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Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire movie review (2024)

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire movie review (2024)

Dan Stevens is a pleasant though functionally absurd addition to the cast. He plays a swashbuckling, poetry-quoting ex-boyfriend of Ilene who’s famous for being the first and so far only kaiju veterinarian, and is introduced extracting an abscessed tooth from Kong’s mouth by rappelling down into it from a hovercraft. (I don’t know if it was Shakespeare or Freud who said that a man with a toothache cannot be in love, but this movie offers a corollary: a giant ape with a toothache cannot defend the surface world.) Stevens has real chemistry with Henry, whose dialogue often sounds ad-libbed even if it wasn’t. There are times when they seem like they’re at risk of cracking each other up and blowing a take. But the movie fails to take advantage of their connection and build it into something truly memorable. 

Kong’s relationship with a big-eyed little scamp of an ape that he meets while exploring Hollow Earth is a much bigger missed opportunity, although the bits we do see are performed by motion capture performers and the FX teams with imagination and care. The younger ape is essentially an abused child who is treacherous, selfish, and cowardly because he grew up in a cult. He suddenly now has a good parenting model courtesy of Kong, a hairy, burly single dude who lives a solitary existence, is an orphan himself, and had no parent role models (at least not that we know of), yet still treats the younger ape with patience and compassion even when it’s not earned, and makes a decent primate out of him. Adam Sandler has told a version of this tale many times. As presented here, it’s a mirror of what’s happening between Ilene and Jia—the latter reconnecting with her own roots and Ilene growing increasingly sad at the possibility that the girl might outgrow the need for her. Two adoptive parents, two different sets of challenges, but the same basic story: so much could’ve been done, but wasn’t.

More for the minus column: The computer generated creature skins look more cartoony than in previous entries. And the screenplay introduces its genuinely terrifying and charismatic villain too late to give him and Kong a chance to build and flesh out their antagonism, as the preceding movie did with Kong and Godzilla’s relationship. It’s fascinating to watch the slow revelation of Kong’s value system and realize how starkly it contrasts with the behavior of his evil doppelganger, a swaggering, preening rotter who seems to have been played via time warp by Gary Oldman in the ’90s. Kong’s triumph here should have felt cathartic: a victory of decency over despotic cruelty rather than narrative box-checking. 

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