- Movie Rating -

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

| March 11, 2017

I’m sorry, but if you don’t think that King Kong fighting a giant octopus is exciting, then you don’t have a pulse.

Kong: Skull Island is the best time I’ve had at an action movie in quite a long time.  Here is a movie that I didn’t approach with a lot of anticipation — monster movies these days are almost always wholesale disappointments.  But this is a full-blooded action movie, a red-blooded adventure for those of us who want a roller coaster ride without a lot of peopling to spoil the fun.  It succeeds everywhere that the 2014 Godzilla movie failed.

Warner Brothers, perhaps responding to that film’s problems (wherein we wanted a lot of monsters but spent way too much time with snooze-inducing human drama) have produced a movie that is all about monsters – LOTS of them!  There’s a new monster about every ten minutes and not just The 8th Wonder of the World.

The time is 1973 at the same moment that Nixon has announced a cease fire bringing the Vietnam War to a close.  The soldiers are headed home, but a handful of vets have one more mission to tackle.  It seems that there’s an uncharted island in the Pacific with a particular permanent weather pattern shrouding any chance of aerial reconnaissance.  Shifty government official Bill Randa (John Goodman) and his poindexter assistant Houston (Corey Hawkins) want permission to lead an expedition there.  Reasoning, to a seemingly immobile military official, that it might be pertinent to explore this island before the Russians get wind of it, Randa and Houston are given the greenlight.

Did I say greenlight?  I mean they’re given the assistance of a military platoon led by Samuel L. Jackson and about 30 of his men who seem to be carrying enough artillery to blow up a small moon.  Jackson soon becomes the movie’s villain when (in a terrifying scene) several of his men are dispatched by Kong and he goes full-on Captain Ahab to kill the giant ape.

The cast isn’t loaded with full-blooded personalities, most of the men attached are fire-in-the-belly types who want to kill anything that moves.  Naturally, to off-set this, we have to have a beatific hero.  For that, we get Tom Hiddleston as a former British S.A.S. captain who acts as tracker, and last year’s Best Actress winner Brie Larson, a photojournalist whose function in this movie . . . well, she’s pretty.  Other than that, I’m not sure why she’s here.

The only real character in the movie is Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) a World War II lieutenant whose been stranded on this god-forsaken rock for the past 28 years and understands it’s dangers and the necessity to keep Kong alive.  Reilly is having fun in this role as a man so weary from 28 years of running for his life that he’s become delirious – “You shouldn’t have come here,” he laughingly tells our heroes.  Reilly is a lot of fun here, he steals the movie and won’t give it back.

Outside of that, the movie doesn’t waste much time on introductions.  We get the bare bones explanation of why this team is going to Skull Island (named so because it looks like a skull from the air) and then we’re off to the races.  The movie doesn’t waste a lot of time getting to Kong either.  He shows up in the first five minutes and he’s onscreen a lot of the time.  We see a lot of Kong and he’s not the childlike emo Kong that we got from Peter Jackson.  No, this Kong is tough, mean and REALLY angry.

There’s a reason for that.  This island is teeming with every sort of giant bug, bird, fish and squid that you can imagine.  That’s what makes this movie fun, there’s a new creature that pops up every few minutes so neither we nor the characters in the movie are ever allowed a moment to take a breath.  There is a moment when one of the military men sits on a log to take a breath and we suddenly we find that the log isn’t a log.  Despite the fact that the island’s monsters are constantly eating our heroes, there’s a kind of majesty to them.  Most movies these days are satisfied to give us one majestic creature.  This movie gives us at least twenty.

It was kind of a masterstroke that the movie takes place in the waning days of Vietnam because it gives the story, and the characters, a bit more weight.  We understand the time period that we’re in so it makes the tension among the soldiers a bit more palatable.  They’ve been through the horror of the war but soon realize that there are even worse things that exist on this planet.  It’s quite effective.

So too, are the visuals.  Despite the sometimes gory nature of the continually rising body count, there are some breathtaking images here.  We see the glory of this forgotten island in all it’s lush greenery.  One of the great achievements of this film is that it really makes the jungle come alive.  Even amid rampant action, there is time soak in the landscapes which are lush with the greenery of the leaves and trees and grass.  It reminds me how many outdoor adventures tighten in for close-ups.  I loved the backgrounds in which the jungle seems to go on and on for miles.  I loved time spent at rivers, lake beds, mountain cliffs, and treetops.  I love the logistics of this island, especially a breathtaking journey through a graveyard make up of skulls and bones that are the size of a two-story house.  I love the spaces in the jungle from which we aren’t sure what will come next.  There are surprising moments when we think one creature is dangerous but then the movie turns and the danger comes from the other side of the screen.  I jumped quite a few times.

This is a great action movie.  It starts rolling and doesn’t quit.  It’s not the smartest movie in the world but it is smart in what the filmmakers do with their location, their time period and most especially with their monsters.  There are images here that linger in your mind, mostly of Kong silhouetted against the sun.  This is a movie that celebrates his majestic stature and menace both at the same time, even when he has to tackle a giant octopus.  I just love that scene.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2017) View IMDB Filed in: Action