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Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire Is Epically, Enjoyably Stupid

Hollywood, it seems, has empires on the mind. Last week saw the release of Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. This week brings Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire. There’s no Star Wars movie on the release calendar, but the empire, it seems, is striking back. 

It’s not just empires, though, it’s primates. Next month, theaters will play Monkey Man, followed quickly by Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. Add in this week’s Kong entry, and one thing is clear: Moviegoers are in for a lot of monkey business. 

The New Empire is the fifth film in the so-called MonsterVerse and the second to pair the titular characters. Like 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong, this entry is directed by Adam Wingard, and also like that entry—perhaps even more so—it is epically dumb. I am not even sure I mean that as an insult: Godzilla x Kong is a saga of simian stupid like you’ve never seen before. 

Wingard’s innovation is to treat his pair of monster protagonists as just a couple of bros, with normal, relatable, bro-type problems. When we first meet Kong, he’s out on the hunt in the Hollow Earth—please don’t make me explain what that is—and he shreds minimonsters and conquers his territory accordingly. At the end of a long, tiring day, he takes a shower under a waterfall, then returns to his Kong cave to relax and stare at Netfli…er, watch over his domain. 

And it turns out he has a toothache.

Yes, the inciting incident in this grandiose, oversized monster movie beat-’em-up is a giant ape with a toothache. This sets in motion a series of even sillier, even goofier events that will eventually bring Kong and Godzilla to fight a mutual enemy. Forget The New Empire; this movie’s subtitle should have been Tooth & Consequences

Godzilla, you see, has been hanging out on the surface of the Earth stomping mean monsters that threaten humanity’s major cities. From the glimpses we get of these fights, it looks like Godzilla does as much raging as he does destroying, but in any case he’s something of a good guy now, walking the Earth like Caine in Kung Fu, defending the downtrodden. This suggests a much better, or at least more intriguing premise, in which Godzilla is reimagined as a skyline-ravaging version of The Equalizer, traveling to a new location each installment and meting out monster-sized vengeance.

Before television series shifted toward complex, serialized storytelling, many were built around pitting the hero against a new bad guy in every episode: This sort of one-off storytelling format was sometimes referred to as “monster of the week.” When does Godzilla get his own series? 

Not soon enough. The big grumpy lizard spends most of the movie dormant, curled up and napping, dog-like, inside the Colosseum. It turns out monsters, like men, really can’t stop thinking about the Roman Empire. 

But this just underscores the bro-y nature of the movie’s titular big brutes. Kong spends part of the movie bonding with a mini-Kong, a son-by-transference who shows up to give the movie big dad energy as the little guy tries to copy his father figure’s ways. Monkey see, monkey do. 

Meanwhile, Godzilla travels to the Arctic to power up by beating the cold-water-dwelling energy monster Tiamat. Somehow this eventually leads to a story beat about preventing a new ice age. Ghostbusters sequel aside, maybe this one should have been called Frozen Empire after all?

It’s tremendously stupid, with occasional lore drops designed to “explain” what’s going on. But the exposition mostly makes things more incomprehensible. At one point, it’s explained that there’s a whole hidden human society that works off of controlling gravity, and then at the end, gravity simply gets turned off. In Godzilla x Kong, up is literally down. 

Some of this, however, is entertaining, in a fairly juvenile way. At its best, the movie pairs Kong and Godzilla together like some sort of giant-sized buddy cop comedy—think 48 Hours or Turner & Hooch, but bigger, louder, and stupider.

Yet the movie’s problems persist. For one, far too much time is spent rehearsing incomprehensible lore about the lost ape civilization at the Hollow Earth, which, again, is just too stupid to explain. 

For another, this movie also has actual people played by actual actors, unfortunately. The less said about them, the better. 

The movie knows how disposable its human characters are: The finale turns them into onlookers who barely have any part to play. The final 20 minutes or so are essentially a computer-animated pro-wrestling match, complete with pro-wrestling power moves, between Godzilla and Kong on one side and the Skar King, a twisted, evil version of Kong, plus his enslaved Godzilla-like minion, Shimo. This MonsterMania special event is loud, ludicrous, and—well, mostly just loud and ludicrous.

Godzilla x Kong is not a good movie, but in its defense, it doesn’t pretend to be either. There’s a childlike, adolescent glee in the movie’s oversized brawls. If you’ve ever heard an eight-year-old boy explain the lore around the sandbox showdowns he’s staging with his action figures, you have some idea of what this movie is like. There’s a lot of monkeying around. 

If you do plan to see it, seek out the biggest screen with the loudest sound system: Godzilla x Kong very much operates on a go-big-or-go-home ethos. Given the ridiculous results, moviegoers should consider the same strategy. 

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