Godzilla vs. Kong has a simple title and monster-flick premise, but the action-packed battles between two legendary, skyscraper-size gargantuans are not at all formulaic. In fact, the picture is surprisingly ambitious, bold, creative and colorful, and doesn’t shy from being silly and silent when it needs to be. Unlike the previous Godzilla films, Godzilla vs. Kong is not weighed down by humans and their problems. Instead, the cast of characters are mostly spectating in awe and shock like the audience, serving as the connecting tissue between action scenes and extraordinary sci-fi set pieces.

The movie is served well with Director Adam Wingard (The Guest) and writers Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein as they continue to explore the mythos of giant creatures who are older than the human race, feeding on radiation from the Big Bang. They eventually moved inside earth as that energy receded, hibernating in the “Hollow Earth” until humans began to disrupt the earth with devastating impacts like nuclear testing and mining. When that human activity began to appear, the giant monsters would wake and cause havoc. And when they weren’t sleeping, they were fighting each other for dominance.

The story starts with King Kong living in a virtual reality dome that simulates his habitat on Skull Island, which ended up getting wiped out as a result of a storm. King Kong is being researched by anthropological-linguist Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her deaf adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle). As the sole survivor of Skull Island’s Iwi tribe, Jia is able to communicate with Kong through sign language.

Meanwhile, Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) and her father, Monarch scientist Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), are trying to figure out why Godzilla suddenly attacked the Pensacola, Florida research facility of Apex Cybernetics. Madison and her friend Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison) track down Apex conspiracy theorist/podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) to uncover the truth about the facility and what robotic Kaiju may or may not be residing there. Apex has a secret of their own. Apex CEO/Founder Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir) convinces Hollow Earth expert and reluctant hero Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) to lead an expedition to Earth’s core to help him access a power source that would be ultimately utilized for something awfully large, robotic and evil-looking.

Godzilla vs. Kong shines in the quieter, dramatic moments, like when Jia interacts with Kong. Jia has the unique ability to understand Kong and how he feels. The filmmakers found a perfect way to give insight into the monster and show the audience why the word “monster” may be more derogatory in nature than a term of endearment. Early in the movie, Kong is “humanized” and recognized as a sympathetic protagonist. Godzilla’s motivations are less nuanced but easy to follow. Godzilla is an apex predator and naturally finds himself threatened by the existence of a possibly stronger Kaiju. When the audience gets to see the psychadelic-looking Hollow Earth, Godzilla vs. Kong turns up the heat and we see a new world inside of the world we know. From there, the action picks up quickly. The audience will enjoy Godzilla vs. Kong as a wild and surprisingly deep flick that feels like a natural steppingstone to a more comprehensive sequel.

Watch Godzilla vs. Kong on various streaming platforms or when it’s released on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K Blu-ray on June 15.