In “Kong: Skull Island,” Skull Island is a remote, uncharted island in the Pacific, hidden away from the outside world by a stormy surface that has kept the island unexplored for years – which also keeps the mystery of who, or what, lives there as well. That is, until satellite photos – a new technology in the year 1973, of which this latest King Kong movie takes place – reveals the island (named for its foreboding topographical resemblance of a skull) and proves its existence to a team of scientists who set out to discover what unknown mysteries such a place could offer.
However, the mysteries that “Kong: Skull Island” tease as to what could happen hardly end up showing audiences anything they haven’t seen before, as this popcorn romp ends up being a more familiar take of a crash-landing on a dangerous and exotic location. Although, in this take, all must survive not only the wrath of the enormous king primate but that of similarly colossal creatures of equally enormous stature which prove to be their biggest threat, until they are lifted to safety.
And yet, while the cash-out mystery is barely paid out to the audience, the film is hardly a disastrous time. This blockbuster, directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (“The Kings of Summer”), made by Legendary Pictures and released by Warner Brothers, brings a large ensemble cast of cartoony characters who evoke the camp of B-movie seriousness along with a visually fun, 70s-drenched period piece reminiscent of the post-Vietnam era that the movie mines its story from. The light politicking that “Skull Island” enters into channels the original “King Kong” story (of the developed nation’s Anglo man capturing and conquering the primal “other”) as an allegory of the controversial U.S. involvement and entering into foreign lands for stakeholding.
“Kong: Skull Island” hardly tries to explore new territory, but has its fun as an ensemble movie that slides by with camp and charm.
Living in the silly-serious world of Skull Island are a lot of famous faces that, at just under two hours, make this outing a fun enough time. Leading the expedition is Bill Randa (John Goodman), an assumed crackpot enthusiast who gets last minute approval (and funds) to explore the mysterious Skull Island. Enlisted to lead the team are local guy at the bar James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a tracker whose T-shirt physique is more defined than his actual character, and Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), a sexy bombshell war photographer. Leading the team from a defense perspective is the now out-of-work Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), an American soldier whose post-war memories of losses on the battlefield fuel aggressions that extend to the island’s native inhabitants, including the mighty Kong, being eventually made into this movie’s real villainous and threatening character.
“Kong: Skull Island” is a large movie (about as large as this CGI’d Kong, the biggest of any King Kong in the movie’s franchise), where, upon the group’s arrival to the island and immediate encounter with the giant primate, three separate factions of characters get their own storylines, getting quite episodic early. While Randa, Conrad, Weaver, and more stumble upon the face-painted loin-cloth-laden natives and a few other wacky characters (Hey, John C. Reilly!), Packard grows further hell-bent. Consumed by his PTSD, he grows determined to conquer the King who, we learn from Reilly’s kooked out WW2 pilot that lives on the island, is actually the protector of the island from an even greater (read: bigger) danger – “skull walkers” that look like two-legged slithery dinosaurs with the face of a bare skull. The consciences of all parties are tested when Kong is threatened by Packard and the “skull walkers,” forcing the group to realize how saving Kong’s life will affect their own safety and chances of returning home (stay tuned for the sequel).
“Kong: Skull Island” hardly tries to explore new territory, but has its fun as an ensemble movie that slides by with camp and charm. The movie diverts from telling the traditional tale of men capturing the mountain-sized monkey (of which we’ve already seen in Peter Jackson’s 2005 faithful re-telling of the 1933 classic film, “King Kong”), and instead puts a new spin on the Monster Universe, which also coincides with “Godzilla” (be sure to stay tuned after the credits for a post-movie teaser). It may drain you a little more than you’d like, but an alluring visual draw and list of enjoyable onscreen talent makes”Kong: Skull Island” a light-faired, playful time.
118 min. ‘King Kong: Skull Island” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language.