie monsters of all time.

Everything is slipshod, crammed in and underwhelming.

As Kong goes on his silent journey, turning a full third of the movie into an almost-funny-but-actually-painful game of charades with a bunch of uncanny valley apes, it is equal parts boring and confusing. Meanwhile, the humans clutter the story as completely disposable plot devices. 

As Godzilla x Kong waddles to the final, blissful ending, the visually uninspired and narratively insane two hour slog finally answers the question: “What would Finnegan’s Wake look like if it was told by a kid playing with monster toys?”

The answer: not good. 

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