Starting with the 1933 original, carrying on with the often-reviled 1976 re-make, re-visited with Peter Jackson’s brilliant but probably over-stuffed 2005 vision, the blueprint for ‘King Kong’ has been pretty similar – a great big gorilla is discovered on a mysterious uncharted island, unwisely brought to New York, and, well….cue the mayhem.
For ‘Kong: Skull Island’, we have a new approach – keep the beast on home turf. And while it doesn’t necessarily make for a magnificent movie, it DOES make for a classic monster movie. And really, ain’t that why you’re buying a ticket in the first place?
As part of the latest ‘shared universe’ film franchise (i.e., just like the Marvel Comics characters share a universe, ditto the DC comics gang) in which creatures like Godzilla and King Kong will soon be sharing screen time, much like they did in the ’60’s – albeit, this time they’ll do it without the bad rubber suits – comes ‘Kong: Skull Island’, two hours of big, fun, chaotic escapism. Like its aforementioned predecessors, this ‘Kong’ carries a heart as part of the package, as it’s essential the audience eventually gets on side with the oversized ape. But it’s important to note, this is NOT a ‘Beauty and the Beast’-flavored love story. We (humans), after all, are the enemy. The King is just doin’ his thing – and in this action epic, he does it very, very well.
The plot, set in 1973, has a government crackpot (John Goodman) forcing a military mission to Skull Island, initially masking the operation as one of discovery and ecological benefits. But once the team, including gung-ho soldier Samuel L. Jackson, square-jawed adventurer Tom Hiddleston, and pacifist photographer Brie Larson encounter the feisty Kong and he – in order to protect his island – starts throwing choppers around, it becomes clear the real reason behind the visit; Goodman is looking to prove that monsters exist so that he can “send in the cavalry”.
“I am the cavalry” sneers the cocky Jackson, setting up a grudge match between monster and one particular man, still pissed about the Vietnam war.
The trouble is, the island is full of creatures a lot more creepy and dangerous than Kong, primarily large lizard-like foes called ‘Skullcrawlers’. Those part of the expedition get educated on which critters are good and very, very bad from John C. Reilly, a fighter pilot stranded on Skull Island since being shot down in World War II. So colorful and so aware that he’s sprinting wide-eyed through a very ambitious B-movie, Reilly is the lone cast member who seems to elevate himself above one dimensional – but then, in a movie like this, it’s not really about the people.