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Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

Year: 2024
Production Co: Legendary Entertainment
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Adam Wingard
Producer: Mary Parent
Writer: Terry Rossio, Jeremy Slater, Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Kaylee Hotel, Dan Stevens, Brian Tyree Henry

It's still cool to see a realistically rendered King Kong on screen (one of my favourite characters from the annals of cinema), but it's all getting a little bit soulless and overblown now. It actually made me look forward to the TV series Monarch: Legacy of Monsters because of the presumably low-fi, more character driven approach it will take thanks to the styles and budgets in TV.

Things are still more or less settled in the MUTO universe, with Monarch having established bases around the world and the hollow earth to keep an eye on Kong, Godzilla and the various other titans, Ilene (Rebecca Hall) still overseeing critical parts of the natural balance between them all.

She's also still raising Iwi tribe girl Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who's feeling increasingly ostracised from society, especially at the school she attends with other Monarch employee kids in a specialised township near a hollow earth entry point.

Like with seemingly every other Monarch monsters movie, it starts with an unidentified signal emanating from somewhere that's giving Jia disturbing daydreams and visions and which Godzilla can apparently see too. When he makes landfall in France and lays waste to a nuclear power plant in order to soak up the radiation, they wonder if it's because he's powering himself up for a bigger fight than ever.

Kong, meanwhile, finds his way to a deeper realm underneath Hollow Earth that reveals a race of giant apes like him, led by a megalomaniac called Skar King, who rules with fear and has enslaved his tribemates by controlling another titan that will destroy them all at his whim if he commands.

So Ilene, Jia and the rest of the Central Casting approved gang (Brian Tyree Henry as irritating comic sidekick Bernie from the last film and Dan Stevens as Indiana Jones-lite swashbuckling hero Trapper) go down to Hollow Earth to find the source of the mysterious signal, finding the outpost that reported it destroyed and eventually finding their way to (another) deeper world where a lost Iwi tribe live in isolation.

It's all going to lead to a monster-sized smackdown and once again we get to see the almost-orgasmic destruction of a few notable cities and landmarks (Rio De Janeiro, the pyramids of Egypt and the Colosseum in this case) for good measure.

The VFX is really good in parts, and there are some scenes of real weight and scale, like when Mr Swashbuckle and his team have to extract an infected tooth from Kong, or when they fit him with a weaponised prosthetic arm.

The visual effects artists also do a really good job depicting the scope and scale of Hollow Earth – say what you like about the charm of the old era of sci fi but the matte paintings and closed sets of Journey to the Center of the Earth and Forbidden Planet can't really hold a candle to CGI as long as it's well done.

Other sequences of battles and action set in the caverns and underworlds are less successful – with no real frame of reference for the scale they feel a bit like videogame cut scenes.

Overall though there's just an overall sense of charm and personality that's now absent, a quality Kong: Skull Island had in spades, proving a modern blockbuster made as much by software engineers as directors can have a soul.

This one's just a lot more of a corporate product, and I can imagine how any attempt by director Adam Wingard to give it something distinctive would have been immediately quashed by studio executives and producers brandishing marketing committee and focus group results.

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