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‘Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire’ Review: Titans Team Up in Monsterpiece of Mayhem

Legendary

You might want to evacuate the city because Godzilla is taking his victory lap and everyone’s going to get smashed.

It’s been less than a month since, for the first time after 70 years, a Godzilla movie won an Academy Award. “Godzilla Minus One” is one of the greatest films in this storied franchise, a dramatically satisfying and thematically potent story set in Japan immediately after World War II. It was a welcome reminder that these “Godzilla” movies, though fun and often ridiculous, can also be powerful works of art.

Which brings us to “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,” a welcome reminder that there’s nothing wrong with being fun and ridiculous, too. The fifth film in the Legendary Monsterverse has little in common with serious Godzilla films like “Minus One,” “Shin Godzilla” and the original “Gojira.”

It takes its cues from the late Showa era, when Godzilla was basically a gigantic superhero, teaming up with his buddies Anguirus, Jet Jaguar and Mothra to kick the butt of humongous robots, smog monsters and cyborg alien bird guys. Sometimes the monsters even talked to each other using on-screen speech balloons. It was a wonderful age.

“Godzilla x Kong” takes place in a world divided. (Side note: Are we supposed to say the “x?” Is it silent? Does it just mean “and?” The world may never know.) After the events of “Godzilla vs. Kong” the two monsters split the world down the middle, like a settlement in a divorce. Godzilla rules the surface of the planet and fights any other titan that starts wrecking his stuff. Like the city of Rome. That’s Godzilla’s stuff. Only he’s allowed to wreck it. He sleeps in the colosseum all snuggled up like a cat in a cardboard box. It’s adorable.

Meanwhile, Kong rules over Hollow Earth, a vast and unexplored wilderness underneath the Earth’s surface which is also full of monsters. Kong hunts monsters and builds nifty “Home Alone” traps because he’s got a lot of time on his hands. He’s also very lonely and hopes to find more giant apes down there somewhere.

The plot kicks in when Kong gets a toothache and crawls up to the surface because that’s where the dentists are. No, really, that’s real. Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecall Hall) calls a veterinarian named Trapper (Dan Stevens) to rush Kong into oral surgery and replace his giant tooth with a perfect replica, which somehow they already had, on the same day. King Kong has better dental coverage than literally anyone reading this review right now.

Dr. Andrews and Trapper follow Kong down to Hollow Earth because a mysterious psychic signal has been sent to the surface and it’s got something to do with Dr. Andrews’ adopted daughter, Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who gets to tag along. Joining them is conspiracy podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), not because he has anything to contribute, but because the screenwriters had to direct all their exposition at somebody.

Down in Hollow Earth the team uncovers evidence of a lost civilization of giant apes led by a creepy despot named The Scar King who wants to wage war on humanity. Kong is not on board with the “killing humanity” thing and stands up to The Scar King, fighting a bunch of giant apes in the process. He also meets one young giant ape and although they become friends he uses that baby ape as a club to fight off his enemies, which is completely hilarious and worth the price of admission alone.

Adam Wingard returns for his second giant monster flick after “Godzilla vs. Kong,” a film with all the right mayhem and all the wrong subplots. “Godzilla x Kong” doesn’t feel nearly as padded. It’s an efficient monster fight delivery system, with dense and exciting set pieces, and interesting creatures. There’s just enough plot to push this film from one brawl to another. And while that plot is often total nonsense it’s nonsense in service of making monsters fight each other while looking awesome. If this be malarky there is method in it.

By this point in the Legendary Monsterverse both Godzilla and Kong have been developed as much and, frankly, more than all the human characters. They’re not inscrutable gods; they’re heroes with life goals and responsibilities. The CGI performances of these creatures smartly and empathetically convey their inner journeys. They aren’t complicated, but by God(zilla) they are conveyed through movement, expression and action. And that action tells a story. There’s a third-act battle sequence that’s basically an extended, dialogue-free riff on (and borderline satire of) the title bout in “Batman v Superman.” Except in “Godzilla x Kong” it makes more sense and has a bigger and less comical impact.

It would be nice to report that great actors like Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry and Dan Stevens were given interesting things to do, but they aren’t. They’re here to class up the joint, have a little fun and collect their well-deserved paychecks. This is Godzilla’s movie. This is King Kong’s movie. And it’s the best of their three canonical team-ups, and easily the most entertaining film in the Legendary Monsterverse.

You can’t be mad at this film for being silly because it’s not pretending to be serious, and also because its silliness is presented with creativity and panache. You can’t be mad that it doesn’t make sense because you saw on the poster that it’s a film where King Kong gets a giant robot boxing glove. You should’ve known darn well what you were getting into.

Brainless escapism is easy to produce badly and too often audiences are forced to settle for mediocrity, or worse. It’s no small compliment to say that “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” is expertly crafted drivel. When Godzilla x’es Kong — whatever the hell that means — everybody wins.

“Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” is in theaters March 29.

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