Friday 29 March 2024

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (Movie Review)

Between last year's Godzilla Minus One and the Apple TV+ show, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, it sure feels like a great time to be a Godzilla fan. And while I am still yet to watch the former and I wasn't particularly keen on the latter, I was very much eager to see what new tricks the titular kaiju had up its monstrous sleeves in Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire. But does the latest entry in Legendary's MonsterVerse bring anything new to the table or is it simply more of the same?

The film serves as a direct sequel to Godzilla vs. Kong, so those who never got around to watching Monarch can rest easy as that show has no real bearing on the film's events. Much of the movie takes place in the Hollow Earth, where Kong now resides with hopes of making a new home for himself. But he soon stumbles across an entire tribe of giant apes and their tyrannical leader, the Scar King, who is hellbent on spreading his tyranny to the surface world. 

Meanwhile, Godzilla has slipped back into his role of sole alpha and protector of mankind as he continues to keep the different categories of kaiju at bay. But when he suddenly starts seeking out sources of radiation to draw power from, it becomes clear that he is preparing for his most powerful adversary yet. Now, the two titular titans must once again set aside their differences and band together in the ultimate monster tag team. 

The MonsterVerse films have never really taken themselves too seriously. And with each subsequent entry, the filmmakers have leaned increasingly harder into each one's inherent campiness. So anyone going into Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire expecting high art only has themselves to blame at this point. That said, I still found myself taken aback by just how nonsensical this new MonsterVerse entry manages to get in its two-hour runtime.

To call the story in the movie convoluted and dumb would be putting it lightly. It often approaches Transformers levels of ridiculousness with just how logic-defying and reliant on plot contrivances it becomes. It is almost as though Adam Wingard and his writers had taken a bet to cram in as much ridiculous action and farfetched storytelling as humanly possible. But depending on who you ask, that could either be considered a good thing or a bad thing. 

Much like prior entries, the new film suffers from a slew of issues that range from inconsistent pacing to human characters that are just nowhere as compelling as their kaiju counterparts. However, the decision to trim the roster of human characters down and to give the kaiju more screen time ultimately helped to keep the film moving along before it turned into a slog. But I still felt we could have gotten to the meat of the action much sooner.

Because Godzilla x Kong shines brightest when it simply lets its two titans loose to cause all manner of chaos and destruction. It never gets old watching entire cities get wrecked in the wake of these monsters and the film delivers plenty of that, especially in its explosive third act. The visual effects bringing all that chaos and destruction to life were adequate for the most part, although I don't see it winning any awards at next year's Oscars.

Godzilla x Kong doesn't quite match the sheer thrills of the last MonsterVerse movie, but it certainly packs enough of a punch that it is sure to satisfy Kaiju fans. The movie lives up to its title by offering the kind of monster mayhem most of us could only ever dream of as kids. And while it does require leaving your brain firmly checked at the door to overlook some of its more egregious shortcomings, the overall package is still worthy enough to earn another recommendation from me.

Saturday 2 March 2024

Dune: Part Two (Movie Review)

The 2024 moviegoing season begins in earnest with the release of Dune: Part Two, the second half of Denis Villeneuve's adaptation of Frank Herbert's seminal sci-fi epic. Originally slated for an October 2023 release, the film was unceremoniously bumped amidst last year's writers and actors strikes. And now that it is finally here for all to see in all its glory, you can bet that many will be doing just that over the course of the next couple of weeks. But does the film itself warrant all the hype surrounding its release or is it merely another tease for greater things to come?

The film picks up exactly where the first part left off, with Paul Atreides and his mother forced to seek sanctuary with the Fremen on the desert planet of Arrakis. Meanwhile, the Harkonnens have regained control of its immensely profitable spice production business. But Paul would soon learn the ways of the Fremen, and prove to be a thorn in the Harkonnen's side through coordinated attacks on their spice harvesters. Except he is also haunted by visions of a holy war that could very well claim the lives of billions across the galaxy. And so he must decide whether or not to accept his fate as the messiah some already see him as.

My biggest complaint coming out of Dune: Part One was that it felt incomplete by design. Having chosen to adapt just one-half of the source material, this meant that director Denis Villeneuve had ended up with a movie that left a good chunk of its story untold, and all the dangling plot threads that came with that decision. But even in its incomplete state, the film had proven itself to be a class above your typical book-to-film adaptation.

Its impressive production design, stellar visual effects, incredible worldbuilding, and excellent characterization were all testaments to both the strengths of its source material and Denis Villeneuve's deft handling of it. And all of that remains true in Dune: Part Two, a film that manages to match the brilliance of the first one's execution while building upon all its groundwork and achievements to create something even grander in its scope and ambition.

To put it in another way, the first film crawled then walked so that this one could take to the skies and soar. For a movie that boasts a runtime of nearly three hours long, I never once felt its length as I was fully engaged from start to finish. Every second of those nearly three hours felt earned and accounted for, mainly due to its excellent pacing. It would have been too easy for a film of this scope to get bogged down in details but it never loses sight of the big picture of its overarching narrative.

That said, if you are the type of moviegoer who didn't care for all the rich lore, worldbuilding, and character development that made up the better part of the first film, then you might also not do so in this one. Because even though there is more action and overall spectacle this time around, none of that is a real focus and you run the risk of finding it just as slow or boring. Although how anyone could find these movies boring remains a mystery to me, but to each their own I suppose.

But if, like me, you thought the first film was brilliant, then you're surely in for a treat because this one is clearly the better half. Everything from the cinematography to the score and visuals has been taken to the next level. And even though it has taken nearly three years for it to get here, it was definitely worth the wait. So taken as a whole, and as a fan of the books themselves, I have to say that this is as perfect an adaptation of the first book as I could've ever hoped for.

I also need to confess that I had my doubts when it was first announced that Timothee Chalamet would be playing Muad'Dib/Paul Atreides, simply because I felt he'd lack the imposing force of the former. But I'm pleased to report that those doubts were unfounded as the actor imbues the character with all the depth I remembered him having in the book while showing an acting range that is simply unrivaled. The new additions to the cast were also great, especially Austin Bulter who gave a stunning villainous turn as Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen.

If you're only going to see one film in 2024, then it needs to be Dune: Part Two, a cinematic feast for the eyes and senses that easily surpasses the first film's brilliance, resulting in one of the greatest book-to-film adaptations since The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Yep. It's that effing epic. And while it remains to be seen if it could ever hope to stand the test of time like that other film, something tells me that it is a movie that will continue to get talked about, among film fans and critics alike, for many years to come.