Kong: Skull Island Review

King Kong holds the honor of being among Hollywood’s first movie monsters, but “monster” has never been as relevant a label for the colossal ape as it is for his latest incarnation in “Kong: Skull Island.” Whereas most people think of Kong as a misunderstood beast who falls for the beautiful Anne Darrow, in this film he possesses those instincts, but he’s also an easy-to-anger killing machine.

Despite the character’s history in films with action elements but more poetic flourishes, “Skull Island” works to build Kong into an action hero capable of raking in blockbuster-level cash. The story and screenplay, which represents the combined work of John Gatins and Dan Giloy (“Real Steel”), Derek Connolly (“Jurassic World”) and Max Borenstein (whose “Godzilla” launched this monster universe for Warner Bros) does not completely strip Kong of his humanity, but he’s a relentless force of nature in a film that pushes the boundaries of PG-13 violence.

These writers have structured the story as a ’90s monster movie: an expedition team including a researcher (John Goodman), geologist (Corey Hawkins), wilderness guide (Tom Hiddleston), photographer (Brie Larson) and a platoon of disappointed Vietnam vets (led by Samuel L. Jackson) fly through a storm to the mysterious Skull Island, where they’re greeted by angry ape and encounter countless other larger-than-life creatures bent on killing/eating them.

Though he be new to the big-budget filmmaking game, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (“The Kings of Summer”) takes this solidly written albeit predictable story and does just enough stylistically to keep us on our toes the entire time. Once it becomes clear that characters’ lives are not sacred in this movie, the thrill becomes waiting to see what unexpected and frankly shocking ways the story (and Vogt-Roberts) will remove them. Vogt-Roberts seems particularly adept at finding a balance between brutal/visceral violence and leaving some of that up to the imagination for full effect. He applies non-traditional angles and refreshing perspectives that “Skull Island’ gravitates between B- movie thrills and creative action filmmaking.

The story leans on some classic archetypes that do enough to fuel the story in thoughtful ways. The characters get more interesting when John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow enters. Marlow is a World War II pilot who has been trapped on the island for 30 years and helps explain to the other characters that Kong is the good guy and a key cog in the island’s ecosystem; he’s the only one who can kill the island’s giant man- eating lizards. This information leads to a schism: half the group wants to kill Kong and the others want to save him – familiar but effective.

Goodman, Hiddleston and Larson are obviously all too good for this movie, but “Skull Island” is better for them. And absolutely nothing is surprising about Jackon’s involvement or role, and that’s its own kind of legitimacy. His Preston Packard character actually has the most complexity, whereas Hiddleston and Larson serve to make their two-dimensional characters appear to be deep and interesting, which they do well enough.

Ultimately, the characters provide an assortment of victims and heroes for a ruthless jungle-set monster movie. Those with a thirst for that kind of mayhem will find “Skull Island” a gleeful adventure, but those looking to be moved — or heaven forbid show it to their kids in hopes of a family-friendly outing – are bound to encounter disappointment if not outrage.

“Skull Island” reclaims King Kong’s fearsome, creature-crushing side in glorious fashion, though it pretty exclusively plays to those tastes.


3.5/5 Stars


Kong: Skull Island
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Written by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly (screenplay), John Gatins (story)
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson


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