Kong: Skull Island takes place in 1973. America was pulling out of Vietnam and the anti-war riots were still in full swing. What better time to hit the United States government up for money and a military escort for one more expedition? Monarch company head Bill Randa (John Goodman) takes on of his lead scientists, Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) to help him convince a Senator (Richard Jenkins) to give them enough money and a military escort to chart a newly discovered island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Only Bill Randa seems to know what they are looking for but it is an opportunity Randa and his failing company need to take advantage of. Whatever resources are on this island, the Monarch company must claim it first or go out of business for good. As you can imagine, things don’t go as planned, almost from the start.
Jordan Vogt-Roberts is the director of Kong: Skull Island and since I had never heard of him I looked up his resume. He has directed mostly small budget independent films and a lot of TV, so when I read this, I figured Kong was either going to be really good or really bad. Independent directors can be a hit or miss with big budget films. As for Roberts and his Kong, he does deliver a rather fun and exciting film. It is far from perfect but Kong: Skull Island has enough going for it, that I enjoyed it for what it was; big, dumb popcorn entertainment.
The casting is spot on. Tom Hiddleston is James Conrad, a former British SAS officer who now is basically a mercenary and a tracker. Brie Larson is Mason Weaver, an “anti-war” photographer as she calls herself and Samuel L. Jackson is Preston Packard a newly unemployed military officer looking for a new war. As they and all of their teams descend into the atmospheric storm that surrounds Skull Island, the mission quickly turns to chaos when the building-sized primate makes it clear he does not like visitors. The survivors must make it to the extraction point on the other side of the island within in the next few days or get left behind forever. Of course, there is no communication because of the storm that protects the island, so no one on the ships at sea even know how dire the situation is. Couple this with the fact that Kong is the least of their worries and you have a situation that is going from bad to worse.
Kong: Skull Island is sorely lacking in the character development department and that is the big issue with me. Only John Goodman’s Bill Randa is given any depth and not that much is given. But by comparison, it is enough to understand why Randa is risking everything. The remaining characters are pretty much stock characters that could be from any adventure film. Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston are the two main heroes of the film and they seem to have chemistry but they are so underdeveloped as characters there is not much to grasp on. They do well with the material they are given, so they fulfill their obligations to the film. I also liked John C. Reilly as a downed World War 2 pilot who has never made it off of the island but still has maintained an endearing sense of humor. As for the supporting cast, Toby Kebbell, Jason Mitchell, Tain Jing, Shea Whigham and John Ortiz, they all are uniformly sufficient to deliver solid performances.
I found it kind of funny that actor Toby Kebbell’s body was also used to map the CGI of Kong, himself. How would like to be in on that casting call? “Yea, we want you for a character in the film but we also think you have some primate features, too. How would like to double as the body of a giant ape?” Kebbell, being a good sport about it, would say, “Sure, what else am I going to do on a Saturday night?” I will say the Kong is a magnificent specimen of CGI and there are a lot of great shots in this film. The cinematography is terrific and the locales of Vietnam, Australia and Hawaii, where this film was shot are breathtakingly beautiful.
There is not much to take away from Kong: Skull Island that we have not seen before. Still, this is a fun film that I would compare in entertainment value to Jurassic World. If you liked one, you will like the other. Since the characters are a bit lean on substance, we are left with a high-energy, campy film that will please most audiences. There are some graphic moments of violence that ensure a PG-13 rating, but overall, Kong: Skull Island is a rousingly enjoyable film that most everyone can enjoy. It is a big, silly, fun summer film that is about two months early. There is a post credit sequence at the end of the film’s credits, which sets up the next film so you will want to stick around for the whole shebang.
Kong: Skull Island – *** out of 5
Kong: Skull Island – Rated PG-13 for some graphic violence, language, scenes of peril and terror
Kong: Skull Island – Run Time is 122 minutes
Kong: Skull Island is now playing in theaters. Check your local listings for times and locations nearest to you.