The title of Godzilla vs. Kong is both the premise and a promise, and pretty much all you need to know about the next supremely hectic 110-plus minutes going in. The human stuff is just extra — tiny, shouty grains of rice scattered across the vast smoking landscape below, gawking and scrambling and occasionally flinging nonsense bits of junk science and story exposition into the wind.

These experts in their fields include Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), an anthropological linguist and concerned caretaker of the Kong; Apex Corporation CEO Walter Simmons (Demian Bichir), a brash tech mogul bent on eliminating the "Titan problem"; and Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard), the rogue geologist Walter recruits to get them to the center of the Earth, where some kind of mighty centrifugal force field resides. (There are five credited screenwriters here to explain exactly how that works, though the answer is essentially, "Because gravity.")

There are also a few alumni lucky enough to have survived the last culling, including Millie Bobby Brown as the daughter of Vera Farmiga's late paleo-biologist Emma Russell — who sacrificed her life for the cause in 2019's Godzilla: King of the Monsters — and her animal-behavior specialist father, portrayed with a blessed but far-too-brief note of creased-brow sanity by Kyle Chandler. The great Brian Tyree Henry is almost entirely wasted as an overstimulated lab technician and podcasting conspiracy theorist determined to expose the shenanigans at Apex, and so is charming New Zealand export Julian Dennison (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Deadpool 2), as a teen wingman who tags along and also yells a lot.

Back, though, to the Kong we came for: Ornery and isolated, the greatest ape has been confined to house arrest in a simulation of his natural habitat on Skull Island — a sort of Truman Show-meets-Hunger Games bio-dome which Dr. Ilene believes is the only way to keep him safe from Godzilla's killer instincts, and obey the natural law that proclaims no peace between monsters can stand. But Simmons and his hard-charging daughter (I Care A Lot's Eiza González) have already laid the bait for confrontation with a robot-Zilla capable of defeating its organic counterparts, if only it can tap into the middle-Earth power core that Skarsgard believes Kong can help them reach.

Godzilla vs Kong

Other bits of vaguely plot-shaped flotsam are floated, mostly involving ancient myths and fighter jets and the straight-faced delivery of lines like "I might have an idea, but it's crazy." Still, director Adam Wingard (Death Note, The Guest) understands his call to duty; the maximus monster smackdown. And on that the movie more or less delivers: Godzilla, looking like a cross between a Komodo dragon and a throwing star, flings his fat alligator slap of a tail toward heaven; a Chrysler Building-size Kong roars and pummels and casually rips the throats out of his challengers in victory. (After one such glutinous beheading, Skarsgard looks on with a bemused grin, like a proud dad watching his kid tear open a Capri Sun after soccer practice).

There's enough CG detail to give Kong a kind of mesmerizing hyper-realness in every cowlick and cracked fingernail, and a beautiful little deaf girl (Kaylee Hottle) to help him communicate what's in his heart, via the miracle of sign language. She's been orphaned, and maybe he has too — though we never learn much more about his loneliness except that he does not care for ankle manacles, and is soothed by the sounds of soft-FM in the mornings. If you want a great monster movie that's actually also about people — how they think and talk and feel when they're more than just screaming kaiju chum in the water — try 2017's Colossal, currently streaming on Hulu. If not, maybe Godzilla vs. Kong's brawling lizard-brain shock and awe is exactly the void you came for. Grade: C+

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