Review: In Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, We Learn New Things About the Mythology of the Titans

Marking the fifth installment in the Legendary/Warner Bros. “Monsterverse” franchise, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire digs deep into the mythology of these so-called Titans, while also attempting to clear a path for what might come next. Without getting too deep into the plot, the film attempts to give us more details about the history of the Hollow Earth, Skull Island, and why these Titans keep popping back up on the surface of the planet to destroy things like entire cities or the pyramids. Naturally, there is a lot of exposition and speechifying by the human characters, but no one is paying much attention to that; we want monsters fighting and we want that frequently. And on that front, The New Empire delivers solidly.

It not only tickles me greatly that Adam Wingard returns as director (following 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong), but that he brings along with him his regular writing partner Simon Barrett (Terry Rossio and Jeremy Slater also get a writing credit), as well as actor Dan Stevens, who last paired with Wingard and Barrett in The Guest 10 years ago. Stevens plays an adventurer and some manner of animal expert named Trapper, one of the few new characters in the film. He’s old friends with Ilene Andrews (a returning Rebecca Hall), who is basically in charge of the Titan-monitoring project, which has been very active of late. Her young adopted deaf daughter and native Skull Islander, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), is also still around, trying to adapt to conventional schooling and not taking to it well. Titan podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) is also back, tagging along and requiring everyone to explain things to him “in English,” so that the audience can attempt to figure out what the hell is going on.

But eventually everyone finds themselves going back into the Hollow Earth, where Kong has discovered that he isn’t the last of his kind after all—something that was hinted at in the last film—and that not all of the others like him are as protective and nurturing as he is. The best part about The New Empire is that, rather than have the film build up to a massive creature fight, Wingard and company keep up the action pace pretty consistently, but the film’s final battle sequence is truly one of the best in this franchise. We already know that this time around Kong and Godzilla team up to fight a great opponent, and watching them run side by side into battle is truly a sight to behold and one I never thought I’d see.

Even though we’ve seen some of these characters before, I’m not sure we learn much more about them. We actually also discover in the course of the movie that Jia’s tribe has been hiding in Hollow Earth for quite a long time, and her reunion with them is moving, especially thanks to a terrific performance by Fala Chen as the Iwi Queen. And Stevens knows exactly the tone to take for these movies, which isn’t necessarily the ultra-serious one that so many others are working in. He’s having fun learning new things about these creatures, and his joy is contagious. Although I’m sure there will be more of these films, there isn’t much of a teaser for upcoming storylines at the end of The New Empire, which is both surprising and refreshing. But knowing where something comes from doesn’t always make the characters or situations better, and I think it’s time this franchise looked to the future, into all-new adventures, without as many history lessons. I’m excited to see where things go from here, and I hope most of this team is in place to move it forward.

The film is now playing in theaters.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.