Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire Is the King of the Monster Movies

Adam Wingard’s latest creature feature stokes the flame of an ancient rivalry.

Inverse Reviews

Adam Wingard wants Godzilla and Kong to kiss, doesn’t he? The director first got the impossibly powerful Titans together in 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong, and whether he was joking or not, he did express some regret over skirting past their very primal tension.

Any self-respecting bro would chalk their beef up to some territorial, machismo thing: they’re animals, apex predators fighting tooth-and-nail for dominance. But with Godzilla vs. Kong, Wingard suggested that they might also be people. At the very least, they’re capable of acknowledging their desires beyond the odd turf battle or hunt for food and shelter. Godzilla and Kong don’t have to kiss, but it’s silly to ignore the fact that there’s something between them — and with Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, Wingard seems willing to acknowledge that outright.

Of course, the “x” in the title is not actually setting us up for interspecies slash fiction (not yet, anyway). But Godzilla x Kong does feel the most like fan fiction out of all the films in Warner Bros. and Legendary’s “MonsterVerse,” if only because it’s having the most fun in the sandbox. It feels like Wingard and his creative team have been smashing action figures together for the past three years, searching for a way to synthesize a decade’s worth of very-different monster movies into one cohesive story.

It’s clear they did their homework: the Spielberg-inspired horrors of 2014’s Godzilla wouldn’t seem like an obvious complement to the Vernian stylings of Kong Skull Island or King of the Monsters. But Godzilla x Kong absorbs its disparate influences with glee, spitting out an adventure that hums with stimulating sound design, stuns with psychedelic visuals, and coasts on Titan-level charm.

Kong and Godzilla feel like living, breathing protagonists in Godzilla x Kong.

Warner Bros. Pictures

All seems well for our eponymous rivals at the beginning of Godzilla x Kong. The King of the Apes has been making himself home in the Hollow Earth, since Godzilla very clearly established himself as the top dog on the surface. ‘Zilla, meanwhile, has been casually stomping across the globe, taking down any Titans that threaten his reign. World leaders are notably wary of his movements, but Monarch — the S.H.I.E.L.D.-like organization that monitors kaiju like Godzilla — seems to have everything under control.

So everything’s fine on the monster front, at least for now. But if we’ve learned anything from this franchise, it’s that the balance of power could tip at any second. Something is calling out from deep within the earth, deeper than even Kong’s domain, and only a select few can detect it. Jia (Kaylee Hottle), the sole survivor of the Iwi tribe of Skull Island, is one of them — and the adventure really begins when she convinces her adopted mom, Monarch anthropologist Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), to investigate.

The MonsterVerse finally has their “human element” down to a science.

Warner Bros. Pictures

There’s been a lot of chatter about the “human element” of kaiju films of late, thanks in great deal to the excellent, Oscar-winning Godzilla Minus One. The MonsterVerse hasn’t always had the best luck with its human cast by contrast — they’re often either wholly unnecessary or a mixed bag of sci-fi tropes — but Godzilla x Kong actually gets it right.

The 2024 film lets go of the characters that never really worked, leaving room for its most promising to actually gel as a unit. Ilene links up with conspiracy podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) to figure out what’s up with Jia. The MonsterVerse hasn’t always known what to do with Bernie: he served as one of many exposition-dumpers in Godzilla vs. Kong, and became the de facto chaperone for Millie Bobby Brown’s kaiju-hunting heroine. He’s still more or less in the former role in Godzilla x Kong, but Henry is clearly having a lot more fun in the role this time around. It helps that he gets some moments to connect with characters his age, kindling a bromance with Dan Steven’s Trapper.

A freelancer for Monarch, Trapper feels like a riff on Tom Hiddleston’s role in Kong Skull Island, or maybe Sam Neill’s in Jurassic Park. All that is to say that he is the strapping, charming explorer-type that the MonsterVerse has tried countless times to introduce. It’s hard to explain why it works so well here — maybe it’s his love for yacht rock, his respect for the natural world, or his fondness for Hawaiian shirts. Maybe I just have a crush. Either way, he’s a perfect addition to Team Monarch, especially as they traverse into the Hollow Earth to uncover an ancient civilization with close ties to the Titans.

Godzilla x Kong expands the franchise exponentially, leading to some crowd-pleasing revelations.

Warner Bros. Pictures

It goes without saying that Godzilla vs. Kong, overstuffed as it was, belonged exclusively to Godzilla. The shoe is on the other foot this time, as the kaiju spends a lot of his time hibernating and/or amassing more nuclear energy. Even ‘Zilla knows that something big is approaching, but it takes his soon-to-be-ally Kong a bit longer to figure that out. Fortunately, that makes Godzilla x Kong his movie, and he doesn’t waste a minute of it.

For centuries, Kong has assumed that he’s the last of his kind. That hasn’t stopped him from searching for others like him, though — and he gets much more than he bargained for when he finally comes across the Skar King, a villain that’s been ruling his own planet of the apes within a hidden realm in the Hollow Earth. Kong doesn’t hesitate to challenge his authority, and believe it or not, their conflict only scratches the surface of what’s going on in this film.

Worlds eventually collide when Kong unleashes the wrath of the Skar King and, hilariously, has to reach out to Godzilla for help. These ancient rivals aren’t entirely simpatico, allowing Godzilla x Kong to inject some humor into an otherwise-grounded story. The brawls here are just as overwhelming and crowd-pleasing as they were in Godzilla vs. Kong and King of the Monsters, drawing on the Shōwa era of Toho monster films, buddy-cop comedies, and the history of wrestling. What keeps Godzilla x Kong from buckling under the weight of its CGI-laden spectacle, though, are the quiet, dramatic moments between the Titans and their adversaries.

With the introduction of characters like “mini-Kong,” it’s clear the Titans are just as human as their flesh-and-blood co-stars.

Warner Bros. Pictures

The bulk of Godzilla x Kong’s chief conflict is communicated without words. That makes a lot of sense: we’ve all sat through enough rock-‘em-sock-‘em films to know when our monsters are going to fight each other and why. But Wingard and his team rely more on motion-capture performances than ever before, bringing a surprisingly soulful bent to Godzilla x Kong.

Godzilla is (and always will be) a blunt instrument of vengeance, but that only ups Kong’s role as the heart of the film. Watching him nurse a toothache, try to reason with Godzilla, or mentor “mini-Kong” — the upstart young ape he takes under his wing, Lone Wolf and Cub-style — has never been more effective than it is here. It’s clear that Godzilla x Kong doesn’t need plucky human characters to deliver scenes’ worth of exposition. They’re here to supplement the story, not to spoon-feed it to audiences, and that distinction makes all the difference between a cumbersome adventure and one that effortlessly connects.

Unlike the rivalries that drive these films, there’s no real competition between Godzilla x Kong and its contemporaries. It’s all love in the end, and the more monster films there are, the better for the genre. Godzilla x Kong makes a strong case for more MonsterVerse projects, though: more silly banter, more Titan protagonists, and more absolutely gonzo worldbuilding. With its latest installment, the MonsterVerse feels more realized than ever before. Kong and Godzilla might not be taking their relationship to the next level anytime soon, but their bond (however tenuous) has leveled up the franchise in a major way.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire hits theaters on March 29.

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