Kong: Skull Island review

For those going in with realistic expectations, Kong: Skull Island is a royal blast of fun. There’s no weird ape/female connection or some deeper examination of man’s attempt to cage the unexplainable. At its best, Skull Island delivers colossal big screen mayhem with the big guy standing tall. Could you really ask for anything more?

Set in 1973, a group of soldiers and researchers journey to a recently discovered island with some unusual inhabitants. Col. Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) sees the expedition as one final make-good mission after the inglorious end of the Vietnam War. But most of his unit (including Toby Kebbell, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whighan, Thomas Mann and Eugene Cordero) just want to get home.

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The research team, led by Bill Randa (John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins, 24: Legacy), knows something big is going down. That’s the main reason they hired ex-British soldier turned mercenary James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston, Thor: The Dark World). Photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson, Room) tags along after sensing a big story is brewing.

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It doesn’t take long for the team to discover the island was probably better off undiscovered. Bizarre and dangerous creatures lurk around every corner, but none as ferocious as the massive ape that doesn’t take kindly to visitors bombing his homeland.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts doesn’t waste a lot of time making Kong the film’s big attraction. Watching Kong unleash carnage on the woefully over-matched soldiers is impressively decisive. Vogt-Roberts could drastically limited Kong’s screen time, but he gets the ratio of Kong and everybody else just right.

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The scope of Skull Island is stunning with director of photography Larry Fong staging some beautiful shots. At just shy of two hours, it’s bloated though thankfully not to the excess of Peter Jackson’s marathon 2005 epic.

While bulky on time, Jackson’s film benefited from a streamlined cast. Skull Island packs in a slew of characters and barely develops any of them. Granted, that’s a weird complaint since no one expects massive character development here. And that’s even before stranded soldier Hank Marlow (a fun John C. Reilly, Guardians of the Galaxy) arrives with helpful survivalist tips.

The three credited screenwriters didn’t need either the explorers or the soldiers. Ditto for James and Hank since they’re redundant characters.

With fewer characters, there would have been a greater investment as opposed to all but the stars being treated like cannon monster fodder. Jackson, Reilly and Mitchell manage to make their characters stand out, but the rest of the cast are largely props in an action showcase.

Good thing the film delivers on what the audience is paying to see. Kong’s multiple fight sequences are worth the price of admission especially in IMAX 3D. This is the first film in recent decades to properly convey Kong as a force of nature and less a sympathetic, misunderstood creature.

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Since no movie franchise can be complete without one, Skull Island features a post-credit scene so stick around. That’s to link Kong to the 2014 Godzilla film and their planned 2020 King Kong vs. Godzilla big screen clash.

For now, Kong tops his monster rival with their solo outings. And this year, it’s good to be king.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

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