Sunday, March 31, 2024


Each installment in the ongoing Hollywood Godzilla series is a little worse than the one before it. Ten years on, Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla looks all the better for its thundering portent and heavy sense of scale. He shoots with mystery and mass, letting the real terror of an enormous creature seep through each frame of its monster movie paces. Its direct sequel, Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, is a little less realistic in its dimensions, but the overstuffed apocalyptic mood gives a fine pulp jolt to its escalating cast of kaiju overshadowing an efficient cast of scientists and soldiers. Both are about families caught in the wake of these creatures’ paths, which gives just enough emotionality to hang on the shattering potential of such a monster mash. That’s the main inspiration that keeps writer-director Adam Wingard’s contributions connected—aside from the set dressing and proper nouns that knit the cinematic universe together—to the character strengths of its predecessors. Though finding some sentimentally in King Kong expert Rebecca Hall adopting an adorable deaf Skull Island orphan (Kaylee Hottle), his Godzilla v. Kong was generally cartoony. It’s drifting toward the outsized and preposterous, but enough of a colorful smash-em-up to be diverting. Give me a giant ape and a giant lizard fighting a giant robot and fill it up with a neon sci-fi light show and I’m reasonably satisfied, I guess. 

Wingard leans into the dumb cartoon qualities even further for the new Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire. We’ve lost whatever felt even tangentially real or threatening in the earlier entries. Now it’s CG animation for long stretches as Kong meanders through the Hollow Earth fighting big wolves and munching on enormous worms, and Godzilla plays the burly kaiju bouncer for the world’s major cities, cliff jumping off Gibraltar or curling up in the Coliseum. Hall and Hottle return to wander down in search of a distress call from deeper into the Earth’s core—taking comic relief conspiracy theorist Brian Tyree Henry and swaggering veterinarian Dan Stevens for the ride. And then, once everyone’s assembled amid the special effects of a Hollow Earth within the Hollow Earth, a rumbling wrestling tag-team erupts when an evil big monkey riding an evil big lizard take on our eponymous monsters. It’s basically an effects reel staged with reverse shots of actors reacting. That the movie is essentially passable nonetheless says something about the enduring appeal of these beasties. When Kong picks up a Mini Kong and uses it as a club to smash other monster apes, there’s a certain lizard-brained appeal. Ditto the appearances of Godzilla collecting radioactive power-ups to fuel his big finale fight. But there’s no suspense or intrigue or awe—or any believable thin genre characterization to care about—left when it’s all pitched at the most extremely broad Saturday Morning level, with nothing to provide us but cartoons collapsing through skyscrapers.

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