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‘Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire’ Review: Running Out of Steam

March 28, 20243 Mins Read

Which is not surprising. This series’ track record induces whiplash. The 2014 film “Godzilla,” a kind of reboot of the original Toho series featuring the character, was a legitimately excellent film, balancing spectacle and human pathos. But then came “Kong: Skull Island” and “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” both meant to build toward a shared universe, both of which were not just bad but real bummers. Next was “Godzilla vs. Kong” which wasn’t, technically speaking, good — but it promised confrontation and delivered it, with a late-breaking coda of unwilling and visually spectacular cooperation between massive ape and nuclear lizard. It was a blast to watch, not least because the climax happened: The two monsters finally had their long-teased meeting.

But with that zenith in the rearview mirror, “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” has very little road left to cruise, and it shows. The best stretches involve Kong lumbering through the landscape, Godzilla stomping around crushing things, and of course the inevitable final confrontation, which has a few surprises up its proverbial sleeves. Kong in particular seems to have no problem communicating without human language, and those extended scenes are so fun to watch that it’s disappointing to swing back to the humans.

Certainly, humans can be a fruitful part of these monster movies. The recent Japanese film “Godzilla Minus One,” produced for a fraction of the “Godzilla x Kong” budget and recipient of the Oscar for best visual effects this year, manages to combine the creature with true pathos and a focus on the human cost of war, guilt and trauma. It’s more in line with the origin of Godzilla, too, as a metaphor for Japanese generational trauma related to the atomic bomb. In 2004, writing for The New York Times, Terrence Rafferty succinctly described the monster as embodying “a society’s desire to claim its deepest tragedies for itself, to assimilate them as elements of its historical identity.”

None of that is here. In fact, “Godzilla x Kong” is evidence the original thread has been lost entirely — a shame, in an era haunted by monsters the movies can only hint at, from climate catastrophe, destructive weaponry and geopolitical strife to power-hungry, brutal authoritarianism. There’s no reflection here at all, not even space to contemplate what might lie beyond the literal. Beyond the main cast, the humans in this movie exist only to get squashed like ants by falling debris and mangled buildings. They are expendable, but it doesn’t matter. The meaning of these films isn’t in metaphor at all. It’s in punching.

Be warned: There’s a lot of guts in “Godzilla x Kong,” guts from mammals and reptiles ripped in half, guts from sea monsters, Technicolor guts, way more than I expected. They feel appropriate, for a monster movie, and aren’t quite gross enough to merit an R rating. But as I pondered the guts, I found myself wondering one thing: When will someone have the bravery — the guts, you might say — to make a movie with Kong, and Godzilla, and various other titans and monsters, and no humans at all?

Or maybe there’s a greater question at stake: When will Hollywood have the guts to make a fun blockbuster like this that dares to acknowledge the real menacing monsters?

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire
Rated PG-13 for destruction, some mild profanities and so, so many guts. Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes. In theaters.

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