KONG: SKULL ISLAND
I love the smell of ape palm in the morning.
Kong: Skull Island is set in 1973, at the messy end of the Vietnam war. We know this because of helicopters and 60s rock music. The story hastily introduces a team of scientists under the direction of Bill Randa (John Goodman), a Carl Denham sort working for Monarch, the monster-hunting company we first saw in the Godzilla reboot. Marlow wants a senator (all too brief scene with the great Richard Jenkins) to approve a military escort, which will be led by a colonel (Samuel L. Jackson in “Snakes on a Plane” mode) who doesn’t want the war to end, supposedly for the purpose of mapping an uncharted island that’s wreaked havoc with boats and planes for centuries. But despite having the military (the old “the war’s over but let’s do one more mission trope”), they still need the requisite tough and adventuresome jungle guide, Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), and even an “anti-war” photojournalist, Mason (Brie Larson), to join in the mix.
Once they’ve punched through a dense wall of violent storms and are flying over the island, they quickly encounter Kong, who is none too happy about the buzzing copters surveying his turf. The resulting smackdown is a terrific action sequence and grand introduction to the new skyscraper-sized ape, whose actions temporarily separate the survivors in uncharted jungles filled with some inventive new creatures unlike the typical dinosaurs we’ve seen in past Kong films. The colonel’s band is hell-bent on killing Kong, while Conrad and Mason meet a band of natives who live not so much protected from Kong, but protected by Kong from bigger, more primordial ancient creatures that dwell in the earth and who must be kept in check.
There’s a lot to love if you really like seeing giant monsters beat the tar out of each other. The island is a wonderland of creatively massive creatures which manage to live in an environmentally impossible ecosystem (indeed, the larger the creature, the less likely they could even move on land, much less pump enough blood to have an all-out fistfight). The human characters are one-dimensional stock, and the only truly interesting person given any backstory is John C. Reilly’s marooned WWII vet, who has been trapped on Kong’s island since 1944. Samuel Jackson phones it in and even manages to throw out a Jurassic Park line or two for good measure. As the supposed leads, Hiddleston and Larson are engaging enough but have zero chemistry and no interesting motivations.
Still, the Pacific sunsets are beautiful, the jungles are luscious, and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, in his first foray into large-scale fantasy action, keeps everything juggernauting to the final battle, a magnificent tour-de-CGI. It’s not as over-the-top-gleefully-bonkers as Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong, but this hyperactive reboot of the Kong mythos places him firmly in Warner Brothers’/Legendary’s new world of giant monsters, which will continue with the next Godzilla movie, Godzilla: King of Monsters in 2019. Stay to the very end of the credits for a teaser that’ll get your giant-monster yahoos all riled up.
KID FACTOR: It’s PG-13, some army language.