‘Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire’ Pushes the Humans Aside for Ear-Splitting Mayhem

There is absolutely no need for any humans in “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire.” If they were taken out along with any spoken language, this movie would still work as a rip-roaring, silly-faced good time. That’s because when it comes to monster movies no one actually cares about the people. We want spectacle and gargantuan beasts. And this movie definitely delivers on the latter. It’s the latest entry in Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse, which is somehow holding strong while its fellow universes over at the MCU and DCEU need serious tinkering. It helps that the headliners are two movie brands that keep adjusting to every new decade. Godzilla and King Kong rematch but it’s not a repeat of their last standoff, 2021’s “Godzilla vs. Kong.” This one goes fully camp while expanding the fight, leaving the humans with even less dimension than the monsters.

In the aftermath of the events from the last movie, Kong is still running and munching through Hollow Earth, that trippy other world in our planet’s interior. The gorilla “Titan” is also suffering from a toothache. Keeping track and care of Kong is Monarch scientist Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), who remains an adoptive mother to Jia (Kaylee Hottle), now nearing adolescence but still linked to Kong. Something is going on when Godzilla emerges once more from the ocean depths, this time stomping through Rome, apparently in search of great energy for a coming showdown. There is a strange distress signal coming out of Hollow Earth and detected by Jia. When Ilene and Jia reunite with conspiracy podcaster and Titan expert Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), they follow Kong back into Hollow Earth accompanied by Titan veterinarian Trapper (Dan Stevens). What they find is an unexplored corner of the place along with a hidden civilization and a looming, monstrous threat preparing to attack the surface.

Out of the MonsterVerse output, “Godzilla x Kong” is the title that falls most into the clichés viewers tend to associate with kaiju movies, meaning it is a lot of logic-defying beast action where people are reduced to screaming bystanders. This was always ironic considering the first ever “Godzilla” from 1954 remains a sharp allegory for the dangers of nuclear weapons and the psychological toll of Hiroshima on Japan. The atomic lizard’s home country has kept this richer storytelling tradition going as seen in last year’s Oscar-winning “Godzilla: Minus One.” The first MonsterVerse movies, Gareth Edwards’ 2014 “Godzilla,” and Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s 2017 “Kong: Skull Island,” were both unique and inventive. Director Adam Wingard is back after having made “Godzilla vs. Kong” with trippy adventure and cornball yet convincing human angles. “Godzilla x Kong” is the lesser but still retains a sense of self-referential humor, this time going for broke with over-the-top absurdity that never sits still. Sly gags work, like Kong needing to get an infected tooth pulled by Trapper. This might be a reference to 1986’s “King Kong Lives,” where the furry hero needed a heart transplant. Godzilla has also decided his prime napping spot is the Colosseum in Rome.

There’s not much to say about the humans, so it’s best to get that part out of the way before going into the movie’s truly wild moments. Ilene and team are thrown into a bare bones plot that jumps around in spurts as the movie tries to stay focused on the massive beasts. Essentially, the humans are here to just explain what the story itself is. It turns out there are two new big discoveries in Hollow Earth. First, the Iwi, led by a queen (Fala Chen), worship the luminous Titan Mothra and have their own special connection to Jia. Second, the big villain is another giant ape, the Scar King, who plans a savage invasion of the surface with his chained Titan servant, Shimo. Godzilla fans know this as another giant lizard which happens to emit a deadly frost. Quite literally, the only task at hand for the humans is to stand around hilltops, yelling who is who, or decipher some cave carvings to explain why there should be a showdown between the Scar King and everyone else. The screenplay by Terry Rossio, Simon Barrett and Jeremy Slater features dialogue that’s all exposition. There’s much more character development with a small ape who befriends Kong and becomes his protégé.

For audience members walking in just wanting to see well-made CGI monstrosities shake the walls in Dolby surround sound, the real movie kicks off when Godzilla and Kong throw down with the Scar King and Shimo. What these MonsterVerse movies have always had going for them, even above Marvel at times, is their genuine visual scale. The special effects never look boring and here we still get some epic popcorn sites. Kong battling Hollow Earth canines, chomping on some giant sea critter or Godzilla demolishing Rome, before sucking radiation out of a nuclear power plant somewhere else, are deliriously entertaining on their own. The Scar King inhabits a lair with cascades of lava, snarling orders we don’t need translated because his menacing rictus is enough. Climactic battles pound all over Cairo and São Paulo, with little concern for the safety of historic landmarks. No one seems to comment on how the pyramids of Giza get pretty smashed up. But that’s the tradition of kaiju flicks. Nobody watches “Gamera: Guardian of the Universe” wondering about who will pay for all the damages in Tokyo. Godzilla gets less extended screen time than Kong this time around, but once he powers up and starts to glow, he matches his foe-turned-buddy in the ensuing stompathon.

Great cinema this is not. It iis not even one of the better MonsterVerse movies, but if your sole aim is to see kaiju heavy metal onscreen, “Godzilla x Kong” will work as enjoyably bad. Because the editing and visuals still have scope, playing around with the idea of size and perception, this movie also retains some inventiveness. When we see Kong and the Scar King face off, surrounded by the villain’s other ape goons, everything looks of equal size. Once they are seen by the humans, we are reminded they are giants by comparison. That is still fun in a classic Saturday morning cartoon way. Still, one hopes the next movie finds a better balance between all the players involved, large and small. The previous MonsterVerse movies featured genuine human villains representing corporate greed or the dangers of playing God. Much of these Godzilla-Kong moments almost work like a silent movie. The people become the equivalent of intrusive subtitles. A better balance will mean we can be engaged beyond just the earth-shaking roars.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” releases March 29 in theaters nationwide.