Saturday, March 25, 2017

Kong: Skull Island

KONG: SKULL ISLAND (Jordan Vogt-Roberts, 2017)

When satellite imagery reveals the location to the unexplored Skull Island in the South Pacific, the race is on to get there first. In KONG: SKULL ISLAND, Bill Randa (John Goodman), a U.S. government official with the organization Monarch, quickly assembles a team of soldiers, scientists, and adventure seekers to claim whatever mysteries the place may reveal. Taking the lead is tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston). With the Vietnam War just concluded, Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his men provide the squadron to protect and transport everyone to Skull Island through the nasty weather that encircles it.

None of them are prepared for encountering its enormous creatures, including the ape known as Kong and his reptilian-like predators. Those who survive the casualty-riddled arrival on Skull Island are separated, with Conrad’s group, which includes photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), crossing paths with American pilot Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly). Marlow wrecked there during World War II and has lived among the natives in the intervening years. He considers getting off the island to be a foolish venture but has a makeshift boat in need of repairs that might help if they want to take the risk.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND believes bigger is better, from its unbelievably huge monsters to a primary cast big enough to field two softball teams. The number of main players can be a problem because there are so many characters to serve, even if just in a minor way to give each a distinguishing moment. For all of the mayhem, there’s not a heightened sense of danger because there are plenty of targets. Losing one or five doesn’t have an appreciable effect. They’re all types, even the presumed leads, rather than well-rounded protagonists. Reilly manages to stick out because of his funny and distinctive oddball nature.

To a large degree the lack of character-driven material doesn’t matter all that much as long as there’s enough spectacle. KONG: SKULL ISLAND delivers in that area. Whether Kong is swatting helicopters like flies, wrestling with a giant octopus, or battling his nemeses, the intimidatingly-dubbed skullcrawlers, the special effects impress as state of the art illusions and in their scale. While this and the 1933 KING KONG are not equals as films, the descendant understands the thrill of showmanship in its roots.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND spins a K-tel collection of Vietnam War film rock hits and is casual with its references to APOCALYPSE NOW, but there’s no grand vision of commentary about foreign conflicts or colonialism. That is all window dressing on a monster movie with an entertainer’s eagerness to please. If you want to see cinema’s great ape smash stuff up with the latest technology has to offer, KONG: SKULL ISLAND certainly delivers the goods.

Grade: B

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