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The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

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‘Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire’ should have been solo act

Godzilla stands next to Kong in a scene from “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire.” “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” featured both monsters fighting each other. (Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

I wish I could say I’m most disappointed this isn’t a romantic comedy, but I’m more disappointed this story doesn’t hold up to its own standards.

“Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” is the latest entry in Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse featuring Toho Co., Ltd. giant monsters duking it out in combat. 

Following the events of the prior movie, “Godzilla vs. Kong,” Godzilla lives on Earth’s surface fighting other titans that threaten to destroy the world. Meanwhile, King Kong now resides in the hollow Earth in isolation, trying to find other titan apes like him.

Kong finds and breaks a long sealed gate, finding his kin, but at a terrible cost. The surviving titan apes are led by the brutal tyrant, the Skar King, who now plans on leading the titan apes to conquer the surface world.

This movie can be divided into three stories that converge to our inevitable giant monster fight sequence. Those stories focus on Godzilla, Kong and our human protagonists.

Godzilla barely being in his own movies is par for the course for the series going back to his 1954 introduction, but what shouldn’t be depicted is a boring radioactive giant lizard. Godzilla’s plotline follows him gathering radiation for an upcoming threat that worries characters and painfully bores the audience when we know why Godzilla is collecting said radiation. 

His warm-up fights before the climax are quick brawls that have little narrative stake and end the second they start.

Despite being a titular character to the franchise, Godzilla is woefully underutilized. Though I am sure his new Super Saiyan god rose form and the image of him curling up asleep in the Roman Colosseum will sell plenty of toys.

Our human plotline features the return of Jia (Kaylee Hottle), the last surviving child of an Indigenous tribe from Kong’s home island; Dr. Ilene (Rebecca Hall), a titan scientist and Jia’s adoptive mother; and Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), a titan conspiracist. 

Much like Godzilla, Henry’s character is also underutilized. Bernie is brought in because he thinks outside of the box, but I cannot think of one instance where Bernie contributes something that isn’t comic relief or expositing information anyone else can’t.

The main problem with the human characters is they are there to give information or provide a deus ex machina for our leading monsters. I can’t even say they’re poorly acted because they aren’t given much to do. The only human character who has a semblance of personality that isn’t a Wikipedia article is Trapper (Dan Stevens), an eccentric veterinarian who works on Titans.

This is a shame because we discover Jia has a psychic connection to Godzilla that could have been used as a bridge between the two once-bitter rivals. On top of that, her character arc of being the sole survivor of her culture not only mirrors Kong’s but is a sobering reality to our real world.

Kaiju, or giant monster, movies fall into one or two camps. The monsters are either a metaphor for an abstract concept and fear humans have or just an excuse for the audience to watch giant monsters wreak havoc. 

This film falls in the latter territory, but it could have done both showing the isolation and alienation being the only one of your kind.

Kong’s story is the only thing saving this film and that makes me mad the rest of the film isn’t up to his standard. All of Kong’s story is told via expression, body language and music, not a word is spoken, save for when he’s forced to interact with humans. A viewer feels the pain of Kong’s loneliness, his quick wit or gentle demeanor with only a few small actions.

This is probably the best Kong has looked too, as the designers went all out in making his body a road map of what he has been through. He’s gained significant bulk, graying fur, a multitude of scars given to him from previous encounters and they somehow gave him a beard. The Kratos vibes are strong with Kong.

Then there is Kong’s moral dilemma when he’s forced to fight, and even kill, the only beings like him because they are morally corrupted by the Skar King. Skar King is like if you took every horror story about chimpanzees attacking people and stuffed it into an evil red sock monkey. Every action he does is a blend of sadism and cunning strategy to assert his rule of fear, making him this series’ best antagonist. Again, this is all shown visually because these segments of the movie respect the viewers’ intelligence.

Skar King’s rule among the titan apes can be seen in Suko, an infant titan ape, who becomes Kong’s apprehensive guide to the other titan apes. Suko, in fact, tries to kill our hero, but Kong’s stoic nature, strength and mercy are what make Suko realize Skar’s brutality and become a stalwart ally of Kong’s. The baby character used as a marketing ploy is given a character arc and is actually important. The Venn diagram between Kong and Kratos is a circle.

Kong’s story makes me mad because it shows the writers are capable of great subtle writing that for some reason isn’t applied to the rest of the film. Kong’s hero journey is easily the best part of the movie and, yes, that includes the monster fights.

Let’s not beat around the bush; most people are going to see this movie for the giant monster fights, and that’s OK. The fights are passable, dare I say even great with fun set pieces. There are around four major monster fights in this movie with five or so smaller skirmishes. While the monsters don’t look realistic, the special effects are at least pretty and make it so the monsters look distinct enough they don’t turn into two masses of gray wrestling.

This uniqueness even translates to the monster’s fighting styles. Looking at Skar and Kong, Kong is significantly heftier than his ape brethren and lets everyone know it when he swings his fists. He also uses his intelligence to set up traps when fighting swarms of enemies, making him a more lethal threat. Skar, though, uses his ape agility to his advantage, weaving in and out of combat almost like he’s playing with his food.

Fighting styles aside, these titans somehow feel incredibly diminutive. Rather than show these beasts at low-angle or wide shots to display their scale, what we see are mostly eye-level shots with nothing to show scale except themselves. 

Also, while faster-paced movements give a range of action, it’s the slow heavy swings that emphasize the power these creatures have. The fact these are giant monsters slugging it out is what gave this universe an edge of uniqueness; however, it feels like we’re watching any “Avengers” action sequence. 

Look, if you’re like me and love kaiju movies, especially “Godzilla,” you’re probably going to see this regardless of what I say. I want to emphasize though that while kaiju movies can be thought-provoking or action spectacles, they can and should be an adrenaline-fueled social critique.

“Godzilla” in 1954 accomplished this. “Godzilla Minus One” in 2023 accomplished this and “The New Empire” teetered so close to this but let its crown slip.

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