May 22, 2024

As the old saying goes, there are two kinds of people on this Earth: Those who like their movies with a giant evil ape swinging a vertebrae like a lasso while riding a kaiju controlled by a crystal, and those who don’t. The former types will have much to cheer in “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,” a ground stomping, radiation-spewing monster-mash feast.

Technically, we are not on this Earth. We’re inside it, in a subterranean jungle world that gives the movie’s filmmakers an exotic, untrampled realm in which they try to chart some new ground for a pair of well-traveled beasts. But aside from the film’s strong Jules Verne streak, “Godzilla x Kong” is no drastic pivot for its long-in the-tooth monsters. For that, you were better off catching last year’s Toho-made “Godzilla Minus One,” which grippingly returned to Godzilla’s post WWII origins and in the process won the 70 year old lizard its first Oscar.

Other, less respectable creatures might have used an Academy Award as a springboard for more dramatic roles. But not Godzilla. No costume dramas for him, unless you count the robotic fist that Kong gets outfitted with midway through the movie. No, we are back in the pure spectacle territory that has traditionally been Godzilla and King Kong’s stomping ground. It’s even a very small title tweak rom the previous installment, “Godzilla vs. Kong,” to “Godzilla x Kong.” This one promises a team up, with the frenemies joining forces to fight a mutual foe. If things keep up this way, we can look forward to “Godzilla xoxo Kong.”

Returning director Adam Wingard kicks things off with his two stars separated, like star-crossed lovers, with only Earth’s mantle in between. Godzilla roams above ground while Kong romps around in Hollow Earth. To humankind, this is a good arrangement that keeps city-destroying rampages to a minimum – though Godzilla’s choice of bed, the Roman Coliseum, is surely unpopular among archeologists.

Every movement of each monster is closely tracked digitally. The humans in “Godzilla x Kong” verge on being bit players — or more like roving sports commentators — who spend most of their time trying to analyze what the goliaths are up to. It’s a lean crew of scientist Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), conspiracy spouting podcaster Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry) and biologist Trapper (Dan Stevens) who fly into the Earth’s center when Kong is hurt and confusing distress signals seem to emanating from the underworld. With them are Ilene’s adoptive daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle), the lone surviving member of the tribe that protected Kong’s Skull Island.

Being in Hollow Earth takes some of the fun out of things. What good is a colossus when you can’t fling it against a skyscraper? Some of that comes later in “Godzilla x Kong.” But most of the film’s thrills come out of the strange dimensions that can turn up around every corner. In Hollow Earth they stumble onto a host of lost civilizations and a cavernous lair held up by giant crystals that look like the roman numerals of a Super Bowl logo.

That also leaves “Godzilla x Kong” residing in a purely CGI arena without even tenuous connections to reality. It’s a empty chamber for movie spectacle and nothing else, where the only option is to pile elements on top of each other until you have, you know, a giant evil ape swinging a vertebrae like a lasso while riding a kaiju controlled by a crystal.

But this mostly a very big, very simple tag team affair. The bad guys underground — the nasty gorilla Skar King and equally unpleasant lizard kaiju Shimo — eventually battle Kong and Godzilla in a finale that strips out the last vestige of reality, gravity, in a floating melee. Who is there to root for here? Godzilla has first billing but it spends most of its time traipsing around the globe sucking up radiation.

Of the humans, Hall does the most to bring something real to the movie. Kong, as he’s been throughout this iteration of the franchise, is the main guy. But he’s just on the lookout for a friend or two. His most emotional scene, like Nick Nolte in “Affliction,” is due to a tooth ache. That, and the resulting yank via helicopter, prompted me to wish the movie was just a series of medical issues for an aging Kong. A knee replacement. Some reading glasses.

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