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“Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” Movie Review, Live Streaming & Download

godzilla x kong 2024

Every one of the recent English language kaiju epics from Legendary Pictures has walked a different path, and “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” continues the tradition. This one is a direct sequel to 2021’s “Godzilla vs. Kong,” a simple movie inspired by the 1962 Toho Studios film “King Kong vs. Godzilla” that pitted the big lizard and the big ape against each other before teaming them against a robot foe. But rather than just repeat the template in “The New Empire,” returning director Adam Wingard and his two co-writers offer a more fragmented and sometimes knowingly silly narrative, cross-cutting between lines of action in multiple locations that all lead to a huge showdown with a lot of creatures. 

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Artistically it’s the most hit-and-miss entry in the current MonsterVerse, lacking the cohesive and distinctive vibe that powered all of the others, whether it was the 2014 “Godzilla” (basically “Close Encounters of the Godzilla Kind”), “Kong: Skull Island” (a bizarro riff on Vietnam movies), “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (the first “team-up” entry, with lots of family melodrama stirred in), or Wingard’s original, gloriously goofy Godzilla-Kong flick, which owed quite a bit to 1960s exploration sci-fi like “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and 1980s Hong Kong and American action thriller/buddy films where the two main guys have to have a fistfight before they team up against a dangerous villain. 

Rebecca Hall’s anthropologist Ilene Andrews is the main character this time, tending to her adoptive daughter Jia (Kaylie Hottle), and trying to figure out the connection between mysterious energy pulses detected on the Monarch Project’s monster-measuring tech and frenzied drawings that Jia has been scrawling on school desks and scratch paper. The answer—uncovered with help from muckraker/conspiracy podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), another character from the last movie—is a return to the “Close Encounters with Godzilla” notion, positing that what they’re all experiencing is a combination distress signal and warning about an impending catastrophe. As intimated in trailers and other promotional material, there’s a secret civilization of giant Kong-like primates imprisoned in an unexplored portion of Hollow Earth, plotting their escape and a takeover of the surface world. Their leader is a scarred and sadistic despot who enslaves his own kind in a mining operation in a hellish volcanic cavern, a set that confirms the filmmakers have seen “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” more than once. 

As somebody who’s been a booster of this franchise from the beginning, it’s my sad duty to report that “Godzilla x Kong” is all over the place, barely working up a proper head of steam before cutting to something else. It makes “King of the Monsters” seem single-mindedly on-message. And it’s even more larded with redundant and wooden “make sure that everybody in the audience understands everything that’s happening at all times” exposition than the previous films. The showdowns are rousing and often brilliantly choreographed, particularly the finale, a multiple-monster main event with lots of other creatures bustling around in the margins. The live-action and motion capture performances are mostly marvelous, despite the bum dialogue and Wingard’s tendency to rush through sequences and whole relationships that might’ve been extraordinary had they been presented with patience and elegance. 

Dan Stevens is a pleasant though functionally absurd addition to the cast. He plays a swashbuckling, poetry-quoting ex-boyfriend of Ilene who’s famous for being the first and so far only kaiju veterinarian, and is introduced extracting an abscessed tooth from Kong’s mouth by rappelling down into it from a hovercraft. (I don’t know if it was Shakespeare or Freud who said that a man with a toothache cannot be in love, but this movie offers a corollary: a giant ape with a toothache cannot defend the surface world.) Stevens has real chemistry with Henry, whose dialogue often sounds ad-libbed even if it wasn’t. There are times when they seem like they’re at risk of cracking each other up and blowing a take. But the movie fails to take advantage of their connection and build it into something truly memorable. 

Kong’s relationship with a big-eyed little scamp of an ape that he meets while exploring Hollow Earth is a much bigger missed opportunity, although the bits we do see are performed by motion capture performers and the FX teams with imagination and care. The younger ape is essentially an abused child who is treacherous, selfish, and cowardly because he grew up in a cult. He suddenly now has a good parenting model courtesy of Kong, a hairy, burly single dude who lives a solitary existence, is an orphan himself, and had no parent role models (at least not that we know of), yet still treats the younger ape with patience and compassion even when it’s not earned, and makes a decent primate out of him. Adam Sandler has told a version of this tale many times. As presented here, it’s a mirror of what’s happening between Ilene and Jia—the latter reconnecting with her own roots and Ilene growing increasingly sad at the possibility that the girl might outgrow the need for her. Two adoptive parents, two different sets of challenges, but the same basic story: so much could’ve been done, but wasn’t.

More for the minus column: The computer generated creature skins look more cartoony than in previous entries. And the screenplay introduces its genuinely terrifying and charismatic villain, Skar King, too late to give him and Kong a chance to build and flesh out their antagonism, as the preceding movie did with Kong and Godzilla’s relationship. It’s fascinating to watch the slow revelation of Kong’s value system and realize how starkly it contrasts with the behavior of his evil doppelganger, a swaggering, preening rotter who seems to have been played via time warp by Gary Oldman in the ’90s. Kong’s triumph here should have felt cathartic: a victory of decency over despotic cruelty rather than narrative box-checking. 

The whole film needed more ape content, really. It’s the stuff that really hits. The movie doesn’t seem to recognize how powerful it is. A more smartly prioritized film might have focused on the vividly rendered and characterized apes and the humans that follow them around, perhaps to the exclusion of Godzilla, who is treated here mainly as a mayhem-producing force that the movie cuts to regularly because the film has “Godzilla” in the title. (He does have his moments though, like using a pro-wrestling suplex to slam an adversary and sleeping curled up in the Roman Colosseum like it’s the world’s largest dog bed.)

If you love the “what the hell, let’s try it” sensibility that the Legendary Pictures monster franchise has embraced thus far, you’ll still find plenty here to enjoy. But it shouldn’t have been necessary to go looking for it.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire movie poster

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (2024)

Rated PG-13

115 minutes

Cast

Rebecca Hallas Dr. Ilene Andrews

Kaylee Hottleas Jia

Brian Tyree Henryas Bernie Hayes

Dan Stevensas Trapper

Alex Ferns

Fala Chen

Rachel House

Mercy Cornwall

Cassie Rileyas Beach Goer

Jordy Campbellas Student

Director

  • Adam Wingard

Screenplay

  • Terry Rossio
  • Jeremy Slater

“Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” Movie Review, Live Streaming & Download Movie Review, Live Streaming & Download

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