KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017)
Kong: Skull Island… remembering that Brie Larson (Captain Marvel) was in this film directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, ( The Kings of Summer), I decided to give this movie a shot. To my delight, the movie had not just Brie Larson. Kong: Skull Island sported a few Marvel actors, starring Samuel L. Jackson (Avengers, Snakes On A Plane), Tom Hiddleston (Thor, Crimson Peak), as well as Larson.
In the year 1944, two WWII fighter pilots crash-land on an island, parachuting to safety before engaging in a fight to the death-American pilot Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly, Guardians of the Galaxy, Tale Of Tales) and Japanese pilot Gunpei Ikari (Miyavi, Stray, Bleach). The beautiful tropical island, set in the South Pacific, is completely isolated and unknown to the rest of the world. And during their fight of hand-to-hand combat, Ikari and Marlow are interrupted. For the island is home to a giant gorilla, hundreds of feet tall.
In 1973, as the Vietnam War draws to a close for the U.S., a government agent by the name of Bill Randa (John Goodman, Atomic Blonde, Red State) hires British Special Forces Air Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston). He hires Conrad with the purpose of guiding a mission to map out Skull Island, the only name the island is known by. This is the same island where Marlow and Ikari disappeared.
The group is led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson, Def by Temptation). Rounding out the group are Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), an anti-war photographer, and a handful of soldiers and scientists. Later, they are joined by Marlow, played by the delightful ham John C. Reilly. Marlow has survived all this time on Skull Island with a mute group of mysterious tribals.
Kong: Skull Island is pretty much everything a person could want out of a monster film. If you want something light, and just feel like turning your brain off and enjoying a movie. This movie is it. No Academy-award-winning acting or writing, just actors having fun being in a monster film. And the monster film aspect does not disappoint, either. Thirty minutes into the film’s run-time, we are treated to an epic scene of Kong playing basketball with a bunch of army helicopters. Since Kong so solidly makes such a great first impression with the humans, it’s not long before we learn Packard’s bent: destroy Kong, at all costs, before Kong destroys everything else.
For a movie where I didn’t hear Samuel L. Jackson’s famous expletive once, I enjoyed the nice tension that Kong created. Two groups begin to emerge, Conrad and Weaver’s group, where they believe that Kong isn’t such a bad primate after all and just deserves to be left alone. And then there’s Packard’s group, with Packard zeroing in on Kong with an “Ahab”-like intensity. This all makes for a rollicking fun action flick where, when it isn’t trying to be serious with political references, manages to have a good bit of fun. Even if the movie doesn’t know how to have fun at its own expense. Being too serious for its own good was an element of Kong: Skull Island. An element that I noticed was surprisingly similar to The Legend of Tarzan (starring Alexander Skarsgaard), another movie with big names in it.
For my part, I can’t help but feel as though Kong: Skull Island would have benefitted from being set in a modern day setting, but here we are. The presence of the under-utilized Sam Lin (Tian Jing, Pacific Rim: Uprising, The Great Wall) is a little puzzling as well, one would hope that she would be given more to do. For what it’s worth, Brie Larsen is great, punching up every scene with well-executed one-liners, and her scenes with Kong are some of my favorites in the film. If action-beast movies aren’t going to dispense with the stereotype that men kill with guns, and that women are the source of compassion toward the monster, then at least Brie Larsen did a great job in this film. And of course, John C. Reilly steals every scene he’s in, despite showing up an hour into the movie’s runtime.
Finally, my favorite actor in Kong: Skull Island might be Kong himself, mo-capped by Terry Notary (Avengers: Endgame, Groot MoCap performer) and Toby Kebbell (War for Planet of the Apes). Man, they did a good job. I was very much reminded of the new Planet of the Apes films. Money shots like watching Kong wrestle and eat a squid monster are reason alone to watch this film. Not something that might have been possible twenty or even ten years ago. MoCap performances are the way of the future. They are getting to be so perfect, recreating the detail of every last one of Kong’s nose hairs, if they want to. And the other monsters present in the film also deserve a mention. They’re all so great and perfectly repulsive. One of my personal favorites was the spider. But the Skullcrawlers, even the baby ones, are especially sinister.
Best seen on the big screen, we can at least hope for an air-conditioned sequel to this nod to monster films sometime relatively soon. Given how excited the public is for the new Godzilla: King of Monsters, though, the sequel is going to have to up its game slightly. But as long as they keep up the great special effects work, Jordan Vogt-Roberts should be in good form for an inevitable sequel. For when the humans show up uninvited to visit Kong again.
Kong: Skull Island is available on Netflix.