Kong: Skull Island
Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, Corey Hawkins, Shea Whigham
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
…that’s the thing about Kong – it’s never not fun…
Comparing Kong: Skull Island to Apocalypse Now is starting to feel lazy but, holy hell, you’d be ignoring a whopping great elephant in the room by refusing to note that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (the under-seen Kings of Summer) milks his 1972 SE Asia setting for all its worth. Coppola’s classic is his chief visual, if not tonal, touchstone (And it’s no coincidence we have characters called Conrad and Marlowe), but really the film is pulling from all kinds of Vietnam-era (And WWII – Hell in the Pacific gets a nod early on) media, giving us a cool soundtrack, some gnarly hardware and a crew of ass-in-the-grass grunts for the various beasties to chew on.
It makes a cool kind of story sense, too, the period being recent enough to not seem alien, but far enough back that modern technology doesn’t make its “lost world” sense complete ridiculous. Thus we have a built-in amount of buy-in when, after newfangled satellite imagery reveals an uncharted island hidden behind a perennial swirling stormfront, John Goodman’s government spook hastily pulls together an expedition to scout it out before the Russkies get there first. Along for the ride: Tom Hiddleston’s coolly professional ex-SAS tracker and Brie Larson’s “anti” war photographer, with Samuel L. Jackson’s air cavalry helicopter unit supplying military support. Of course, we as viewers know what’s waiting for them on that ominously-named isle: a giant friggin’ ape.
Let’s get one thing straight right out of the gate: Kong: Skull Island is huge fun. It knows what it is: a big, brassy monster romp, populated with archetypal characters and a plethora of impressively-rendered critters. Chief among them, of course is the titular King, in this iteration rendered as a more humanoid-seeming beast-man in contrast to Peter Jackson’s biological fidelity. Everything leading up to the full reveal of the towering Kong is a complete blast, with Vogt and his screenwriters, Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein, balancing fun, tension and sheer cool pretty much perfectly.
That the back half of the film never quite matches the sublime build is more an almost inescapable function of the genre, as our protagonists, once Kong has decimated their helicopter squadron (no spoiler, that – it’s in the trailer), split up and forced to make their way across the bizarre landscape towards hoped-for rescue. Of course, by this stage Jackson’s chopper commander has gone full Ahab, while extra complication crops up in the form of scene-stealing John C. Reilly’s crazy WWII castaway, living among the friendly natives lo these many years and on hand to drop reams of exposition in a a pretty entertaining way. Things get episodic as we cut between a number of groups and their various, almost invariably fatal to some degree, animal encounters. It’s consistently entertaining, but there’s not much sense of forward momentum or urgency.
The cast are great, modified by how much they’re given to work with. Hiddleston does what he can with his straight man action hero role, but he’s kind of overshadowed by veteran scenery chewers Jackson and Goodman. Oscar winner Larson is actually given precious little to do – in fact, her presence on the trip is a bit of an unanswered question, but hey, Brie Larson – never not good.
And that’s the thing about Kong – it’s never not fun, even when you can feel the reins of the big budget behemoth slip away from indie helmer Vogt-Roberts from time to time, even when the climax inevitably escalates to two giant piles of pixels smacking the crap out of each other, even when the inevitable sequel hook is deployed in the post-credits stinger. It’s a blast, and that’s good enough.