Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Written by Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly

With Kong: Skull Island, I think it is safe to say that summer movie season is upon us, even if it’s not quite spring yet. The major releases are just starting, and Kong is the very beginning, with many highly anticipated titles to follow throughout the spring and summer months. Usually, there are a few pretty good blockbuster offerings every year, with a number of options proving to be less than stellar. If Kong: Skull Island is any indication of the films that lie ahead in the coming months, I think it would be safe to say that we will all be treated to a very fun, entertaining and really solid blockbuster season. I’m not holding my breath though, and suspect this film to be one of the few exceptions that does it right, as opposed to the many that will wilt under their anticipation and fail to have the fun they truly deserve.

Fresh off the closing of the Vietnam War, researcher Bill Randa (John Goodman) persuades a senator to fund an exploration mission to a remote island in the South Pacific, which was just discovered by satellite imaging for the first time. Randa recruits an ex-British special forces (Tom Hiddleston) to be his tracker, a war hungry cavalry colonel (Samuel L. Jackson) to lend support, and an experienced war photographer (Brie Larson) to document the team’s findings. Once on the island, however, they discover a world never before seen, full of wonderful beauty and scary , unbelievable monsters. With the help of a World War II pilot (John C. Reilly), who has been stranded on the island for nearly thirty years, the group races to meet their rendezvous and escape the island alive.

There are more than a few things I would like to praise about this film. To start, man does this film have pacing. It runs at nearly two hours long (and stick around after the credits btw) but never lulls. The filmmaking team here has really trimmed the fat, and it’s obvious. The film transitions to its next idea milliseconds after concluding its last, so it should seem, which results in a taut picture which flies by while watching it. Part of what makes it fly by, however, is the amount of fun being had here. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts throws caution to the wind by making this a sneaky campy movie that never takes itself too seriously, and it shouldn’t. It knows how ridiculous an undiscovered island with monsters on it is. It knows how ridiculous  Colonel Packard is. By recognizing this, Kong: Skull Island is able to be a fun romp through the jungle.

The cast is in on the camp too, with Sam Jackson doing his best Sam Jackson impersonation and John C. Reilly playing a stranded WWII airman as only he can. Hiddleston, Goodman, and Larson are never given a ton to chew on, but they are good here too, even as Larson is really only asked to looked shocked at everything she sees (and why shouldn’t she be shocked) and snap a few pictures. Some of the dialogue is silly, and true, the film is not exactly breaking new ground with the places it goes or the characters it introduces, even going so far as to have the same Vietnam War soundtrack as every other Vietnam War movie, but it does it well, and as I said, very efficiently.

It certainly has some connections to a film like Apocalypse Now, due to the connection to the Vietnam War and even down to the fairly beautiful cinematography. Vogt-Roberts clearly drew inspiration from Coppola’s great film (Packard/Kurtz and Conrad), but he doesn’t try to rival it, and he doesn’t try to recreate its magic. Kong: Skull Island is its own thing with its own magic, and if it turns into a franchise, as most anything successful does anymore, then I would be excited to see where else this world can take us, what other adventures lie ahead. It’s brilliantly paced, action packed, beautifully photographed, features a great cast, is quite funny, and in the end is a ton of fun. What’s not to like?

*** – Very Good

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