Kong: Skull Island, B
Rated PG-13, 118 minutes
The 1933 classic horror film "King Kong" stands as one of the definitive monster movies, but one that captures the humanity and the beauty amidst the horror. Movies have advanced considerably in those 80-plus years, something reflected in the ferocious and towering new Kong iteration, "Kong: Skull Island," a visual spectacle that perfectly captures the ape's enormity in spite of its unoriginal narrative that pits Kong against one of cinema's most iconic actors.
A diverse team of explorers, led by government research team (Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman) and an anti-war photographer (Oscar-winner Brie Larson, in her first follow-up to "Room") along with a military escort headed by the aggressive Lt. Packard (Samuel L. Jackson, in top form) is brought together to venture deep into an uncharted, mysterious island in the Pacific - as beautiful as it is treacherous - unaware that they're crossing into the domain of the mythic Kong - as well as some creatures far more deadly.
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (of the sleeper coming-of-age hit "The Kings of Summer") with a script co-written by Dan Gilroy ("Nightcrawler") and Max Borenstein, who penned the 2014 version of "Godzilla," "Kong: Skull Island" is an entertaining action-horror film loaded with first-rate visuals and an intensity that makes up for its weak storytelling. Unsurprisingly, the film is big, big, big on every level, but it delivers with some intense action sequences throughout the film.
"Kong" is two stories: one of survival and one of man-vs. beast, with the latter taking center stage with ape vs. Jackson, one of cinema's most larger-than-life actors. Here he's the ultimate baddie as the psychotic, imbalanced army officer hellbent on breaking down Kong, spouting lines such as "I am the calvary," quickly becoming the film's more memorable, though predictable story arc, given that this version of Kong is much larger than in previous versions.
The themes of war, saving the environment and military involvement are all present, not to mention the script's fun nods to other films such as Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" (Jackson is really just playing a version of Robert Duvall's gung ho lieutenant here), Oliver Stone's "Platoon" to even a smidgen of "Starship Troopers" and the South Korean horror film "The Host," the sublime visuals and handsome photography are what you'll remember the most. Kong is the most impressive here as well as the huge Skullcrawlers, though they're not often integrated well, and it's occasionally obvious that green screens were used; however, that final, climactic battle between Kong and the chief, slimy Skullcrawler will have you on the edge of your seat.
Aside from Jackson, the all-star cast performs as well as expected, with Hiddleston and Larson given little to do but run in underwritten, bland roles, while John C. Reilly adds some much-needed comic charm to the proceedings as a stranded World War II pilot ("we're all gonna die here, together," he says cheekily), and the touching epilogue strives for balance after a considerable amount of intensity.
If you're going for a big, entertaining action film with little subtly, then "Kong: Skull Island" delivers the goods just fine.