Thankfully not taking itself seriously at all, the latest cinematic incarnation of the King Kong legend, Warner Bros’ Kong: Skull Island, takes the story right back to its roots and leaves it there. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts clearly has an affection for a kind of all-out monster movie mash that is given new life in an A-plus production of a B-movie concept. As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), this reminded me of the kind of Jules Verne adventures I loved, such as Journey to the Center of the Earth or Mysterious Island, mixed with a dab of Jurassic Park and of course every Kong or Godzilla flick you have seen.
But unlike the most recent big-screen take on the big ape, Peter Jackson’s overcooked 2005 entry Kong, this one gets right to the action and the heart of the matter. Moving to a post-Vietnam War ’70s setting also makes it a different kind of animal, and we would have to throw in a movie from that era, Apocalypse Now, as further inspiration for Vogt-Roberts and his screenwriters Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly from a story by John Gatins.
The storyline is simple, and it’s a nifty device just to get to the chomping by Kong and a disparate group of other creatures lurking in the dense, foggy environment of Skull Island. Secret op Bill Randa (John Goodman) leads an expedition of scientists, military and others to the previously thought-uninhabited island in order to get answers to long-held questions about what it might hold. Among those along for the ride is SAS Black Ops officer Captain Conrad (Tom Hiddleston); an embittered Lt. Col. Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), who is determined to right what he considers the wrong of losing the Vietnam War; and of course the obligatory female, in this case a combat photographer played by Brie Larson. Several others also are along, many there to have their limbs taken apart in novel ways or serve as snacks for Kong and his cohorts.
As they traverse the island, they come upon an affable human named Hank Marlowe (John C. Reilly), who as it turns out survived a World War II crash-landing there and has learned to live peacefully among the natives and creatures ever since. He is a real live wire and steals acting honors in the CGI effects-driven movie. He also shares warnings to these intruders that they need to be cautious — warnings that aren’t heeded, especially by Packard, who is the type who shoots first and asks questions later. Jackson plays him with his usual brash gusto. Hiddleston doesn’t make as much of a good impression as he has less to do. Larson, in the kind of role that made Fay Wray a household name in the 1933 original King Kong, is basically there as eye candy for the audience — and later Kong.
And that is exactly as it should be. The real stars here are the special effects wizards who have delivered a fun, no-holds-barred, old-fashioned monster movie with CGI work that truly is state of the art. Kong himself is as imposing as he has ever been on film, and the dino-like other creatures are highly inventive creations. For those who love this sort of thing, Kong: Skull Island does not disappoint. Producers are Thomas Tull, Mary Parent, Jon Jashni and Alex Garcia. Stay to the end of the credits or you will miss an intriguing setup for the inevitable sequel. Warner Bros releases the film Friday.
Do you plan to see Kong: Skull Island? Let us know what you think.