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[Review] ‘Kong: Skull Island’ Shows That Kong is Still King

Jason McDonald

There have been a lot of valid criticisms directed at such films like “Pacific Rim” and “Godzilla,” but I’m thrilled to see giant monster action returning to the screen.  And now the granddaddy of them all, Kong, has returned to tear things up.  Is this classic beast able to reclaim his throne or is it time for Kong to retire the crown?

“Kong: Skull Island” follows the journey of a scientific crew (spearheaded by John Goodman) at the tailend of the Vietnam War as they investigate a newly discovered island that may the source of monstrous new  lifeforms.  Escorting the scientific crew is Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his soldiers along with survivalist James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and wartime photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).

The plot of “Kong: Skull Island” is pretty straightforward, but that’s perfectly fine.  One doesn’t come to a giant monster film to see dynamic plot twists.  The basic set-up is straight out of the “Jurassic Park” playbook.  People go to an island expecting “Ooohs” and “Aaaahs” but then there’s running and screaming.  And of course their only hope to escape the island is an extraction point they have to get too before it’s too late.  It’s really not a deep story, but it’s certainly a fun one with plenty of great action and engaging characters.

In a lot of ways it feels like someone looked at all of the complaints lobbied at “Godzilla” and attempted to rectify them here.  If you thought that the most recent “Godzilla” film took too long to get to the kaiju action then take solace in the knowledge that King Kong appears on screen fairly early on in the film and from there he has multiple appearances throughout.  Where “Godzilla” tried to build up to the big reveal, “Skull Island” embraces it’s monster and puts it on display.

Another complaint people might have had about “Godzilla” was that many of the main characters were rather bland.  That’s only partially true here.  Unfortunately Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston play pretty generic leads who are your atypical do gooders, but the film salvages this unfortunate turn by surrounding them with more nuanced characters.  John Goodman turns in an excellent performance as a boisterous scientist who keeps people in the dark about the true nature of the island.  Then there’s Sam Jackson who plays a soldier wracked by guilt over the men he lost during the war.  He becomes an Ahab-like character, chasing Kong with blind rage after the big beast attacks his crew.  And while many nameless soldiers die during the film, they give you just enough character development for some of them so that you kind of care when their end comes and you can at least put an identity to the character.

However, the real star of the show (aside from Kong) is John C. Reilly who plays a World War 2 pilot whose plane crashed on the island.  Reilly has been living on the island for 30 years, surviving against all manners of beasts and dangers, but also befriending a local tribe.  Reilly does a bit of the exposition for the film, explaining the history of the island and Kong, but his character is a bit loony so he manages to make the typical dry part of a movie extremely entertaining.  Practically all of the funniest bits of the film come from Reilly whose performance almost feels like it belongs in a Will Ferrell movie.  However, he reigns it in before going too over the top.

But enough about all these puny humans, let’s talk about Kong.  As you might know, the plan for this new Kong is to eventually have him fight the new Godzilla.  As you might have seen in the trailers he looks bigger than just about any other Kong we’ve seen before.  To show off his strength we see Kong take on the might of the US military, a giant sea creature, and a new monster dubbed the “skull crawlers.”  These things are sort of reminiscent of the “Cloverfield” monster as they’re big ugly bipedal freaks. They’re extremely aggressive and pose a threat to everything on the island, so it’s up to Kong to keep them in check.  There isn’t a whole of breathtaking fights, but the film wisely has an intense full reveal of Kong that is actually terrifying and ends on a pretty exhilarating fight.  So if you’re looking for big monster action, you’ll leave satisfied.

In the end “Kong: Skull Island” is exactly the film you’d expect it to be.  It won’t surprise you, but it’ll leave you feeling quite content. It is a solid giant monster movie that puts Kong back on top and makes me excited for the future of Kaijus in America.  Whether you fell in love with the original film, the ’80s version, or even Peter Jackson’s take on the character I’d recommend you go see this one if you were any kind of Kong fan.

Oh and be sure to stay through the credits.  There’s a special scene at the end.  Yup, now we’re getting after credit scenes in our monster movies.

4 / 5 stars     


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