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

Nothing about “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” makes sense, which is not, on the face of it, a problem. We have not settled into cushy cinema seats with our comfortingly stale popcorn to engage in discourse about metaphors and science; we are here for the stars in the title. About that title: “Godzilla x Kong” (meant to echo various other titles in other, non-Hollywood Godzilla movies) could mean Godzilla times Kong, or Godzilla crossed with Kong, or Godzilla against Kong — some permutation of titans. Whatever it is, there will be punching. We are here for the punching.

What we’re not here for is the humans, which is lucky, because they’ve been dropping like flies. Most of the characters from the last few films — including the 2021 “Godzilla vs. Kong” (also directed by Adam Wingard) — have disappeared, largely without explanation. Our main character now is Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), adoptive mother to a tween, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), a member of the Iwi tribe, who communicates with Kong directly via sign language. I particularly missed Alexander Skarsgard’s Dr. Nathan Lind, whose absence is sort of explained but not mourned, and who has been replaced, for narrative reasons, by a kooky veterinarian to the titans played by Dan Stevens. (For some reason, I assume to signal the kookiness, Stevens sports an exaggerated Australian accent.)

They’re joined once again by Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), the conspiracy podcaster-blogger-documentarian-weirdo from the last film. For some reason, he’s convinced that nobody believes his stories about the titans, even though actual Godzilla is roaming the Earth and shown on the nightly news. (I’m more stuck on the strangely fantastical idea that he’s a popular blogger. Wouldn’t he have a Substack by now?)

These humans are pretty boring, more anemic than they were in the last movie. They’re there purely for narrative propulsion through this story, which begins with Kong living in the Hollow Earth (exactly what it sounds like) and Godzilla up on the surface. As long as the twain never meet, we’re good — and by we, I mean humankind.

Which means, of course, they’ll meet. The scientists spot Godzilla napping in the Colosseum, then stomping his way through Europe and northern Africa, seemingly absorbing as much nuclear power as he can because he senses some confrontation coming. At the same time, something is very wrong in Kong’s world down below. And Jia is having strange dreams, too — dreams that lead to an expedition into the Hollow Earth.

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