Friday, March 29, 2024

G Watch: Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (2024)

Watched:  03/28/2024
Format:  AMC Dolby (apparently the seats vibrate?)
Viewing:  First
Director:  Alex Wingard
Selection:  This is a Godzilla house

As soon as the credits rolled, Jamie turned to me and said:  "this movie understood what the series needed was more frogs and dogs and bears and chickens and whatever".  And I agree.  100%.

So.  I'm not going to guarantee everyone will like this movie.  It is loud, and it is crazy and it is probably more than a little dumb.  But that doesn't mean I didn't have a great time at the movie, and get exactly what I wanted out of it.  

I've entered into that "I can't actually see a Godzilla movie and just watch it as a normal movie, I only can see it in the context of 70 years of Godzilla films" thing that I also do with some other media, like Superman.  So, based on that, I think Legendary/ The Monsterverse has finally really sorted out their strengths.*  

They absolutely get how the first two Godzilla movies wanted to do this in a way that suggested a serious film but then kept tripping over themselves en route, whether it was giving us the most boring possible hero or the least sympathetic family possible to follow for the runtime.  

I spent my fall and winter evangelizing for Godzilla Minus One, which is a sci-fi-ish drama with high human stakes.  But G Minus One understood what story it was telling and how Godzilla was going to be a big walking metaphor for our protagonist.  Similarly, Shin Godzilla seemed more like an art film than a Godzilla picture from the kookier eras of the series.  So it does show - you can use giant monsters any way you want - the analogs for societal issues or woes come to life, or even fighting those problems.   And maybe Legendary/ Monsterverse had a shot at that, and just flubbed it.  

Both Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Monarch certainly want to dwell in the world of Godzillas roaming about, and the impact on people.  But it doesn't unfold as a tragedy, just a bummer, and the tone never really changes.  It just means our characters are in a mood every frame.

But here in 2024, we're on the follow up to one of the best-received (by the fans) Godzilla/ Kong movies in 2021's Godzilla vs. Kong.  And let's be honest, I don't think the critics really embraced that one.  It's straight popcorn entertainment, with aspirations only to be a fun kaiju movie, embracing all the ideas that spilled out over the decades, while also incorporating new ones - and this movie picks up on that thread and runs with it. 

This movie wants to make sure we have little arcs for our human characters, but opens the door for Kong himself to have an arc.  There's enough to give the primary characters moments and beats, even if they feel jotted off quickly.  But.  They also tie in to the actual plot of this and prior films.  It isn't much, but it's the rare Godzilla movie where we're here for what's happening to anyone standing less than 150 feet tall, and it doesn't feel like a distraction.**

A lot of folks have stated that this movie is a love-letter to Showa Era Godzilla, and there's an argument there.  The first era of Godzilla got weird and wacky as time rolled on, and those films weren't as concerned with the likely militarization of the country with Godzilla as a factor as we'd see in the Heisei and Millennium era films.  The Showa films were sometimes downright whimsical.  And I'd argue that Godzilla, like our friend Batman, can be many things.  And the Showa era decided "eh, this is for kids." (a big pivot after Gojira).

I think some of that is true here - maybe middle-school aged kids or proximate ages.  But mostly I think this movie knows why you were coming, and it was to see super weird stuff and surprises.  And I can't help but think of Godzilla vs. Megalon and the like for how weird those movies could get. 

That said, I think about where Final Wars was headed and that was absolutely wacky and weird, with plenty of monster fighting.  So it's just part of what our boy Godzilla has to offer from time to time.

But you want to hear about the monster stuff!

Maybe because he's far more anthropomorphized, the film follows Kong, who still lives in the Hollow Earth, and spends his days looking around for other apes, to no avail.  We learn he's smart enough to set elaborate traps for other monsters.  Meanwhile, Godzilla seems pretty fired up on the surface, taking care of rogue titans with extreme prejudice.  

But a series of seismic burps freak out Monarch, set off psychic disturbances with Jia (the wee girl from the last movie who is in, like, high school now?).  Ilene Anderson (Rebecca Hall) is freaking out, and then Kong comes to the surface for help with a busted tooth.  Soon enough Ilene, her college sweetie, Trapper (Dan Stevens), who is now a Monarch veterinarian (no, really), and podcaster Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) head to the Underneath to see what's making the Earth burp.  

Up top, Godzilla starts eating nuclear reactors and essentially seems to be charging up.  Like he knows something is coming.

Turns out our friends accidentally upset some balance and now there's a chance that a rogue ape will escape his imprisonment with an army of near-Kong-sized apes, plus an ice-blasting Titan.  And, we find out Jia's people on Skull Island were an outpost of a culture of people living down in the Hollow Earth, futzing about with super science.  

Kong comes across a young ape and his people using him as bait, and then


The villain in this movie is a giant, red ape named Skar King.  I was a bit concerned coming in, because mostly we root for Godzilla and we boo the other monster.  And that can be fun, but maybe a bit unsatisfying if the monster seems to just be in it for rampaging for rampaging's sake.  But, boy howdy, you will really, really hate Skar King with the same fibers you used to hate bullies in middle school.  Skar King is a great villain in that you will want to see him get his comeuppance something fierce, even if you really don't get what his whole deal really is (I have no idea why he hates humans so much and how long he's hated humans.  Seems like 10's of 1000's of years.  Mellow out, guy.).  

Look, part of what's entertaining about this movie is that it really, really follows the rule of "yell out some explanation, and then get to the next kooky sequence".  It mostly holds together, I think.  But it's all nonsense in the most Star Trek-y of ways.  If Geordi can say "we'll adjust the shield phase to send out sub-sonic signals that will defract their ability to beam out" without snickering, then "they're manipulating gravity with these giant crystals" or "yeah, we were building a mech suit for Kong" should be just as acceptable and no less dumb.  

Because:  it's just an excuse to get to the action, and the action is giant monsters going "roar".  And fighting on a scale that makes sense to them.  And in this film, sometimes people are around to give you and idea what that scale is and sometimes they aren't and it's an interesting dichotomy.   The pyramids:  an excellent backdrop for scale.

This movie gets spectacle, and so by minute 20, almost every shot is tied to *spectacle*.  We are not stopping for the mundane at this point.  We're going to fly through the Hollow Earth in a cool drop ship, blasting rock music, surrounded by weird reptile birds.  We're going to watch as Godzilla stands on top of the rock of Gibraltar and just Skreee-onks because that's what G do.  

As Jamie also said "I didn't know I needed a kaiju fight in Zero-G, but now I'm glad that's in my life."  And, again, hard agree.

What's funny is how many little character beats the movie genuinely has that I'm just glossing over, but they're there!  For both man and monster!

The design of this one picks up where Godzilla vs. Kong left off, remembering that we like that Lisa Frank palette, and working it in wherever it can.  Not least of which is the second half transformation of G into his pink-energy form, which... honestly... looks amazing on screen.  The Godzilla fans who were mad about it are dumb. 

Gone are the somber tones of the first two installments in the series and belief that everything looks better in gray, black and muted blues.  Let's get some neon up in this thing.  

Speaking of - the score is some nice synth stuff paired with a handful of recognizable rock songs, including a Kiss track.  And the sound design is pretty amazing. It doesn't work at all the same way as Godzilla Minus One, which was to invoke terror in the audience (and successfully done).  Instead, it's to put us in a world of giant beasts throwing each other around.  

We saw the movie in Dolby with AMC's vibrating chairs, and it genuinely enhanced the experience.  I wouldn't want to see a lot of movies this way - but for this kind of flick?  You bet.


Of course I'm jazzed to see Mothra back.  I was pretty bent out of shape they went through Mothra, Rodan AND King Ghidorah in a single movie a few years back.  But, dammit, gimme the Faeries/ Twins/ whatever you're calling them.  

Totally dug the ice-breathing Titan, Shimo.  Great design and well managed.  

If I have a gripe, it's that the past two movies spent a lot of time on Kong and not as much on Godzilla, and I feel like Godzilla has more to say.  No, really!  I am far more curious about Godzilla's day in and day out now as manager of the surface-world titans, and I want to know more about all that. 

But, man, this movie is already so wall-to-wall full of ideas, I can see how it didn't happen.  There's an almost manic pacing and "... and then!  Guess what happens!" sort of vibe to the movie that I think keeps you going.  

I may feel a bit bad that Rebecca Hall is stuck as an exposition machine in this movie, but she's at least convincing as she does it.  And super foxy.  I mean, talented.  Very very talented.  

The return of Bernie to the film was honestly a bit unexpected, but I saw him in the trailers and was glad they were bringing him back, and he feels a lot less like a caricature this go-round and more like a smart guy who has been dealing with some emotions.  

Jia's arc is maybe the biggest one as she refinds her people in the Hollow Earth.  And, maybe, her future plotlines in sequels.  

But I think the biggest and most surprising breath of fresh air was really Dan Stevens' zen-veterinarian.  Like, that was a great part, and he really made it fun in a way I don't remember seeing in a movie in a long time.  

We'll see what Legendary/ Monsterverse has up its sleeve for the next installment, but I sincerely hope they keep Adam Wingard at the helm.  

Anyway, the reviews aren't great out there, and fair enough.  This is not a movie here to challenge the intellect, and it is purposefully goofy.  But it works, because unlike the '98 Godzilla, nobody here seems to be embarrassed and apologizing for making a Godzilla movie by covering it up with shitty jokes.  Still, it's not the "we're going to make a statement about war, and hope and humanity's perseverance, and make Ryan cry at all three screenings he attends" opus that was Godzilla Minus One.  But what a world!  We get one you can take your 12 year old to and just have fun together.

*mostly.  I think they could do with less monster blood so I could take my nephew to one of these movies
**odd that there's a less is more for the US-made films where Toho managed two great films in a row leaning into two character movies in a row


Stuart said...

Dan Stevens was so good. Rather an more season of the dull Monarch series, give me a show about Trapper's adventures as a globetrotting thrill-seeking kaiju veterinarian in Magnum P.I. gear.

The League said...

Hard agree. I would gladly watch Trapper Not-John, MD, patching up monsters over "sad kids being sad". And I want to learn more about his Spotify playlist. Maybe make it a Bernie and Trapper buddy show.