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Hash of the Titans

Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire

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GODZILLA X KONG: THE NEW EMPIRE. For a giant lizard, Godzilla has evolved. At this point, his multiverse timelines are overlapping, with reboots from Japan and the U.S. passing each other at the box office, Oscar-winning Godzilla Minus One finishing its acceptance speeches just as Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire hits theaters. The 1954 original Japanese Godzilla retains its intensity and power, with its grim warning about nuclear technology. Filmed less than a decade after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were leveled by atom bombs, it captures unrest among a bitter and frightened citizenry, the inadequacy of the government, and the horror of familiar sirens and new destruction raining on a country still in tatters. Rescue comes not in the form of tanks but self-sacrifice.

The 1960s began decades of lighter, friendlier, even goofier rubber-suited Godzilla meant to charm children and sell toys rather than provoke. (Tread lightly on these googly-eyed romps, for you tread on my youth.) Over the years, Toho and other studios kept a steady stream of kaiju movies coming in various degrees of seriousness, including a somewhat head-scratching Shin Godzilla (2016), in which the monster evolves as the film progresses and bureaucrats charged with responding move endlessly from meeting to meeting while Tokyo and its residents are flattened.

Hollywood first rebooted the loose franchise with Godzilla in 1998, with a far more Jurassic-looking Godzilla ravaging New York City, where our only hope is Matthew Broderick. Sure. The Monarch cinematic universe — or MonsterVerse, as it markets itself — kicks off in 2014 with (another) Godzilla, this time with the mysterious Monarch agency studying him and his pre-historic Titan brethren (Mothra, et al). And so the kaiju matchups begin anew. (If you bet on Kong in 2021's Godzilla vs. Kong, I don't know what to tell you.) But the Monarch movies spent money on A-list casting and wild effects to make for blockbusters, even if the scripts weren't as strong.

That strategy falls short in director Adam Wingard's Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire, a fumble made more embarrassing since the moving, genre-defying Japanese action-drama Godzilla Minus One only made landfall this past October. That film, directed by Takashi Yamazaki, takes the story back to its roots of postwar destruction and political commentary, making the radical shift to an anti-military and anti-war movie that rejects suicidal notions of valor and allows for damaged heroes scrapping together what fight they have left in them to save the broken country and its survivors. It is an exciting, tense and thoughtful take, and a tough act to follow.

Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire takes us deeper into lore and the vertigo-inducing, upside-down world of Hollow Earth, where a bedraggled Kong has been surviving solo with the aid of Rambo-esque traps. A dental issue brings him to the surface of Earth — a journey only slightly less convenient than hauling to Santa Rosa for a dental surgery. Topside, Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) is struggling with wild electrical readings and her adopted daughter Jia's (Kaylee Hottle) monster senses going off, possibly in connection to Kong, for whom she is sole translator. Meanwhile, Godzilla guzzles a nuclear power plant like a RedBull, preparing for something. Andrews and Jia, along with Titan veterinarian Trapper (Dan Stevens doing a British imitation of Owen Wilson) and conspiracy podcaster Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), follow Kong back to his stomping and swinging grounds to investigate. There, Kong discovers the lanky, ginger Scar King cracking a whip of Titan vertebrae over his fellow giant primates, enslaving them to move rocks for whatever reason. The humans, searching for the source of the signals, explore Hollow Earth and discover the Titans are not the only residents.

There are plenty of spectacular effects granting us rotating views of Godzilla fighting what appears to be a massive snow crab in Rome (sadly, no butter in sight) and Kong and Godzilla throwing hands/claws/each other on and around the pyramids in Egypt. But by the time we get to the smashing of Rio de Janeiro, with nary a shot of the human toll, Dr. Andrew's indignant response to panicked civilians feels unhinged. And the ancient backstory is shaky at best. There are moments of humor, as when the Scar King takes time out to roast Kong for the metal cap on his canine, or when Kong tries to team up with Godzilla, for whom the beef is evidently still fresh. And if you have longed to see Kong ride Godzilla like a horse, or watch a four-way Titan cage match in zero-gravity, the movie has its gifts, beauty shots of Hollow Earth and its crystalline basement level included. But a clunky story and less than compelling connections between characters (the mother-daughter issues feel all too after-school special) aren't enough to make this one resonate beyond the boom of the sound system. BROADWAY (3D), MILL CREEK (3D).

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill (she/her) is the arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at (707) 442-1400, extension 320, or [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram @JFumikoCahill.

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Fortuna Theatre is temporarily closed. For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.

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