Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly
Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language
They say there’s nothing new under the sun, and for most of “Kong: Skull Island,” that is definitely the case. The characters fall into archetypes established back on the silver screen, the monsters are mostly straightforward giant versions of familiar critters, and it’s pretty easy to guess how the film is going to go. There are deviations from the traditional here and there, but this is not a film to see if you’re looking for innovation. If you just want to go to the movies, eat popcorn, and watch a giant gorilla fight a giant dinosaur-looking-thing, it will not disappoint.
An opening credits sequence takes us from 1944, when a young American pilot and a young Japanese pilot have the misfortune to crash on Kong’s island during World War II, to the end of the Vietnam War, when some scientists persuade the government to loan them a military escort and transit to that same island. The scientists (John Goodman and Corey Hawkins) seem crazy, but they persuade a Senator to pull a couple strings and soon they’re on their way.
We know bad things are going to happen, so it’s no surprise when Kong (motion-capture performance by Terry Notary) shows up and starts swatting helicopters out of the air. It’s quite a spectacle, though. Special effects have come a long way from 1933’s “King Kong.” That’s clear throughout the movie, from the realistic textures of Kong’s fur to the enormous spider some of the characters encounter. Here and there you’ll find not-quite-right CGI, but it’s at least as good as any previous giant monster flick. If you’re willing to suspend disbelief, the film will keep it aloft.
The characters are standard in almost every way – from the heroic and handsome former-SAS tracker James (Tom Hiddleston) to the scared and wildly out-of-place scientists and bureaucrats to the soldiers led by Col. Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). The soldiers were expecting to go home, but were assigned to just one more mission – this one. There’s a tribe of strange, silent natives who know how to live in peace with Kong and the other wildlife. So far, so familiar.
Things divert from the expected here and there, though. Our female lead, the beautiful blonde who, of course, has a special rapport with Kong, is an anti-war photojournalist named Mason (Brie Larson). She’s spent time embedded with front-line soldiers, and is far from a fainting damsel in distress. Even further from the standard, she and the heroic James don’t have a grand romance plotline. They are focused on surviving the incredibly dangerous place where they find themselves, and that’s about it. It’s refreshing.
In short, “Kong: Skull Island” is exactly what it purports to be: an origin story for the giant gorilla that is a whole lot of fun if you take it on its own merits. If you’re looking for something groundbreaking, it’s not for you. But if you just want a fun movie with a bunch of cool crashes, explosions, and giant monsters, it is well worth checking out.