HomePop CultureKong reigns supreme, but Asians not so much in Godzilla x Kong

Kong reigns supreme, but Asians not so much in Godzilla x Kong

By Jana Monji

In this fourth film in the Legendary Pictures MonsterVerse Godzilla franchise, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, Godzilla may be listed first and, in the past, the beloved kaiju has emerged victorious against Kong, but this film focuses on the great primate Kong. If you’re looking for a creature feature that features destruction of property and human deaths without any philosophical consideration of the monetary or human loss, then this is your escape film. If you want to see representation of people of East Asian descent where it would make sense for inclusion, both MonsterVerse franchises again fail.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire brings back some artifacts (Kong’s axe made from a Godzilla dorsal fin from the 2021 film Godzilla vs. Kong) and people from past films: a Monarch anthropological linguist Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her adopted deaf daughter deaf Jia (Korean hapa Kaylee Hottle) who is the last surviving member of her tribal people, the Iwi. Monarch is a quasi-governmental agency that does research on the massive unidentified terrestrial organisms (MUTO). The organization was founded by Eiji Serizawa.

Kong is now living in the Hollow Earth, a mysterious world below the Earth’s surface. Godzilla is on the surface, battling the Titans that cannot be defeated by human weapons, but also causing destruction.

Kong has a problem and comes up one of the Monarch entry points. Luckily Monarch has enough tranquilizers and an adventurous vet to take care of his infected tooth: Trapper (Dan Stevens). He’s the kind of guy that sparked a romantic interest in Ilene when they were younger and now can treat an oversized ape while swinging from a rope and harness while wearing a Hawaiian shirt.

Jia who communicates with Kong through hand signals (which if you really think about it would seem impossible) is having problems in her school, the Monarch Base Academy, experiencing visions and drawing strange urgent doodles. To help figure out what this all means, Ilene contacts someone truly obsessive enough to track down every possibility: a conspiracy theorist Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) who previously teamed up with Ilene and others to save the world in the 2021 film Godzilla vs. Kong.

Ilene, Jia, Trapper and Bernie with an ill-fated driver take a specially designed craft down to the Monarch observation facilities in the Hollow Earth to investigate troubling anomalies. What they find are other giant apes and a mysterious tribe of people. This is already revealed in the trailers. The other giant apes have a secret weapon and Kong will need Godzilla to come and help him.

If you want a creature feature with big creatures, crushing buildings and killing people or fellow creatures with barely a pause for reflection on mortality, this may be the film for you. If you watched the previous Godzilla and Kong films out of Legendary Pictures, you’ll already know the alpha male dominance myth is a major theme. Here it translates at alpha male ape mayhem. However, if you’re a fan of Godzilla, you may be disappointed that the main story line is focused on Kong and his related humans, Kong expert Ilene and Kong communicator Jia.

The creation of the Hollow Earth and then the uncharted Subterranean Realm is, for the most part, well done. However, I’m not convinced that the designers behind the new creature, Shimo (already revealed by Funko), works well with the demands of the script. Most animals wouldn’t ride standing over something that could easily injure their tender and often vulnerable sitting muscles. Especially when one considers that Godzilla’s dorsal fin can be used as a weapon.

Moreover, having a whole undiscovered people represented by real people who find themselves faced with “forever foreigner” status in some countries is somewhat reminiscent of Tarzan amongst the Black Africans as far as diversity goes. If the subterranean peoples had been of sub-Saharan African descent, there would have been a counterpoint (Bernie). I don’t see Hottle’s Jia as the main human focus of the film. If she was, would we really need the Trapper character? Although I have not seen the new Apple TV+ series, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, there seems to be a greater attempt to include cast members of East Asian descent. The casting includes major storylines focusing on characters portrayed by actors of East Asian descent (e.g. Anna Sawai as Cate Randa, Ren Watabe as Kentaro and Takehiro Hira as Hiroshi Randa).

Why is the cinematic MonsterVerse so adverse to heroes who are East Asian? Rather than having a British guy in a Hawaiian shirt, why not a person of Pacific Islander descent for this film or any film with Kong? And instead of contacting a conspiracy theorist, what about people who were researchers and fluent in the languages of the Asian sites from previous cinematic installments (e.g. Japan, China or the Philippines)? The 2014 film Godzilla focused on Aaron Taylor Johnson’s character and his family, the 2019 film Godzilla: King of the Monsters was centered around the family of ex’s Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) and Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), and the daughter of the Russells, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), was carried over to the 2021 Godzilla vs. Kong, with the addition of the reluctant hero Dr. Nathan Lind Alexander Skarsgård as well as Ilene and Jia.

Why White men and not men of East Asian descent as action heroes? The 2022 Oscar-winning Everything Everywhere All at Once showed a quirky, relatively short guy like Key Huy Quan can be an action hero. The MonsterVerse already had award-winning actor Shun Oguri in Godzilla vs Kong, but chose to leave his role as the grandson of the Monarch founding father, Eiji Serizawa underdeveloped. For women, Zhang Ziyi’s characters (she played twins) could have been given a more prominent role in Godzilla: King of the Monsters and the following film Godzilla vs. Kong.

Godzilla Minus One is the better Godzilla film, and more touching and thoughtful than Legendary Pictures Godzilla x Kong. But if you want to zone out and see massive destruction, this film is visually interesting and the aggressive ape action may help quell your inner rage from a week in the rat race. if that’s your jam, this is the kind of film best seen on a bit screen.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire premiered at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles on 25 March 2024 and has a release date of 29 March 2024 in the US

For a longer view with summaries of the previous films, visit my blog: AgeOfTheGeek.org

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