In this latest instalment of the Monsterverse franchise, the two eponymous Titans take centre stage while human characters take a back seat — what results is outsized monster mayhem and fun

Text: Jedd Jong Images: © 2024 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

The monster-movie genre has been a mainstay of cinema since the art form’s earliest days. Two classic monster movies, King Kong (1933) and Godzilla (1954), are considered landmarks in film history for their innovative special effects, and their success has paved the way for long-lived cinematic franchises from the United States and Japan. These two titans of the silver screen first clashed in 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla and had a long-awaited rematch in 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong.

At one point, it seemed like Godzilla vs. Kong might be the final instalment of the Monsterverse movie series. The franchise, which began with 2014’s Godzilla, the second American attempt at a Godzilla movie, received a second wind when Godzilla vs. Kong performed well at the box office. This led to 2024’s Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, which picks up from the aftermath of its predecessor.

Dr Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall, right) with her adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle)

It is several years after the events of Godzilla vs. Kong. Kong lives a relatively peaceful life in the Hollow Earth, which humans first explored in the previous film, while Godzilla battles various other giant monsters, called Titans, on the Earth’s surface. A mysterious signal originating from the Hollow Earth catches Godzilla’s attention.

A team comprising Dr Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), her adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle), eccentric veterinarian Trapper (Dan Stevens), and conspiracy theorist Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) travels to the Hollow Earth to investigate. There, they discover hidden civilisations, including a secret colony of giant apes led by the formidable primate Titan Skar King, who immediately views Kong as a threat to his reign. Kong unexpectedly bonds with Suko, a juvenile Titan ape from the Skar King’s clan.

What’s scarier than Kong? Kong wielding a battle axe!

Director Adam Wingard, who helmed Godzilla vs. Kong, returns. “I was excited right out the gate… because I felt like, having made Godzilla vs. Kong, I had this newfound sense of confidence in terms of how to approach the monsters as fully realised characters and how to tell a movie from their point of view,” he tells The Wrap. This project gives Wingard the chance to explore the “unfulfilled potential” of the previous movie, including increasing the visual spectacle and spending more time with the monster characters. “We have large sections without dialogue, and that was my big drive, making a film that the 10-year-old version of myself dreamed about.”

Hot pink is a pretty good look on Godzilla

Wingard found inspiration from some unlikely sources: in this movie, Kong has a toothache and receives a replacement tooth from vet Trapper. The director suffered dental problems for over a year while making the 2011 horror movie You’re Next. “I was looking for some catharsis of what I was dealing with,” Wingard tells the Los Angeles Times. “Having a scene where Kong is getting some dental work done felt like closure to me.”

One of the movie’s most delightful images is Godzilla curled up in the Colosseum in Rome, taking a nap. “A lot of my inspiration for his mannerisms comes from my cat, Mischief,” Wingard says. “Her lying in her cat nest was the inspiration for Godzilla in the Colosseum.” Throughout Godzilla x Kong, bits of childlike whimsy (like the above) punctuate the monster-heavy action, giving the movie a likeable energy.

While the human characters understandably take a backseat, actors like Hall give the movie some warmth. Reprising her role as ‘Kong whisperer’ Ilene from Godzilla vs. Kong, she was perhaps a surprising addition to the Monsterverse, given her reputation for more serious prestige projects and character studies. “You can’t take it that seriously. But at the same time, it is pure cinema, pure fun, pure action, all of those things,” Hall tells Women’s Wear Daily.

Dan Stevens (right) is a new addition to the cast

Stevens, the big new addition to the cast, is someone Hall knows well. “We first met in college when we were 18. We were in a play together at Cambridge, and we became sort of instant best friends. And then we were flatmates after college, and I’m a god mum to his kids,” Hall says. She previously co-starred with Stevens in the romantic comedy Permission. Godzilla x Kong is also a reunion for Stevens and Wingard, who collaborated on the thriller The Guest. With his flamboyant demeanour and penchant for loud Hawaiian shirts, Stevens’ character Trapper has been compared to the Jim Carrey character Ace Ventura.

Audiences have responded enthusiastically to Godzilla x Kong’s brand of grand silliness. At the time of writing, it is the second highest-grossing movie of 2024, behind Dune: Part Two. A follow-up is in development, but Wingard has elected not to return because he is working on the original action thriller Onslaught. It won’t be long before Godzilla, Kong, and myriad Titans stomp across the big screen again.

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