de facto film reviews 2 stars

Winter may still be an annoying pest here in Michigan, but big blockbusters like Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire are a telltale sign of the arriving spring and summer seasons. At this point, the Legendary Monsterverse, headlined by Godzilla and Kong, is essentially the kaiju movie equivalent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; every new entry scales up and becomes more expensive and overstuffed. Sometimes, they even get more ridiculous, as with Godzilla x Kong. However, despite some expected flaws, the big-ticket kaiju brawler manages plenty of excitement and amusement for franchise fans.

After defeating MechaGodzilla in Godzilla vs. Kong, Adam Wingard’s newest film sees Kong establish a foothold in Hollow Earth while Godzilla keeps the peace up top. But when a distress signal originates somewhere deep in Hollow Earth, Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle) must return to the topsy-turvy subterranean environment to stop a new evil from taking over. This rather convenient plotline is nothing new to the Godzilla franchise, as Toho’s long-running Japanese series of films constantly introduced new kaiju villains to keep things fresh.

Godzilla x Kong - Jia

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

In this case, the Skar King and its Titan slave, the icy Shimo, stand between Godzilla, Kong, and humanity on the surface world. The familiar possibility of total domination offers a thrilling sequence of events, however repetitive, and many production elements keep the popcorn entertainment value high. The global stakes pose significant urgency, the constant dramatic flourishes in dialogue and music maintain the movie’s atmosphere, and the big-budget CGI effects immerse you in their fantastic world full of impossible biology and gargantuan fighting monsters.

Although the plot technically works for the reasons mentioned above, one can’t help but look back at the previous films and realize that Godzilla x Kong’s execution pales in comparison. Global stakes they may be, but the over-the-top script takes a bit too long to establish them, and the story beats quickly become convoluted anyway. And, to this reviewer, the Skar King is underdeveloped and a bit of a chump compared to ‘Zilla villains such as King Ghidora or MechaGodzilla. The mini Kong, AKA Suko, is better developed and objectively cuter.

Godzilla x Kong - Skar King

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Other issues from previous Legendary Godzilla movies continue to curse the property in The New Empire, namely the bland human characters, all of whom primarily serve as expositional vehicles. Hall does an admirable job, but Dr. Andrews is still uninteresting, Jia is still a knockoff Infant Island fairy, and Brian Tyree Henry’s returning conspiracy theory podcaster Bernie is still the comic relief. This time, however, the always-affable and outstanding Dan Stevens joins on as Trapper, a brash Titan veterinarian.

Trapper and Bernie exhibit some humorous “bro” energy, which can lead to some laughs amidst the daunting CGI action sequences and booming score. Still, the characters offer little besides over-explaining the film’s complex mystical storyline, and the condensed cast of players is arguably less enjoyable here than in other entries. Speaking of “condensed,” Godzilla’s screen time feels oddly diminished in The New Empire for some reason. Considering the Skar King angle and its relation to Kong, this decision may make sense in hindsight. Regardless, it isn’t very reassuring for Godzilla fans, provided the atomic monster’s headliner status.

Godzilla x Kong - Pink Godzilla

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

That said, audiences should know what they are signing up for when going into Godzilla x Kong: excessive, entertaining kaiju violence with some magic and mayhem peppered in. It delivers all that in spades, making the movie incredibly far from boring—human segments aside. As evidenced in the promotional materials, Godzilla and Kong both get Power Rangers-like upgrades and are all the cooler for it, leading to some incredible visual moments. Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire may not be great, but as mindless blockbusters go, it is a more than serviceable blockbuster kaiju spectacle.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire is now playing in theaters nationwide.