“The New Empire” becomes unbearably boring every time Kong disappears from the screen.

Jan Brzozowski

30 March 2024

It starts really promisingly – with a day from Kong’s life. The noble ape confronts a pack of grotesque creatures, tearing apart and devouring the last one for dinner. Afterward, he takes a shower in a nearby waterfall and sits on a rock, listening. He is plagued by loneliness. He is the last of his kind – or at least that’s what scientists from the surface claim. Suddenly, a commotion: a sound resembling a monkey’s roar. Kong leaps to his feet and rushes forward as fast as his monstrous lungs allow. Unfortunately, it’s a false alarm: it’s just a frog unknowingly playing a prank on our hero. But don’t lose hope, you who have entered the cinema. Later in the film, Kong will find his brethren. And we’ll regret that humans and a certain mutated lizard had to be involved in all of this.

Because when Adam Wingard and his three screenwriters – Terry Rossio, Jeremy Slater, and Simon Barrett – stick to the story of the second of the titular creatures, then Godzilla vs. Kong: New Empire can be a really pleasant surprise. The world’s most famous ape is essentially a decent old-timer here, tired of his own legend and the adventures creators of the universe send him on (Indiana Jones, is that you?). His chin hair is turning gray, a bad tooth prevents him from fully relaxing. The hero’s problems are refreshingly mundane – just like his desires. The chance to fulfill the latter arises when Kong accidentally finds his way to another layer of the Hollow Earth. The film then turns into another sequel, prequel, requel of the Planet of the Apes. Within it, Kong plays a role analogous to Caesar, trying to incite a rebellion against the cruel, despotic leader of the humanoid army – the Anointed King. In conducting this ultimately rather mediocre revolution, he is helped by a red-haired little monkey resembling Steve Buscemi, affectionately nicknamed “Mini-Kong” by one of the characters. Apes together strong – you know.

Kong’s storyline almost functions independently of the rest of the film. It’s told solely through imagery, with plenty of genuinely successful and humorous slapstick – Kong using a monkey as a club in a fight with other monkeys has etched itself into my memory permanently. The qualitative decline occurs when representatives of our species enter the action. Let’s be honest: human characters are rarely the strong point of films with kaiju in leading roles. After all, we come to the cinema to watch monster brawls, not the moral dilemmas of scientists and soldiers. The creators are well aware of this, which is why they don’t give much attention to human storylines. And yet: the case of Godzilla Minus One has recently proven that these two things can be intelligently combined, resulting in something more than just a simple monster movie.

Unfortunately, in the MonsterVerse films – excluding Gareth Edwards’ inaugural Godzilla – humans have never been taken seriously. They appear on screen because they have to: to deliver exposition in dialogues and then serve as a sort of translators, explaining to us (the idiotic viewers) why the monsters behave in such a way. It’s no different in the New Empire, although attempts to interest us in the fate of Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her ward, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), are occasionally made – rather clumsily. The only human character who stands out from the gloomy mediocrity is Traper, played by Dan Stevens – Kong’s veterinarian, who sets off to the Hollow Earth somewhat by chance, somewhat hitching a ride. The character is evidently modeled on the iconic Ace Ventura, and Stevens, returning to work with Wingard after ten years since the excellent Guest, portrays his character with the energy and charisma worthy of a young Jim Carrey. In the comedy department, it’s really hard to give a bigger compliment.

And then there’s the other monster from the title. If Traper went to the Hollow Earth hitching a ride, Godzilla seems forcefully tacked onto the whole movie. Although the monster resisted tooth and nail, somehow it was squeezed in here. So it walks lifelessly from one point to another and “charges energy”, engaging in profoundly uninteresting duels with other titans. It’s most interesting when it sleeps: curled up in a ball in the middle of the Roman Colosseum. It might as well not be there – but then we wouldn’t get the shot of Kong and Godzilla running side by side, like wrestlers in a ring or cops in a buddy cop movie, to deal with the Anointed King and his enslaved lackey. And I’m not kidding: at times, it genuinely seems that the icon of Japanese cinema ended up in Wingard’s film solely for those few seconds. It’s sad and unfair to all fans of the iconic monster, who have the right to assume – if only from reading the title – that their favorite would play a slightly bigger role throughout the story.

To say that Wingard has problems with story structure is an understatement. The New Empire becomes unbearably boring every time Kong disappears from the screen. We wait for his reappearance like children on Christmas. And finally, we get the desired gift – bundled with all the other unnecessary trinkets, the unwrapping of which should be met with a smile, just to not offend anyone among the gift givers. Fortunately, in the cinema, we don’t have to smile – ostentatious eye-rolling, yawning, and covering our faces with our hands during the screening of the New Empire is entirely appropriate.

Janek Brzozowski

Jan Brzozowski

Permanently sleep-deprived, as he absorbs either westerns or new adventure cinema at night. A big fan of the acting skills of James Dean and Jimmy Stewart, and the beauty of Ryan Gosling and Elle Fanning. He is also interested in American and French literature, as well as soccer.

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