As kids, who didn’t want to see King Kong ten times his size, taking on the humans who would otherwise exploit or kill him, even fighting on the side of the good guys? ‘Kong: Skull Island’ arrives in theaters with all this in mind, in an attempt by production house Legendary and studio Warner Bros. to kick-start a shared universe of classic giant movie monsters (same producers as Godzilla’s reboot a few years back). What they deliver is a rollicking good time at the movies, an adventure filled with scenery chewing characters, state-of-the-art creature special effects, white-knuckle action, and a surprising amount of solid laughs.
The humor throughout the movie is likely handled as deftly as it is due to the directorial hand of Jordan Vogt-Roberts, a helmer of comedic television whose repertoire belies an ability to take on a huge blockbuster action extravaganza such as this. He does well though, juggling a large cast in an island-jungle setting, against computer generated creatures, and framing complex action sequences involving helicopters and well-armed soldiers. Ostensibly an expedition movie where John Goodman’s and Corey Hawkins’ government scientist characters gather a team of geological surveyors and elite helicopter pilots, led by Samuel L. Jackson’s corporal (looking to continue battling an enemy as the Vietnam War is dying down), on a trip to the titular location, a hidden island in the South Pacific only recently captured via satellite. They also recruit a tracker/British merc in the form of Tom Hiddleston’s stoic Conrad, and Brie Larson’s photojournalist to document the trip on film. Inevitably they become trapped on the island and separated in a few groups after an assault by the king ape downs the choppers. The group with Hiddleston and Larson run into the natives who worship Kong as a protective god, as well as their long-term guest, Marlow, an American WWII pilot shot down and stranded for the past thirty years, played hilariously by John C. Reilly. It’s Marlow and his silent adoptive tribe family, beholden to Kong, who forge an emotional foundation for the audience that carries over to the big guy himself.
Based on this description, it’s easy to tell this is a basic B-movie set-up and execution, yet magnified on a huge scale, packed with talent, and supported by big studio money. It’s impossible to take the whole spectacle seriously, complete with perfectly over-the-top acting (looking at you Sam), predictable dialogue, gross-out gore, and story beats you can see from a mile away, but somehow it all pretty much works. Whether it’s the familiarity of the King himself and all the primal feelings embedded in the collective psyche that he brings, an interesting 1970s setting with retro tech, or a John C. Reilly performance that’s endearing and unpredictable (‘it sounds like a bird, but it’s a fuckin’ ant’), ‘Kong: Skull Island’ becomes an exciting, silly thrill ride that plays in a one-hundred eighty-five million dollar sandbox . . .
Directed By: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Written By: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, & Derek Connolly
Running Time: 118 min.
* * * (out of 4 stars) -OR- B for BIG B-MOVIE