Principal Cast : Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Dan Stevens, Kaylee Hottle, Alex Ferns, Fala Chen, Rachel House, Ron Smyck, Chantelle Jamieson, Greg Hatton.
Synopsis: Two ancient titans, Godzilla and Kong, clash in an epic battle as humans unravel their intertwined origins and connection to Skull Island’s mysteries.

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It’s been a decade since Gareth Edwards’ reimagined Godzilla first stomped into cinemas, and in that ten years the franchise – including Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, franchise adjacent Kong: Skull Island, and more recently Godzilla Vs Kong – has gradually succumbed to becoming simplistic popcorn-chomping blockbusterism, intellect free destruction porn writ large under the guise of entertainment. Now, I’m as much a brainless blockbuster fanboy as the next person, but I at least like to have some kind of intelligence bolstering whatever apocalyptic shenanigans are occurring on the screen. Sadly, for both Godzilla Vs Kong and this immediate sequel subtitled The New Empire, the wheels of realism have well and truly fallen off; whereas Edwards’ film at least offered an answer to the question “what would it look like for a giant radioactive monster to start tearing apart major cities around the world” with a degree of muted plausibility, in The New Empire any semblance of deconstructing the Kong or ‘Zilla franchises is utterly absent. This is as far from Godzilla Minus One as it’s possible to get, for better or worse: a slam-bang visual effects bonanza delivering spectacle and subwoofer-rattling atmos audio that satisfies the incurious and unrepentantly shallow, shouldering the majority of its emotional heft with a starring role to a digital giant ape and, while solidly presented, feels as hollow as the middle of planet Earth this film series seems intent on delivering.

Plot Synopsis courtesy ChatGPT:  As humanity continues to rebuild from the chaos wrought by the previous battles between Godzilla and Kong, a new and formidable adversary arises from the depths of the Hollow Earth. This new menace, known as the titan Shimo, poses a threat not only to the surface world but also to the stability of the Hollow Earth itself. Kong, now residing in the Hollow Earth, senses the impending danger and begins to prepare for the inevitable confrontation. Simultaneously, Godzilla, the King of the Monsters, perceives the growing threat from his domain in the ocean. The film weaves the parallel journeys of these two colossal creatures as they inch towards an epic showdown with Shimo. Human characters, including familiar faces and new allies, play crucial roles in navigating the political and environmental ramifications of these titan battles. Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her team (Dan Stevens, Brian Tyree Henry, Kaylee Hottle) work closely with Kong, exploring the depths of the Hollow Earth for clues to stop Shimo. Meanwhile, Monarch, the organisation dedicated to studying and containing Titans, strives to assist Godzilla in his quest to protect the planet. As the titans converge for the ultimate battle, the film reaches a climactic peak with Godzilla and Kong joining forces to confront Shimo in a battle that tests their limits and determines the fate of both the surface world and the Hollow Earth.

Look, if you had fun with Godzilla Vs Kong, you’ll have a blast with The New Empire, perhaps even moreso given it removes a lot of human character development and (finally, some might argue) places Kong and Godzilla centre-stage for their titanic showdown with Shimo. Throw in a sidebar villain in fellow giant ape known as The Skar King, a returning Mothra, and a few of the previous film’s human characters, and you have a film that’s light on emotional connection and more about slobberknocker smackdowns of the highest order. Rebecca Hall and her adopted Iwi daughter Jia, played by real-life deaf actress Kaylee Hottle, return alongside conspiracy theorist Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) and spend most of the film delivering exposition to the audience, filling in the plot gaps where Godzilla or Kong are unable to emote or propel our understanding of the story, and I’ll admit director Adam Wingard has actually pulled it off. I often lament the lack of decent human characters in these kaiju films, resulting in a movie that’s typically brainless or moronic and ill-focused on the stuff audiences don’t care about, and so Wingard has obviously taken the idea of centering his story around the titular characters and running with it almost at all costs, and to my surprises succeeds. This isn’t to say the film is a great one, because it fails utterly with human connection – primarily, the dialogue of the film leans into more comedic or descriptive, rather than dramatic, a condition of the film’s skewing heavily towards CG effects to drive the story, but in restraining the impact of the human participants and upping the heavy-lifting (so to speak) of both Kong and Godzilla, we’re treated to a film about them rather than around them.

As much as this franchise has grown so overly preposterous in the last decade, the most egregious of which is the ubiquitous “super secret” Monarch organisation tasked with tracking, hiding and controlling the earthbound titans wherever they reside, watching this inane premise wind its way to a solidly thunderous climax is cathartic enough for the many of us seeking refuge from more cerebral, intellectually dramatic movies. This is junk-food cinema, the kind of easily digested and immediately forgotten pap smearing cinema screens in search of the next billion-dollar earner, and sits comfortably within the wheelhouse of derivative sci-fi action fantasy. At no point is any of this stuff believable, and at no point does logic, physics or intelligence play a single part of what transpires within the movie: portals between tectonic plates, communication from the surface to the bowels of planet Earth with barely a glitch in transmission, and very iffy gravitational logic at play make this film more a rollercoaster of disparate ideas and unsubtle “planet of the apes” themes than a legitimately thrilling movie experience. It’s utterly dumb, this one, but still enjoyably silly, Wingard and his team understanding what audiences want to see and serving it up to them in blisteringly crisp computer generated imagery that, admittedly, looks glorious. What this means is that Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla reboot of the franchise is effectively cast aside in favour of kinetic thrills; the invisible effects of radiation and devastation caused by Godzilla and the MUTOs, not to mention Kong, Mothra, Ghidora and Rodan in previous film, and their impact on humanity, is forgotten for the sake of widescreen battles and copious meaningless destruction. The New Empire takes resonant themes and subtext and flushes them for giddy, whirligig thrills.

On the one hand, I had a generally enjoyable time with The New Empire – it’s fast-paced, delivers plenty of large-scale destruction and colliding CG pixels, wrapped up with a thunderous sound mix and Tom Holkenborg’s pulsating score. On the other, it’s a film desperately underweighted by a distinct lack of human connection, resulting in a film that for all intents and purposes is entirely animated inside a computer and lacks soul. Adam Wingard’s direction of the gargantuan battles and epic landscapes is first class, with a crisp visual eye and legitimately awesome sense of scale. The film’s a bit of a mish-mash of ideas and destruction, and although there’s yet more widening of the Monarch mythos of discovering more about these enormous titans, it somehow felt too rushed as the story needed to get to the next action sequence. If you watch Godzilla Minus One and note how little the film’s monster actually appears in the movie, and compare it to this where the human characters feel like third-level supporting roles, you can see the disparity between what can be achieved with good writing and knowing when and where to use the monsters, and what’s just a kid in a sandpit smashing action figures together. Sure, The New Empire is a pleasingly produced blockbuster that delivers escapist nonsense like few others this year, but this franchise quickly becoming tiresome in the most Transformers: The Last Knight way possible.

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