Is the MonsterVerse the best bad movie franchise ever made?

Godzilla and Kong race into battle in a still from Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire
Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.

One of these four things does not happen in  the new Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire: Kong undergoes an emergency extraction for an infected tooth; Godzilla and Kong high-five after the final battle; Kong uses a young ape as a club to beat up other apes; Godzilla forms a nest on the Colosseum where he sleeps “like an angry baby.” I’ll leave it to you to discover the false claim but rest assured; they could all conceivably happen.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, the sequel to the bombastic Godzilla vs. Kong, is the newest addition to the MonsterVerse, Hollywood’s attempt to make a franchise out of the most famous kaiju in cinematic history. It’s not perfect by any means, but its flaws are very much intentional because a film called Godzilla x Kong, the sequel to another called Godzilla vs. Kong, knows exactly what it is and what fans want from it. This new entry is everything you expect it to be, which is both good and bad but also unimportant.

The film, and the franchise that spawned it, is the epitome of a calculated disregard for complex characterization or a coherent narrative. You came here to see a giant ape and his radioactive lizard frenemy kicking some kaiju ass. The MonsterVerse is beyond quality at this point; it has made art out of schlock and created the best bad franchise out there.

Monkey see, movie do

Kong holds a spear in a still from Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire
Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.

Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire follows the same formula as its predecessors. Kong and Godzilla each get a decent amount of screen time, although they don’t share any scenes until the end of the second act. There are humans here, too, notably Rebecca Hall (Resurrection) and Brian Tyree Henry (Causeway), reprising their roles from Godzilla vs. Kong, joined by Dan Stevens (The Guest) doing his best Brendan Fraser impression. However, we don’t really care about them, and the actors know it. All three are playing exaggerated versions of token characters from the adventure genre: Hall is the knowledgeable scientist, Henry is the funny geek sidekick, and Stevens is the handsome, slightly dim leading man. They all excel at their roles, even if I can’t remember their names.

Instead, the film wastes no time setting its stage. Kong feels lonely, Godzilla is still decimating cities, and monsters (called “titans” in this saga) are constantly coming out of the bowels of Earth. At this point in the MonsterVerse, the powers-that-be behind this franchise have stopped pretending they care about logic or cohesiveness. In this film alone, the titular monsters destroy Rome, El Cairo, and Rio de Janeiro, and everyone is like, “Well yeah, but what are they going to do, not kill millions?”

That’s the kind of movie we’re dealing with here. It operates in a reality where human life is expendable to the point of being inconsequential. To be honest, it’s better this way. The first two movies in this unserious franchise, 2014’s Godzilla and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island, tried too hard to make their human characters interesting by sidelining the titular monsters. However, as the series has advanced, so have the priorities of those behind the camera. For example, director Adam Wingard clearly doesn’t care about whatever human being is delivering the screenplay’s lines: he, like us, just wants to see a couple of monsters beat the living crap of each other. Why pretend?

My Godzilla is cooler than yours

Godzilla glows pink and screams in a still from Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire
Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.

In an entertainment landscape that’s trying to have its cake and eat it, too, the MonsterVerse laughs at its peers’ pretentiousness. After all, we’re living in the age of elevated horror, where superhero movies are, or at least try to be gritty, and franchises feel the need to justify their illogical logic. But the MonsterVerse roars those issues away, offering instead an increasingly dumbed-down plot that settles for being “cool” rather than “good.”

Let’s be clear about something, though. It’s not because movies featuring kaiju can’t be “good.” Godzilla Minus One, quite possibly the best Godzilla movie since the original, defied every expectation last year with a thoughtful and resonant storyline that traced back to the monster’s origins as a metaphor for nuclear devastation. The original King Kong exists as a testament to the inherently heartbreaking nature of the Eighth Wonder of the World, the ultimate outlier.

A woman looks at Godzilla through a window in Godzilla Minus One.

Yes, Minus One and King Kong are splendid, outright masterful subversions of the monster genre. However, they are also exceptions; they are the exceptions, and that’s why they’re so successful. What’s interesting about an exception is that it exists by itself.

Think of the Batman movies; we like Tim Burton’s sexually charged approach and Joel Schumacher’s homoerotic interpretation while also appreciating the severity of Christopher Nolan‘s crime saga. If anything, we enjoy Schumacher’s campy efforts even more in retrospect because they function as an antidote to Nolan’s “Why so serious?” movies. In a way, the existence of more “elevated” films lets us appreciate the beauty of some well-made schlock. That’s what Godzilla Minus One and 1933’s King Kong do for the MonsterVerse. Knowing there are other movies out there that bring dignity and pathos (!) to these two monsters allows us to sit back, kick our feet up, and watch them get down and dirty in this iteration.

Self-aware kaiju

Godzilla is more popular than ever, and King Kong is finally at a place where it can stand proudly among the kaiju cream of the crop. And while they are here because of other better movies, it’s the MonsterVerse that will benefit from those glowing reputations. It’s not wrong to label the MonsterVerse franchise as trash, and while “trash” might be too strong a word for some, it’s not to me. We need trash in art; what would cinema be without disreputable trainwrecks like Showgirls and The Room? Who wants perfection 24/7? Sometimes, all we want to see is a giant ape rolling his eyes after scolding the young ape he’s trying to educate or a giant lizard stomping on things with reckless abandon.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire is loud and dumb but never frustrating or aggressively stupid like other, less self-aware blockbusters—we’re looking right at you, Transformers movies and Sony’s extended Spider-Man Universe that recently brought us Madame Web. It’s silly “Ha-ha” instead of silly “Kill me now.” It has Kong wearing a mechanical arm, Iron Man-style, and Godzilla spitting atomic breath left and right. Is it radioactive? Is whoever survives his rampage doomed to die a long and painful death from radiation poisoning?

A man and a woman stand in front of a building on Godzilla x King Kong: The New Empire.
Warner Bros.

Who cares! They’ll probably die during the next monster attack, anyway. You’re not there to care about the humans; there are millions of them. But you know who are two-of-a-kind? Godzilla and Kong, that’s who! In that respect, Godzilla x Kong is outright masterful. It makes the titular characters seem as real as they can possibly be. It won’t surprise me if each new film in the franchise has fewer and fewer humans until, finally, they are just there to be squashed by a giant foot.

It takes guts to own what one truly is. I tip my hat to the MonsterVerse, a franchise that boldly and proudly stands and proclaims, “Yes, I suck, but you like me!” And it is right! It’s not mocking or baiting its audience; on the contrary, it’s being remarkably honest about itself, sharing the kind of complicity that very few pieces of art have with their prospective viewers. If the MonsterVerse is SpongeBob, its audience is Patrick. Who cares if the occasional Squidward sneers at them? At least they’re happy together. What other fandom can currently claim that in 2024?

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire is currently playing in theaters worldwide.

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This post was originally published on Digital Trends

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