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'Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire': A crowd pleaser that turns it up to 11

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Hot on the heels of last year’s “Godzilla Minus One,” the first ever Academy Award winner in the giant reptile’s decades-long film career, comes “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire.”

The Oscar-winning movie focussed on drama more than destruction, but the new film is pure spectacle, a ballet of kaiju chaos for fans. Set three years after “Godzilla vs. Kong,” the last entry in the MonsterVerse franchise, a new enemy has emerged.

“For most of human civilization, we believed that life could only exist on the surface of our planet,” says Kong Research Director Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall). “What else were we wrong about? This world has more secrets than we could possibly imagine."

Having defeated Mechagodzilla the last time around, the Godzilla, his atomic breath, and King Kong, the ruler of a subterranean ecosystem deep within the Earth called “Hollow Earth,” face a new threat.

When Andrews discovers large red hand marks on Skull Island, imprints that did not come from Kong, it becomes clear there is another giant ape with his eye set on taking over Skull Island, and beyond.

Even at 337 feet (102.7 m), and equipped with a giant axe and a mechanized power glove, Kong isn’t capable of doing battle on his own.

“They don’t have to like one another,” says the “hippy dippy Ace Ventura” veterinarian Dr. Trapper (Dan Stevens). “They just have to work together.”

Val Lewton, and generations of horror-suspense directors who followed, kept their monsters off screen as long as possible. It was “less-is-more” filmmaking, which understood your brain would fill in the blanks; that what you didn’t see would be scarier than anything they could show you.

Godzilla in a scene from "Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire." (Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

It allowed the imagination to run wild, but “Godzilla x Kong” leaves nothing to the imagination: it is a bigger-is-better movie, the cinematic equivalent of a monster truck rally.

It’s all about Kong, Godzilla and new characters like the 318-foot (96.8 m) tall simian titan, Skar King, and an adorable-but-feisty mini-Kong named Suko, leaving a trail of carnage behind them.

The human characters exist only to explain things, provide occasional comic relief, utter lines like, “What the bloody hell is that?” and look in awe as the titans do battle. On the plus side, Brian Tyree Henry and Dan Stevens do look like they’re having fun.

The CGI is dodgy from time to time, the clunky story is essentially an excuse to pit Kong and Godzilla against other titans and it doesn’t have the grace or emotion of “Godzilla Minus One,” but “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” turns it up to 11.

It’s a crowd pleaser, although mileage may vary, depending on your level of fandom of rock 'em sock 'em action that comes in and goes out with a roar.

3 out of 5 stars

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