Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire Is an Uninspired Slog

Godzilla and Kong in The New Empire. Photos Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: there could not have been a worse time for Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (simply The New Empire going forward) to come out. The obvious reason is that it has been barely six months since we got what is arguably the greatest Godzilla movie of all time in the ridiculously good Godzilla Minus One. The other reason is Dune: Part Two has changed the game when it comes to blockbuster filmmaking. Our two beasts had an uphill battle going into The New Empire just based on the current movie landscape. 

But, just for a second, let’s pretend Godzilla Minus One doesn’t exist and Dune: Part Two hasn’t been released yet. Would that change my perspective on The New Empire? Absolutely not. The issues that plague this film have to do with its writing, direction, execution, character development, and special effects—basically everything you need in a good movie. This is not the worst movie I’ve ever seen (it is competent and somewhat enjoyable in spots), it’s just that with recent great blockbusters, the flaws of The New Empire seem more glaring and frustrating. 

I don’t like to compare movies against each other but, given the two films share a gigantic atomic lizard, we must evaluate The New Empire through the lens of Godzilla Minus One. The former film is part of Warner Bros. Monsterverse cinematic universe, which includes 2014’s Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and Godzilla vs. Kong. All of these movies are more or less the same movie that excels when they let the big monsters fight and fail when any human graces the screen. For a while, these were the only monster movies we were getting and it seemed impossible to blend large-scale action with strong human characters. Godzilla Minus One puts all those movies to shame.

Skar King screaming with a belt of blades around his shoulder.
Skar King is the main antagonist of The New Empire. Photos Courtesy of Warner Bros.

The brilliance of Godzilla Minus One is not its scary portrayal of Godzilla or intense kaiju sequences, but its cogent and strong emotional core. Using World War Two and survivor’s guilt as the driving force of the movie raises the stakes and allows investment into the narrative. It’s easy to show monsters tear-down buildings—it’s much harder to seamlessly blend that with a strong narrative. In addition to this, the much-talked-about and Oscar-winning special effects of Godzilla Minus One feel more practical and tactile, rather than the glossy and animated CGI the Monsterverse movies employ.

The humans in the Monsterverse are the most thinly written, extraneous, and useless characters you’ll see. They only serve to deliver long exposition dumps to give these monsters unnecessary lore or say “comedic” one-liners that feel like they were left on the Marvel cutting-room floor. In King of Monsters and Godzilla vs. Kong, it felt easier to ignore the humans and focus on the action but in The New Empire, the action isn’t compelling enough to overlook the banal characters. Even though the humans have the least screen time in any movie of the series, the amount we do get still feels like too much. Director Adam Wingard replaces scenes that would’ve featured non-monster characters with scenes of Kong communicating non-verbally with a colony of apes. It’s a good idea and could work with precise execution; sadly, the apes aren’t expressive enough (due to the poor digital effects) to give us the emotion and tension we want in those scenes.

The critical and commercial success of Dune: Part Two has told us that audiences want a spectacle they haven’t seen and, more importantly, are comfortable with being confronted with weird ideas and wacky stuff. Mainstream audiences have embraced a movie that ends with a pregnant witch telling her unborn fetus that her brother has ascended to the throne and started a holy war. Note to blockbuster filmmakers: don’t be afraid to get weird! The New Empire resorts to conventional tropes and mythology made up of random carvings in caves that happen to be found at the perfect time. Roughly an hour is dedicated to this boring set-up, which could have easily been condensed to 15 minutes. Moviegoers may like the lazy writing since it allows them to focus on the monsters fighting, but with the rejection of recent Marvel movies, I think blockbusters will have to become more thematically complicated. The New Empire is far from that. 

Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and Trapper (Dan Stevens) stand outside in the sun at a Monarch base.
Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and Trapper (Dan Stevens) in The New Empire. Photos Courtesy of Warner Bros.

The kaiju fighting is fun and prevents this movie from being a colossal disaster. The climactic showdown features multiple kaiju and the film finally comes to life. The CGI still leaves much to be desired, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t smile a few times. However, sitting through almost 90 minutes of boring exposition and subpar smaller fights is not enough to make this final battle worthwhile. This universe has made it clear that it’s not going to try to make the human aspect interesting and, rather, make the monsters the centerpiece. These movies should then be 80-90 minute romps that exclusively feature monsters fighting, it’s that simple. Don’t bother with exposition and lore and focus on the kaiju. Godzilla vs. Kong, a flawed yet amusing film, leans into this aspect the most out of these movies and it baffles me The New Empire didn’t do the same.

I know it’s incredibly dumb to get mad over monster screentime, but this movie warrants it. Godzilla vs. Kong teased a showdown between Godzilla and Kong and that’s what we got (and for that specific reason I can’t hate that movie too much). This film’s full title (Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire) suggests maybe more showdowns between our two beloved beasts or maybe a possible team-up. Let me just say, The New Empire features an egregious, nay criminal, underuse of Godzilla. This is basically a Kong: Skull Island sequel with a Marvel-esque cameo from Godzilla. I am Team Godzilla all the way—he has atomic breath and Kong is a glorified monkey, end of argument. When you have a big nuclear lizard at your disposal, I’d recommend using him and not relegating him to the climax of the movie. I’m not saying The New Empire fails because of how little Godzilla is in it, but I’m also not not saying that. 

Godzilla screams at the sky in the Arctic Ocean with his spikes glowing pink.
Godzilla is criminally underused in The New Empire. Photos Courtesy of Warner Bros.

I’m glad and I hope Rebecca Hall, Dan Stevens, and Brian Tyree Henry were handsomely rewarded for their work in The New Empire and that’s all I have to say about the “performances” in this film. At least Stevens was having fun with his character even though I absolutely could not remember if he was in a previous Monsterverse movie or not.  

The Monsterverse franchise makes money and, as long as they do, Warner Bros. will keep making them. All of these entries are going to have the same issues because they refuse to challenge themselves or trust their viewers. Studios seem to believe that strong artistry comes at the cost of less profit—an ideal the Monsterverse seems to be built on. I’d caution Warner Bros. because just as the chickens came home to roost for Marvel eventually, they will come for the Monsterverse sooner or later. Or rather, Godzilla will come home to spew his atomic breath. 

Written by Aqib Rasheed

AQIB RASHEED is a staff writer at Film Obsessive. Member of the Chicago Indie Critics and served as the Resident Film Critic for the Loyola Phoenix from 2021-2022. An admirer of movies, old and new, from all over the world. President of the Al Pacino and David Fincher fan clubs.

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