Godzilla stands in the forefront roaring, with King Kong roaring behind him.

‘Godzilla x Kong’ is throwback kaiju fun

Hollywood’s latest “MonsterVerse” film is loopy and enjoyable, as long as you can brave its human characters

The title titans in "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire."

Still frame from "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire"

There’s about half an hour of amusingly goofy material in Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, but the movie is nearly two hours long, so your mileage may vary. Arriving on the heels of Godzilla Minus One—an emotional war drama from Japan’s Toho Studios—this American kaiju cousin takes more after Godzilla’s late “Showa” era, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, with its action-figure sensibility. Unfortunately, the iconic lizard ends up backgrounded for most of the movie, but its incarnation of King Kong has enough of a human spark to be charming and fun.

Godzilla x Kong is the latest entry in Warner Bros.’ ongoing “MonsterVerse,” which turns 10 this year. The series features an electric Godzilla reboot, a deviously fun Kong re-imagining (Skull Island), a middling kaiju mashup (Godzilla: King of the Monsters), an underwhelming crossover (Godzilla vs. Kong) and even a Godzilla show on Apple TV (Monarch: Legacy of Monsters). There’s a definite continuity between them—characters tend to cross over between films, though they seldom last more than two entries—but you needn’t be too concerned with who’s who. Kong is the main event, and he isn’t the only “Titan” around.

On the human side of things, the last film’s monster expert Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) returns alongside her adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle)—a mute Indigenous girl who shares a special connection with Kong—and they inexplicably seek the help of returning conspiracy radio host Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), who still has a chronic case of The Quips (symptoms include: a lack of sincerity in the face of beauty, and the compulsive need to make wry observations about the movie you’re in). Their roles largely involve extraneous set up. However, while it takes the movie about an hour to even establish its central premise, from there on out, things get kind of wacky.

The film is largely set within Hollow Earth, the subterranean realm introduced in 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong, where enormous, Kong-sized flora and fauna run wild, free of human influence. Kong is content down there, but as the last of his species, he’s on the lookout for more giant apes, though none seem to exist. You know what they say, though: be careful what you wish for.

Kaylee Hottle in "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire," with black and gold lines on her forehead reaches up.

Kaylee Hottle as Jia in "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire."

Still frame from "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire"

After Jia begins experiencing psychic visions, which Ilene and Bernie learn are underground distress signals, they join up with a roguish monster-veterinarian, Trapper (Dan Stevens having the time of his life in a Hawaiian shirt), and head down into Hollow Earth to see what’s going on. None of this is very interesting, and the film seems to rocket past any jokes, conversation, exposition, or even shots of objects and creatures that might make it feel remotely coherent. Don’t leave just yet, though. Near its hour mark, Kong goes off on his own subterranean adventure and he does, in fact, discover a society of giant apes like himself. He fights some of them—he even throws a giant baby orangutan at them, who he then befriends!—and he seeks to free the rest of them from the clutches of a tyrannical, red-furred ape known as the Scar King, who wields a whip made of a serpent’s spine, and psychically controls his own ice Godzilla, with whom he hopes to escape to the surface world and unleash a new ice age.

No, you aren’t having a stroke. Yes, that’s the real premise of this movie. In the absence of boring human characters, who take the time to explain every image on screen—as if the studio notes had insisted that audiences are complete morons—these dialogue-free sections, focused entirely on the giant apes, are a ludicrous delight. It takes a long time to get there, but seeing the lanky Scar King posing like an androgynous anime villain speaks to the kind of movie that director Adam Wingard truly wants to make: one where image and body language pop, and the action involves over-the-top theatrics. Kong wields a bone ax with a Godzilla scale for a blade. Godzilla suplexes Kong into a Great Pyramid when they finally come face to face, as though they were played by pro-wrestlers in chunky costumes (recalling Godzilla’s man-in-monster-suit roots).

A giant orange ape stands on a grassy hill in "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire."

In "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire," King Kong is no longer the only giant ape.

Still frame from "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire"

Unfortunately, the film Wingard is allowed to make ends up restrained by the kind of production issues that have plagued modern Hollywood for several years. Chief among them is a seemingly rushed production pipeline, which ensures that overworked VFX artists aren’t allowed the chance to render creatures that have a definitive sense of weight or scale. The kaiju and the humans rarely feel like they exist within the same physical space—which is part of why the movie works best when Kong and the other apes are off in their own corner of Hollow Earth, where size doesn’t matter. Granted, in a movie about giant apes and lizards, it absolutely should, but Wingard and co. make do with the hand they’re dealt.

Godzilla spends most of the movie either sleeping (amusingly, in Rome’s Coliseum) or re-charging his batteries underwater and changing color. But when he finally joins forces with Kong—who Trapper outfits with a mechanized enhancement, i.e. a robot hand that punches real hard—things get delightfully loopy. Conceptually, the film seems to anticipate having to work with weightless CGI and actually pits its characters against a scenario that takes advantage of Hollow Earth’s bizarro physics. The result is a hilarious romp: an absurd (if short-lived) action set piece where giant apes and lizards float across the screen while trying to knock each other silly. To get to this stage, you have to put up with a whole lot of painful exposition—at times, Hall literally reads backstory and setup off the wall of an ancient ruin—but if you’re able to put up with it, the payoff is cotton candy.

Rebecca Hall and Brian Tyree Henry in "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire" look up in shock behind a piece of machinery.

Rebecca Hall and Brian Tyree Henry as Ilene Andrews and Bernie Hayes in "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire."

Still frame from "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire"

It also helps that Kong retains his distinctly human traits, like mild annoyance, from previous films. Fans of Skull Island, who recall him casually slurping a giant octopus like spaghetti, will feel especially catered to. Unfortunately—or perhaps fortunately, if you squirm easily—Godzilla x Kong isn’t as gross or tactile as it wants to be, owing once again to shoddy visual effects, which rob several scenes involving blood, guts, and monster goop of their cartoonish impact.

Sadly, even recommending Godzilla x Kong comes wrapped in caveats and apologies, given how little of it actually works. It has none of the scale or grandeur of Hollywood’s 2014 Godzilla—or Japanese highlights like Minus One, Shin Godzilla, or the original 1954 Gojira—let alone any of the brazen political imagery of Skull Island or…the original 1954 Gojira. But if you feel starved for hints of big-budget Hollywood spectacle, Wingard’s latest entry has just enough by way of imaginative shlock to scratch that particular itch, until something better comes along.

Brian Tyree Henry in "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire" stands in front of a wall filled with newspaper clippings and red strings.

Brian Tyree Henry as Bernie Hayes in "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire."

Still frame from "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire"

Published on March 29, 2024

Words by Siddhant Adlakha

Siddhant Adlakha is a critic and filmmaker from Mumbai, though he now lives in New York City. They're more similar than you'd think. Find him at @SiddhantAdlakha on Twitter