Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Jun 18, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (4K UHD Review)


Adam Wingard

Release Date(s)

2024 (June 11, 2024)


Legendary Pictures/Warner Bros. (Warner Home Video)
  • Film/Program Grade: C
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: B
  • Extras Grade: B+

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (4K UHD)

Buy it Here!


Context matters, for good or for ill. In late 2023, Toho released Godzilla Minus One, the 30th live-action film in their long-running franchise, and Godzilla fans worldwide lost their collective minds. The film broke box office records in both Japan and North America, and it went on to win the Oscar for Visual Effects at the 2024 Academy Awards (a landmark moment, since it was the first time that the Academy had honored the franchise in any category). The universal acclaim for Godzilla Minus One has been interesting, because there’s nothing particularly original about it, and it borrows heavily from several previous films in the series. Yet it still manages to refine those elements and themes in a way that that has broad crossover appeal, connecting not just with hardcore G-fans, but with mainstream audiences as well. Tonally and stylistically, it scratched an itch for anyone who has longed for a serious approach to Godzilla that was more in line with what Ishirō Honda had first delivered back in 1954.

By March of 2024, the afterglow from that orgasmic reaction to Godzilla Minus One was still very much in the air, and that’s the context into which Legendary’s latest MonsterVerse installment landed, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire. No one was ever going to take the film seriously (and to be fair, the filmmakers never intended it to be), but it drew immediate negative comparisons to Minus One anyway. While that’s understandable given the context, any comparisons between the two are spurious because they fundamentally misapprehend the nature of how Godzilla has developed over the decades on both sides of the Pacific. Godzilla has proven to be remarkably malleable in films that have ranged from deadly serious to seriously silly, and all points in between those two extremes. There’s plenty of space in the franchise for Godzilla to serve as an ominous menace to mankind, with more than enough room left over for him to dance an Osomatsu-kun jig whenever he so pleases. If Godzilla Minus One follows in the footsteps of Honda’s original film, then Godzilla x Kong is the heir to King Kong vs. Godzilla, King Kong Escapes, and Invasion of Astro-Monster—and it needs to be considered in that context, not relative to Minus One. Anything else is a fool’s errand.

While the continuity of Legendary’s MonsterVerse has been a bit loose, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire is a direct sequel to Godzilla vs. Kong, which isn’t surprising considering that Adam Wingard returned as director. He’s not the only one who returned, either. While Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) and Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) appear to have left the MonsterVerse for good (an absence that’s left unexplained in the film), Godzilla vs. Kong veterans Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), Bernie Hayes (Bryan Tyree Henry), and Jia (Kaylee Hottle) are all back in the fray, joined this time by Trapper (Dan Stevens) and Mikael (Alex Ferns). Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison) is also nowhere to be seen in Godzilla x Kong, but he’s been replaced by another equally likable cast member from Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Rachel House. (Seriously, any movie can be vastly improved simply by including her in any role, no matter how small.) All of their characters end up taking a back seat to the kaiju action, but Godzilla x Kong is hardly the first giant monster movie to do that, and it won’t be the last, either. Even Hall and Hottle end up being swallowed up by it, without making quite as much of an impact together as they did in Godzilla vs. Kong. (Although Bryan Tyree Henry and Dan Stevens do end up having an amusing bromance that almost makes up for it.)

The screenplay by Terry Rossio, Simon Barrett, and Jeremy Slater (with Wingard having a hand in the story) does follow directly on the heels of Godzilla vs. Kong, with the King of Skull Island safely ensconced within the hollow Earth, while the King of Monsters remains on the surface. Godzilla is content to remain alone as he fights off terrestrial threats, while Kong is searching in vain for some kind of family. Yet he ends up finding more than he bargained for in a deeper corner of the hollow Earth (sort of a Lost World’s Lost World), and so their paths must cross once again. Meanwhile, Jia has been having ominous dreams that tie into Kong’s search, so she ends up joining Dr. Andrews, Bernie, Trapper, and Mikael in journeying through the distorted gravity field and into the depths of hollow Earth, where they discover a few surprises of their own in their quest to aid Kong. (As a side note, onscreen text unironically refers to the new area as the “subterranean realm,” despite the fact that the hollow Earth is already... well, let’s just say that if you put too much thought into details like that, you’ve already lost the plot of Godzilla x Kong. Just go with it.)

It’s all supremely silly, with Wingard and crew happily embracing the weirder science fiction elements of Toho’s films, like massive secret bases, transforming vehicles, and ancient civilizations. There are no actual aliens in Godzilla x Kong, but there may as well be. It all looks cartoonish, too. When Gareth Edwards was hired to direct Legendary’s first MonsterVerse installment Godzilla, he demonstrated his remarkable eye by giving the monsters a genuine sense of scale and mass that hadn’t been achieved previously. That’s been less of a priority for the other directors who’ve been involved with the franchise, but Wingard finally chucked all of it out the window in favorite of a deliberately artificial aesthetic inspired not so much by video games as it was by toys. Godzilla x Kong is like tabletop miniatures brought to life, with all of them being operated by children who’ve been fueled by a steady diet of candy bars and Mountain Dew. Even the mandatory urban destruction feels inconsequential, with a Shōwa era de-emphasis on any potential human collateral damage from all the kaiju shenanigans. Will that satisfy anyone who only wants a direct sequel to Godzilla Minus One? No, it won’t, but it wasn’t designed to scratch that itch. The true Godzilla faithful know that you have to take each film on its own terms and accept the silliness along with the seriousness. It’s all one big happy Godzilla family, and Godzilla x Kong has its place, even if that might only be at the children’s table alongside the likes of Godzilla vs. Megalon. Family is still family.

(Postscript for the faithful: Kenji Okuhira and the late Yoshimitsu Banno are still listed as executive producers on Godzilla x Kong, and for an explanation about why, please see our review of the Japanese 4K release of Godzilla vs. Hedorah.)

While the overall aesthetic of Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire may be candy-colored, toylike, and artificial, Wingard and cinematographer Ben Seresin wanted to avoid the standard CG blockbuster look and create something a bit more tactile and visceral. To achieve that, they used a combination of bespoke custom lenses with intentional flaws, filters that accentuated those flaws, VFX algorithms that mimicked them, and a film scan-out process similar to what Denis Villeneuve and Greg Frasier employed for both parts of Dune. Seresin captured the image digitally at 4.5K and 6K resolution using Arri Alexa LF, Mini LF, and Red Komodo cameras, with a variety of custom Panavision Ultra Vista lenses at a 1.65 squeeze, as well as some custom 1.65 Petzval anamorphic lenses. (2nd unit and plate photography were captured using Red Helium cameras with spherical Tribe7, Helios, Arri Signature, and Canon lenses.) The lenses and filters introduced a variety of different optical artifacts like soft focus, astigmatism, color fringing, chromatic aberration, and lens flares. (Seresin employed a lot of smoke on the sets, too.) Visual effects were rendered using a virtual Alexa LF camera with virtual spherical lenses that mimicked the look of the original cinematography. (Roughly half the running time of the film is full CG.)

Post-production work was completed as a 4K Digital Intermediate, which was then scanned out to a 35mm internegative on Kodak Vision 3 2254 stock, processed with bleach bypass in order to enhance contrast, and scanned back into digital to create the final delivery packages for theatrical exhibition. (The 3D version skipped the film out stage in order to provide a “clean” image for stereoscopic post-conversion by DNEG.) The aspect ratio was variable 1.89:1 and 2.39:1 for digital IMAX and 3D presentations, but locked at 2.39:1 for wide release. As appears to be standard practice these days for Warner Bros. physical media releases that weren’t directed by Christopher Nolan, this version maintains the 2.39:1 aspect ratio throughout, and it’s been graded for High Dynamic Range in both Dolby Vision and HDR10.

The results of all that work are interesting, to say the least. Between the lenses, filters, smoke, VFX work, and film scan out, there aren’t really 4K levels of fine detail on display here, but that’s by design. Everything looks slightly soft relative to the crispest of digital captures, and more akin to a 35mm print with all the attendant generational losses and softened grain, which is a strange effect for something that’s so awash with digital VFX. It’s like the computer effects were staged in front of 35mm film cameras and captured on the fly, with post-production work completed on film—which is exactly the look that Seresin was trying to achieve. One practical side effect is that the live action footage and VFX work blend together better in Godzilla x Kong than they do in most other productions of this type, with even the fully digital shots integrating well with the surrounding material. Interestingly enough, while the fine detail may not be as refined as it could be, the tiny text at the margins of the opening credit sequences is slightly soft but still legible—which means that even the titles were generated in a way that replicates the appearance of optically printed titles on a film print. (By the way, like all Legendary MonsterVerse productions, it’s worth taking the time to freeze-frame the additional text around the credits before it’s “redacted.”)

Naturally, the HDR grade is where this 4K presentation really shines, taking the already candy-colored visual design of Godzilla vs. Kong and turning it up to 11 this time. The contrast range is outstanding, from the deepest blacks to the brightest highlights, and the array of colors is dazzling (even Barbie may not have this many variations of pink). While Godzilla x Kong in 4K may fall short of being a reference-quality presentation, it’s still entirely faithful to the intentions of the filmmakers. (For anyone interested in a far more detailed explanation of the entire production and post-production pipeline that created this distinctive look, check out the June 2024 issue of American Cinematographer magazine, and there are few other interviews with Seresin available online as well on sites like The Credits.)

Primary audio is offered in English Dolby Atmos. It’s nearly everything that anyone could want to support a film of this type, with one major caveat. It’s a wildly aggressive mix, with consistent envelopment and plenty of directionalized effects to surround the viewer at all times, including from the overhead channels (there are a few particularly memorable instances of the latter). This isn’t a Disney disc, either, so the bass hasn’t been rolled off, and it’s positively thunderous at times—your subwoofers(s) will get a serious workout. The surprising issue is with the other end of the spectrum, which means that your tweeters won’t get the same level of exercise. For whatever inexplicable reason, upper frequency extension has been limited here. It’s most obvious with the score by Antonio Di Iorio and Tom Holkenborg, as well as in the various songs on the soundtrack by the likes of Badfinger, Golden Earring, KISS, and Loverboy. There’s no sparkle to the cymbals, and no air around the drums, so the songs sound dead and lifeless. Effects like splashing water throughout the film is also noticeably lacking in upper end detail. It’s the worst during the final kaiju battle, where the crashing piles of rubble sound muffled, and the tinkle of shattering ice sounds flat and dull. Given how energetic and dynamic that the mix is as a whole, many people probably won’t even notice the limited high end, but once you’ve heard it you can’t unhear it.

Additional audio options include English, French, and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, plus English Descriptive Audio. Subtitles options include English SDH, French, and Spanish.

The Warner Bros. 4K Ultra HD release of Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire is UHD only, with no Blu-ray copy included—something that’s also becoming standard practice for Warner Bros. these days, so you have to choose one or the other. There is a Digital code on a paper insert tucked inside, and there’s also a slipcover that duplicates the artwork on the insert. The following extras are included, all of them in HD:

  • Audio Commentary with Adam Wingard, Alessandro Ongaro, Tom Hammock, and Josh Schaeffer
  • GxK: Day of Reckoning (5:58)
  • Evolution of the Titans:
    • Godzilla Evolved (5:33)
    • Kong’s Journey: From Lonely God to King (5:44)
  • Into the Hollow Earth:
    • Visualizing Hollow Earth (5:46)
    • Monsters of Hollow Earth (5:39)
  • The Battles Royale:
    • A Fight Among the Pyramids (5:30)
    • The Zero Gravity Battle (5:03)
    • The Titans Trash Rio (5:22)
  • The Intrepid Director: Adam Wingard:
    • Big Kid (3:43)
    • Set Tour (3:43)
  • The Imagination Department (3:47)
  • The Monarch Island Base: Portal to Another World (5:32)
  • The Evolution of Jia: From Orphan to Warrior (5:58)
  • Bernie’s World: Behind the Triple Locked Door (3:28)

The commentary teams Wingard with visual effects supervisor/2nd unit director Allesandro Ongaro, production designer Tom Hammock, and editor Josh Schaeffer. They explain some details from the earlier drafts of the script that were left out of the final film, like how light operates in hollow Earth—they eventually decided that it really doesn’t matter, and they were right. Wingard notes moments that were inspired by his childhood toys like G.I. Joe, Thundercats, and Transformers, and he also points out his fleeting cameo (as well as appearances his cat Mischief and Ongaro). For all of the myriad digital environments in the film, they made use of plenty of practical locations and sets, and while the details are still scant in the film, Hammock put plenty of thought into how all of it worked, and why. They’re still not shy talking about explaining the massive digital work that was done by the various VFX houses, either. If you’re wondering why Godzilla went pink in Godzilla x Kong, Wingard offers a simple explanation: it’s his favorite color (although he does try to provide an in-universe explanation for it as well).

The rest of the extras are all brief EPK featurette, and given the quantity of them, it’s frustrating that Warner Bros. hasn’t included a “Play All” option. There’s some interesting information here, but you’ll have to work to get through all of it. (Of course, it would have been better if all of it had been combined into a single making-of documentary, but that train appears to have sailed as far as most major studio releases go.) They include interviews from all of the primary cast and crew of Godzilla x Kong, as well as a few archival interviews from the cast and crew of previous installments (if you missed Millie Bobby Brown this time, you’ll catch a glimpse of her here). Collectively, these featurettes cover the conception, design, and production of Godzilla x Kong, as well as giving Adam Wingard plenty of opportunity to be a card. (Although at one point, Tom Hammock says that they put Godzilla on top of the Rock of Gibraltar because “we’ve never seen Godzilla jump off anything into the water,” so clearly the team didn’t do much research into the Shōwa era films that gave birth to their own franchise).

If Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire really is the bastard stepchild of films like Godzilla and Godzilla Minus One, then it’s worth remembering that all children need love, even the troublemakers. It looks as good as it can in 4K given the nature of the filmmaking process, and it also offers an aggressive mix that’s marred by a problem that may not necessarily bother everyone. (It’s worth noting that as of this writing, I couldn’t find any other reviews that mentioned it, so it certainly hasn’t bothered other reviewers). Godzilla x Kong won’t be for everyone, but you know who you are, so you already know if you’re the target audience for it. It’s recommended for the faithful, if not so much for everyone else.

- Stephen Bjork

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