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Movie review: 'Godzilla x Kong" a fun, kid-friendly monster mash

Godzilla and Kong team up in "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire." Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Godzilla and Kong team up in "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire." Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

LOS ANGELES, March 28 (UPI) -- Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, in theaters Friday, embraces the fact that kids love giant monsters, and the film has fun with them. This makes it a marked improvement over other self-serious entries in the American franchise like King of the Monsters and Kong: Skull Island.

Kong the giant ape is living in Hollow Earth, the open realm beneath our surface revealed in 2021's Godzilla vs. Kong. While Kong fights the unique creatures indigenous to Hollow Earth, Godzilla rises to the surface whenever an evil monster attacks a human city.

All the monster scenes are essentially visual effects. There aren't any humans around in Hollow Earth, and the ones fleeing carnage in Rome, Cairo and Rio De Janeiro are likely added to the carnage after the fact, from a safe distance.

The audience for a Godzilla x Kong movie agrees to watch extended visual effects sequences when buying a ticket. They used to agree to watching humans in costumes stomp miniature cities, but digital effects are the modern technique.

As such, the monster fights are lots of fun. The creatures fight animalistically, but still with clear choreography. This film keeps all the monsters in frame, which is more than can be said for King of the Monsters.

Kong prepares for battle. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Kong prepares for battle. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Though the monsters can be vicious and brutal, the film never is super serious like the early entries in the American series. Godzilla sleeping in giant monuments after his battle is amusing.

The Monarch agency is still monitoring these Titans as best it can. Essentially, it's a major scientific and government agency trying to manage animals.

Godzilla charges up his nuclear power. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Godzilla charges up his nuclear power. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Monarch scientist Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) leads an expedition into Hollow Earth when her daughter, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), is plagued with psychic visions from Hollow Earth. Jia is the last descendent of her Skull Island tribe, so she is connected to Kong.

Ilene and Jia also bring Titan veterinarian Trapper (Dan Stevens) and Godzilla vs. Kong's Titan blogger Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) along to Hollow Earth. If you've got to have humans in a Godzilla and Kong movie, at least these are some fun ones.

The Skar King is a mean new villain. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
The Skar King is a mean new villain. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Trapper wears a Hawaiian shirt and bohemian necklaces, sharing free-spirit philosophy during the dangerous expedition. His character doesn't quite live up to his introduction, becoming a bit of a deus ex machina who repurposes technology when the team runs out of options.

Bernie videotapes his expedition for use on his blog later. His extreme panic gets old, especially for a character who's been through this once before, but he's an endearing buffoon for the kids.

Rebecca Hall and Dan Stevens play the humans in "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire." Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Rebecca Hall and Dan Stevens play the humans in "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire." Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The filmmakers can't overcome the human problem of every American monster movie, which is that the monsters are the only interesting part of these movies. The story gets a bit lost in some of the new mythology the humans have to explain, but once they're done, the monsters are there to pick up the slack.

Kong fights a vicious gang of apes in the subterranean realm. Does subterranean in Hollow Earth mean below the middle? It's not important, and more of the exposition should have been dismissed as such.

Anyway, the subterranean apes are led by the Skar King, a very mean ape who gratuitously hurts innocent and likable creatures. Kong has to prevent the Skar King from rising up to the surface with his minions, and he'll need Godzilla's help to stop them.

Unfortunately, this relegates Godzilla to a supporting player. For most of the film, Godzilla is vaguely making his way toward Hollow Earth, but only has significant scenes bookending the film.

Those scenes between Kong and the subterranean apes communicate drama perfectly with only grunts. If anything, that proves just how useless the human dialogue scenes are.

The battle does reach a few surface cities again, which suggests the behemoths interacting in populated environments. This is ultimately just more visual effects, but the film has fun with how Titans might use one of the Seven Wonders of the World for cover.

IMAX does not do those effects many favors, as limits still exist to how clear a computer effect can look. They pale in comparison to the live-action footage Christopher Nolan shoots, but they're probably comparable to contemporary visuals on regular screens.

American and Japanese Godzilla movies have coexisted for over 25 years, so it's only fair to take Godzilla x Kong on its own merits separate from last year's Godzilla Minus One. As a kids movie, and a Kong movie essentially, it provides enough monster mayhem entertainment.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.