There will be many comparisons in the next day or three between Godzilla Minus One, Takashi Yamazaki’s shockingly beautiful and elegiac epic about a giant lizard triggering nationwide trauma for a country in ruins, and Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, the newest monster smash up between the Big G and the Ape from Skull Island. But right at the top, every reader should recognize this is a fruitless exercise; a contrast as meaningful as pondering the differences between a genuine Oscar winner and a Saturday morning cartoon.

For make no mistake, Godzilla x Kong is a cartoon. I’m told the film technically qualifies as live action, too, because Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, and Dan Stevens appear in front of some blue screens (and presumably to pick up hefty paychecks for their troubles). But I still don’t entirely believe it. Flesh and blood actors might float by to spout exposition, but the space they occupy is as real as Bob Hoskins’ foray into Toontown, and a fraction as interesting. Of course the cartoon label could apply to almost every MonsterVerse film we’ve had to date, yet The New Empire holds the unenviable distinction of being the first where for large swaths of the running time, the monsters are as dull as the humans they step over.

Chief among those time-filling ants is Rebecca Hall’s Dr. Irene Andrews, who returns from 2021’s equally dumb but much more kinetic Godzilla vs. Kong. If you don’t recall, she is the Kong expert who has also become the adoptive mother of Jia (Kaylee Hottle), the tween girl who is the lone survivor of the Iwi Tribe from the now desolated Skull Island. And because Jia is starting to have nightmarish visions, our double-credentialed and world renowned Monarch scientist is turning for help to… a conspiracy theory podcaster? Yeah, even the movie doesn’t really know how to explain it, but it at least gets Brian Tyree Henry back for another go-round, which is never a bad thing.

Together, Irene and Henry’s Bernie convince Monarch to send a team of scientists down into the Hollow Earth where Kong lives as king. Alas, though, it’s a lonely rule since his only friends wear lab coats. The heroes also take along a veterinarian (Dan Stevens) so the proper banter quota can be met. Yet as they look down there for answers to Jia’s visions—and around the same time that Kong discovers a new race of giant apes living beneath the surface of the Earth—Godzilla is forced to shoehorn his sizable frame into the movie by causing a ruckus topside. First he inexplicably starts curling up like a kitten inside the Roman Colosseum, and then he wakes up cranky and in need of a nuclear power plant pick-me-up. It seems the Big G also senses something bad is coming and wants to get juiced for the rumble.

The MonsterVerse movies have always been a mixed bag. While the aforementioned Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic has frequently tickled this reviewer’s nostalgia buttons, it is impossible to ignore the intentional simplicity (to use a diplomatic term) in movies like Kong: Skull Island or Godzilla: King of the Monsters. When director Adam Wingard took over the reins in 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong, he removed all pretense. The human characters’ scenes were cut to the bone and relied on stereotypes of stereotypes. But the monsters? They rarely appeared giddier, with Wingard replicating the crash-your-action-figures-together glee of late Shōwa era Kaiju movies from the Toho Studios of the 1970s—only with a 21st century Hollywood budget.

Watching Godzilla and King Kong throw fisticuffs at each other about every 30 minutes was a 12-year-old’s dream, but now with the flair of a visual stylist who bathed the spectacle in chic neon pinks or yellows, and clean shots that took advantage of zero gravity environments in the Hollow Earth. Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire attempts to replicate all those flourishes and tricks, right down to Godzilla even providing the hot neon pink in rustic settings like the Pyramids of Giza (his fins get a Barbieland glow up). The problem, however, is that we have to wait a long time for that Godzilla and Kong action.

Despite the film being a fleet 115 minutes, Godzilla x Kong drags where Godzilla vs. Kong skipped into its happy haymakers. The earlier film was a glorified fight night spectacle which saw the title characters get into a donnybrook at least once per act. By contrast, Godzilla x Kong keeps them apart and instead focuses far too much on limp comedy beats delivered by actors working from the worst script in the MonsterVerse saga (which is saying something), and Kong also befriending a proverbial Son of Kong as he battles another giant ape called “the Scar King.”

While we appreciate the allusions to both the mostly forgotten Merian C. Cooper 1933 quickie sequel to King Kong, as well as Toho’s own Son of Godzilla (1967), the tsunami’s worth of CGI in Godzilla x Kong lacks the charm of Willis O’Brien’s 1930s stop-motion or the goofiness of a kid in a rubber suit. When used right, digital effects can awe and overwhelm, but they rarely ever endear or beguile. And all the money spent on Godzilla x Kong’s Hollow Earth giant apes sequences prove as inert and lifeless as the drama between Hall and Stevens doing their damndest with nothing.

So when even the giant monsters are boring for most of the running time, what are you left with?

One of the only thrilling sequences in Godzilla x Kong is the Row by the Nile where Godzilla, Kong, and a mysterious third party we cannot spoil get in a tussle with the Great Pyramid of Khufu as their squared circle. It’s daffy, devastating to world history, and a return to the jejune appeal of Godzilla vs. Kong and many Toho classics. It is also literally Godzilla vs. Kong Redux. Similarly, there is then an immediate follow-up final Battle Royale at the Center of the Earth with more creatures duking it out than a Super Smash Bros. online free for all. After 90 minutes of being lulled into a stupor, the climax makes for an extremely expensive alarm buzzer.

For those looking purely for that monster mash high, this over-caffeinated climax might scratch an itch, but when you need just as much caffeine to stay awake up until that point, it feels like the fight is already lost. Whether it’s Godzilla, Kong, the Scar King, or Mystery Monster X, there are no winners here—and certainly not in the audience.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire opens in theaters on Friday, March 29.

The post Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire Review – It’s Already Fallen appeared first on Den of Geek.

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