Review: ‘Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire’ is monster math that becomes a headache

Two giant monsters unite and roar.
A scene from the movie “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire.”
(Warner Bros. Pictures)

Before the titan-sized title of “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” even flashes across the screen, director Adam Wingard has already delivered two impressively goopy moments courtesy of our lead characters: Kong rips a hyena-thing in half, green entrails spilling everywhere, while Godzilla squashes a giant bug in Rome, releasing great vats of yellow goo over the ancient city. It’s an indication of the colorfully excessive ethos that Wingard brings to this loaded monster jam, overflowing with kaiju creatures. Considering that much of the action takes place in the underworld known as Hollow Earth, you might even call this picture stuffed crust.

Wingard, who directed the neon-synth fever dream that was 2021’s “Godzilla vs. Kong,” comes from the world of horror films (“You’re Next”) and he brings that same approach to his blockbusters, with a penchant for gleeful experimentation and over-the-top style. He drives this vehicle like he stole it, and with co-writers Simon Barrett and Terry Rossio, seems to throw every idea he’s ever had for a monster movie at the script. It’s a lot. It’s fun, but it’s a lot.

On the plus side, Wingard has arguably three of the best working actors in the game: Rebecca Hall and Brian Tyree Henry reprise their roles from “Godzilla vs. Kong,” and Wingard brings along the star of his 2014 thriller “The Guest,” Dan Stevens, who possesses a kind of glowing charisma that’s almost too much to take in. With these three, you truly can’t go wrong and Henry and Stevens, playing, respectively, a podcaster and a wacky wild-animal veterinarian, prove to be the most valuable players of the movie (after the title characters, of course).

Three people stride forward with a purpose.
From left, Dan Stevens, Rebecca Hall and Kaylee Hottle in the movie “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire.”
(Daniel McFadden / Warner Bros. Pictures)

To quickly get us up to speed since the events of the last film: Kong now lives in the verdant paradise of Hollow Earth, which is nice but lonely, while Godzilla remains on the surface, very cutely napping in the Colosseum in between bouts of titan fighting. These two need to be kept apart, lest they rip each other to shreds, reducing major cities to rubble in the process. However, when a distress signal emerges from Hollow Earth, Dr. Andrews (Hall), her adopted tribal Iwi daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle), her on-call vet Trapper (Stevens) and the fanboy blogger Bernie (Henry), along with a stern Scottish pilot Mikael (Alex Ferns), set out to find the origin of the call, and realize that maybe Godzilla and Kong need to find a way to come together to fight off other nefarious creatures.

When you multiply Godzilla by Kong, what do you get? When Wingard’s doing the math, it’s an earnest, wacky, hectic ride that often feels like being thrashed about in an Imax seat. There’s a decidedly 1980s-inspired vibe to the tone and style, from the hot pinks and greens and synthy score by Tom Holkenborg and Antonio Di Iorio, to the narrative that follows a journey into a fantastical underworld. There’s also a heavy emphasis on crystals as both plot device and aesthetic, offering this film a retro feel.

But about halfway through, one gets the nagging sensation that this entry has jumped the kaiju shark, as Wingard slams the gas and doesn’t let up. There are too many monsters and, as more and more are introduced, character falls away. It makes you long for the restrained elegance of Japan’s recent Oscar winner “Godzilla Minus One,” but this is a different beast entirely.

There’s a harried energy to “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,” which is enjoyable until it becomes tiresome and deafening. Perhaps multiplication was too much — here’s hoping subtraction is next in the mathematical equation.

Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.


'Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire'

Rating: PG-13, for creature violence and action

Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

Playing: In wide release Friday, March 29