Producers: Mary Parent, Alex Garcia, Eric McLeod, Thomas Tull and Brian Rogers   Director: Adam Wingard   Screenplay: Terry Rossio, Simon Barrett and Jeremy Slater   Cast: Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Dan Stevens, Kaylee Hottle, Alex Ferns, Fala Chen, Rachel House, Ron Smyck, Chantelle Jamieson and Greg Hatton   Distributor: Warner Bros.

Grade: C

Godzilla may be millions of years old in theory, but in cinematic terms he only turns seventy in 2024, and has just won his first Oscar.  In this fifth installment of the so-called MonsterVerse he gets top billing, but really plays second fiddle to Kong, who’s ninety-one in movie years and didn’t win his first Oscars until he was seventy-two.  Given how both are getting on, it’s no wonder that one of the big moments in “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” comes when Kong has some dental work done—an extraction, to be precise.  Fortunately the fellow who performs the surgery, a wild adventurer/veterinarian named Trapper (Dan Stevens), also provides a replacement implant—made of what looks like titanium.  Being younger, though not by much, Godzilla manages without any medical intervention.  Maybe next time.

As the “x” in the title indicates, in this installment Godzilla and Kong, who were enemies in 2021’s “Godzilla vs. Kong” (also directed perfunctorily by Adam Wingard) here work together—though not until the big finale.  For most of the movie they’re going their separate ways:  Godzilla, who’s taken to bedding down in Rome’s Colosseum (a homage, no doubt, to Ray Harryhausen’s Venusian ymir, who also favored the Roman ruin in Nathan Juran’s 1957’s “20 Million Miles to Earth”), is roused to make his way to Cádiz, where he dives into the sea.  (One might ask why he doesn’t just go to the Italian coast and take the Mediterranean route, but that would have meant that he couldn’t have absorbed radiation along the way, giving him a pinkish glow and preparing him for a big concluding battle.  It also would have meant missing out on a lot of the rousing devastation he leaves in his wake.)  His movements are monitored by observers at the Monarch Company’s tech headquarters.

Meanwhile lonely Kong sits sulking in Hollow Earth and on Skull Island, that bad tooth throbbing and hordes of ravenous dino-dogs at his heels.  He’s being watched by the major human character in this animation-heavy scenario—scientist Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), who divides her time between her Monarch work and seeing to the emotional needs of her deaf stepdaughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle), the last survivor of Skull Island’s Iwi people, who feels out of place in her new school.  When intimations of some new threat from Hollow Earth arise, Andrews recruits comic-relief vlogger Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) to accompany her and Jia—along with Trapper—to the underground realm where Kong, after his dental work, goes on his own.

Both groups find surprises in uncharted territory.  The humans stumble upon a lost Iwi tribe headed by a Queen (Fala Chen), who welcomes them after seeing Jia.  The community also introduces them to the mysterious devices they employ as protection against the army of simians led by the cruelly chuckling Skar King, whose realm is peopled by terrified subject apes, who have apparently been breaking rocks like a perpetual chain gang for millennia (which raises the question: what’s done with all the resultant pebbles?).  Kong is introduced to the place by a hostile little apeling, and faces off against the Skar ruler.  The King, wielding a weapon, the Whiplash, that resembles a long rope studded with bones with a sharp, gleaming blue crystal at the end (actually the spinal cord of some previous victim), and controlling the Shimo, a reptilian titan that breathes out freezing blasts as daunting as Godzilla’s energy bursts, gets the better of Kong and his energy spike—until Godzilla shows up and the two join forces to defeat the ruler and his minions. (Mothra makes a guest appearance.)  But before then, Kong’s right arm is so severely injured that Trapper must equip it with a robotic brace.

If all this sounds like a farrago of comic-book nonsense, that’s because it is.  But fans who have been reveling in these monster-against-monster kaiju smackdowns since the sixties will probably eat up all the action, even though the animation, though bright, is kind of messy, and is accompanied by a sound design (supervised by Erik Aadahl) and score (by Tom Holkenborg and Antonio Di Iorio, with the usual quota of pop song needle drops) so overbearing that the result is truly ear-splitting.  But within the confines of the genre, Tom Hammock’s production design and Ben Seresin’s cinematography do the best that can be expected.  A pity the same can‘t be said of Josh Schaeffer’s editing, which lets the movie lumber along mercilessly.

The human cast members fare poorly, obviously given less attention than the animated figures.  Hall is relegated to delivering lots of dull pseudo-scientific gobbledygook, and signing mournfully with Hottle, who responds with equally mournful looks.  Henry, who can be an adept comedian when supplied with decent material, isn’t in this instance, and while Stevens (who collaborated with Wingard on “The Guest,” a deft thriller, back in 2014) opts to go completely gonzo, the choice can just provide mindless bursts of empty energy.

Die-hard fans will doubtless disagree, but even by the low bar established by the series, this is a mediocre serving of monster mayhem.