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MRQE Top Critic

Straight To Hell Returns

Post-Repo Man cult favorite returns with improved special effects —John Adams (review...)

Alex Cox returns... Straight to Hell

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Godzilla x Kong is absolutely ridiculous. But it’s also irresistible.

Guardians of the Gargantuans

Jia (Kaylee Hottle) and Ilene (Rebecca Hall)
Jia (Kaylee Hottle) and Ilene (Rebecca Hall)

First and foremost, New Empire is a movie and all the bells and whistles such a distinction indicates is delivered in full force. It’s an entertainment. It’s best viewed on the largest screen possible. Go big with IMAX. It’s a terrific experience with the thumping thunder of clashing, roaring gargantuan monsters that also features a shifting aspect ratio to capture the monster clashes across the larger IMAX canvas; it’s the best way to witness the devastation of the pyramids of Giza and the rock of Gibraltar in all their CGI glory. And it’s also best viewed with a jumbo bucket of popcorn and a large soda. Go full tilt on the movie and the diet. Afterward, compensate by watching Oppenheimer and taking a (really long) walk to ponder life’s vicissitudes.

The movie is nuts, awash in ideas from a strange brew of screen scribes. Returning is Terry Rossio, who also populated the Pirates of the Caribbean series with colorful characters and dialogue. But this time there’s also Jeremy Slater, from the Moon Knight Disney+ series. And there’s Simon Barrett from the V/H/S “torture porn” series. An odd mix, but that explains how Godzilla x Kong (notice the fine “nuance” here, there’s an “x” between “Godzilla” and “Kong,” not a “vs”) works as a sort of kitchen sink movie that goes from big-budget CGI mayhem soaked with giant monster goop to goofy comedy and then pivots to a heartful family drama all with a disturbing amount of ease.

Somehow, against all odds, it works.

Just don’t think about the logic or the ramifications.

Leave the thinking for Oppenheimer.

As Above, So Below

What’s it all about? Well, of course, whatever the story, it’s all in service to putting puny humans in harm’s way.

The movie starts with a cranky Godzilla ravaging Rome. Meanwhile, in Hollow Earth, Kong searches for more of his kind.

As it happens, Godzilla’s tirades above ground generate disruptive seismic activity in Kong’s otherwise blissful, lush environment of natural selection.

While trying to protect the peace by ensuring Kong and Godzilla do not cross paths, Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall, Iron Man 3) and her adopted daughter, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), stumble upon an ages-old mythology around the beasts and Jia’s Iwi long-since decimated tribe. There’s a prophecy involved. And there’s a new hope.

The action, the guts, the pace, the humor all clash, coalesce and escalate as a new giant ape villain, the Scar King, wages war with Kong and a well-known, cherished character from the Godzilla universe makes a major return to restore order.

Keeping it vague like that makes it almost sound rational. And it’s not a spoiler to say Godzilla and Kong actually team up in an effort to smash the Scar King’s villainy and restore a semblance of order, or at least return to the comfort zone of previously accepted disorder.

Kong Plus One

Godzilla (l) and Kong (r)
Godzilla (l) and Kong (r)

Godzilla is celebrating his 70th anniversary this year. The source story from the 1954 original was revisited and reimagined late last year with Godzilla Minus One (and its subsequent black-and-white release, Godzilla Minus One Minus Color). That one’s great. Highly recommended. It goes back to the roots of the Godzilla story and — quite timely — revisits the Oppenheimer era of the atomic bombs that decimated portions of Japan. That’s the catalyst behind the creation of the Godzilla terror. It’s a great movie, crafted with a modest budget, an engaging character arc and — for the first time ever — an Oscar for a Godzilla movie’s visual effects.

Godzilla x Kong plays in a different sandbox. The science is far-fetched and doesn’t come from the minds of Berkeley theorists.

To wit, while Kong stomps around Hollow Earth, he encounters a savage serpent and, while dining on the fresh meat, chips a tooth. Godzilla x Kong is the kind of goofy, over-the-top movie-movie that introduces Kong’s dentist. That’s a wild-and-crazy guy named Trapper (Dan Stevens, the Beast in Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast). Thanks to Trapper, Kong can flash some bling in his terrifying smile. (Inconsequential side note: there’s no indication what kind of hazard pay Trapper enjoys while using mammoth tools to operate on his giant patient.)

Yes. This is that kind of movie.

But it’s a movie that embraces its own funk. It relishes in the hodge-podge of ‘80s movie score vibes (from Tom Holkenborg and Antonio Di Iorio); the occasional, precisely timed classic rock tune (channeling Guardians of the Galaxy); and a healthy (actually, mandatory) sense of humor.

That humor goes full tilt when Trapper shares the screen with returning conspiracy theorist and podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry, Bullet Train). It’s a pop culture stew that positions Trapper as an Ace Ventura-type, while Bernie continues to dabble in his world full of “X” files and ancient aliens.

Welcome to My World

Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry)
Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry)

For all the CGI behind the monster mayhem, a surprising amount of emotion still manages to emanate off the screen. That emotion goes beyond the sensations of disgust as various serpents get shredded and eaten.

Along the way, a baby Kong is introduced and there’s something creepy about the kid. There’s something in his eyes that makes him seem untrustworthy. But is such a thought even valid? Sure. That’s the power of movies and fully in line with the art of moviemaking.

That’s also what makes this one work on unexpected levels.

The relationship between Jia and Ilene comes front and center as Ilene contends with the thought of having to give up her daughter for an even greater good than the mother-daughter bond.

That’s the human element. Hottle and Hall bring their characters to life and make them relatable.

But there’s also the monstrous side of things. Godzilla x Kong is a creature feature Fantasia with long passages of dialogue-free action packed with lots (and lots) of thumping, grunting and roaring. Loudly.

And then there’s that odd moment that brings it all back to this weird, funky reality within the movie’s nonsense.

At one point, one of the giants is frozen in place. There’s a shot of these giant dinosaur eyes staring out from behind a face frozen under a sheet of ice. It’s so detailed and so creepy when those eyes shift their glare from the left to the right.

It’s one of those oddball moments in a very oddball movie that bring it all back to the enjoyment to be had in going into a darkened theatre and enjoying the ride of a movie.