Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

REVIEW: “Kong: Skull Island” ★★★ and ½

“Kong: Skull Island” is a spectacularly fun ride, powered by jaw-dropping visuals and a film story with surprising depth of character and nuance.

“Kong: Skull Island” is a spectacularly fun ride, powered by jaw-dropping visuals and a film story with surprising depth of character and nuance.

The film honors the classic cinema iteration of Kong in all his primal glory while delivering a wholly new adventure that allows the gargantuan ape to truly be “king.”

What’s it about?

(Note: This review was originally written and published to baynews9.com on March 7, 2017.)

Set in 1973, “Kong: Skull Island” unfolds at the end of the Vietnam War.

Scientists Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins, “Straight Outta Compton”, TV’s “24: Legacy“) convince the U.S. government to fund a mapping expedition to an island in the South Pacific discovered by NASA’s recently launched Landsat satellite.

The island remained hidden for centuries because of constant storms and geothermal disturbances surrounding it. Whatever’s hidden there, the scientists posit, the U.S. has an interest in finding it before anyone else does.

When Randa insists the survey mission be assigned a military escort, veteran Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his helicopter team get the detail. Just days away from heading home after years in Vietnam, the mission represents one last ride, one that on paper looks benign.

Rounding out the group is acclaimed photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and former British SAS tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston, “Thor: The Dark World“). Why exactly they’re called upon for the mission is a mystery — until they get to the island, that is.

Of course, that’s when the whole operation goes sideways. Within minutes of their arrival, the group finds its numbers decimated, its means of leaving the island severely compromised, and oh, yes, there’s the island’s 100-foot-tall resident who didn’t seem keen on unannounced visitors.

However, as they work to figure out how to get back home, they learn that Kong is just one of the many things that can kill them there. He may not even be the one they should worry about most.

Kong Skull Island movie poster

‘Was that a monkey?!’

The film reintroduces audiences to the Kong of old. He’s larger and more physically powerful than ever before, but still capable of relatable emotion and empathy.

In today’s age of digitally created monsters and mayhem, it’s no small task to create a literally larger-than-life simian that both evokes memories of the 1933 “King Kong” while still measuring up to modern standards of movie realism and special-effects-driven action.

Rest assured, the team behind “Kong: Skull Island” gets it right. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (“The Kings of Summer”) credibly delivers a cinematic world teeming with exotic life, lush landscapes and lots of monsters with whom Kong fits right in.

Vogt-Roberts also shows a great deal of reverence for Kong’s movie roots. Watch the way the film depicts the giant ape’s battles with airborne enemies, as well as the film’s quieter moments when the creature interacts with the tiny humans intruding on his domain. The effort to evoke moments from the 1933 film for the sake of homage is clear as day and cleverly executed.

‘We don’t belong here.’

As for the human characters inhabiting “Kong: Skull Island,” well, they get short-shrift. They’re a collection of movie archetypes: disillusioned soldier of fortune, idealist photographer, grizzled war veteran, obsessive scientist, the list goes on.

Thankfully, the film has talented performers filling those roles, and the script fleshes them out a bit more than one might expect. The 1970s setting allows for a unique context for the characters to experience what they do. In particular, it greatly informs how the military characters react to the threats around them.

As for individual performances, Jackson and Goodman are fun to watch as they chew scenery playing stock roles. Larson is appropriately plucky and charming, while John C. Reilly gets the most laughs as a World War II castaway who’s been stranded on the island just a little too long.

Strangely, it’s Hiddleston’s performance that comes off a little flat. He brings presence and enough physicality to credibly deliver the character, but there’s not enough in the script for that character to be memorable.

Worth seeing?

Naturally, fans of classic monster movies should see “Kong: Skull Island.” If anything will lift their spirits following the most recent attempt to bring Kong to life on screen. 

But Skull Island shouldn’t just be a destination this weekend for Kong fans. Action film fans should get more than their money’s worth here. Plus, viewers who not in it for the explosions get enough humor to keep them entertained.

Oh, and be sure to stay through the credits. Yes, there’s a scene at the very end, and it’s worth staying a few extra minutes.

Kong: Skull Island

Starring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, with Terry Notary and John C. Reilly. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts.

Running time: 118 minutes

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action and for brief strong language.

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