Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language
Screenplay by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly, story by John Gatins
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Starring Tom HIddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz, Tian Jing and more
Grade: Three stars
It’s hard not to sympathize with the ape.
That’s one of the universal truths of King Kong movies, one that directors have finally taken advantage of. In “Kong: Skull Island,” fiction’s biggest ape is definitely one of the protagonists, and we finally get a group of humans who realize they should be fighting with the ape instead of against them. Though the movie does sometimes overindulge in aphorisms and wish-fulfillment, the result still manages to be a surprisingly entertaining return visit with one of cinema’s best-known icons.
The movie starts briefly in WWII before zooming ahead to Vietnam, which will be a metaphor for everything that follows (not to mention letting filmmakers stuff in a bunch of soldier clichés and excellent period music). John Goodman is one of a group of scientists with a mysteriously acronymed organization who talks the government into letting them all onto Skull Island. Add a military escort, a sexy former British spy, a photographer, a downed pilot, and a heavy sprinkling of redshirts, then set them loose on an island with a bunch of very large monsters.
There’s a firm anti-imperialist message in here, though it doesn’t detract from the cavalcade of monster-related mayhem that makes up most of the movie. It’s easy to identify some of the future corpses early on, such as one poor soul who makes the terrible mistake of talking about the wife and child he expects to return home to in a few short days. The deaths all tend toward the gruesome, though some have enough karmic justice attached to them that there’s a certain amount of satisfaction in the bloodiness. Even when the dead person is perfectly nice, there’s generally enough blood and flailing to put on an entertaining show.
The plot does, at times, wander into the ridiculous, including a scene that looks like Kong has access to MMA broadcasts and a gratuitous swordfight scene for Hiddleston that has zero purpose other than the visuals. Hiddleston has basically wandered in from a romance novel, and at least one of the camera people appears to have fallen in love with him at some point during the shoot. The dialogue is also sprinkled with a few too many aphorisms, all of them no doubt intended to be meaningful but mostly comes off like snippets from a B grade action movie.
Still, there are delights to be found in even B grade action movies. Hiddleston is just fun to watch, and Brie Larson manages to be magnificent despite being given very little to do. Samuel L. Jackson brings a ton of intensity and a touch of creepiness to his role, both of which are necessary. John C. Reilly provides excellent comic relief, but also manages to bring some moments of real emotion to the film. Jason Mitchell also brings an excellent mix of humor and pathos.
The best part of the movie, however, is Kong himself. Finally, he gets to be the hero of the movie, a big brawler who defies basic ape-ness but is always super cool. Though he bonds to Larson’s character, no doubt a nod to the original movie, he doesn’t even lose his head over her. He’s got a job to do, and he’s not going to let some puny humans stand in his way.
For giving us that gloriousness, I’m willing to forgive “Kong: Skull Island” a lot of sins.