Review: ‘Kong: Skull Island’ (it’s good to be the king)

Everyone wants to be the king… until it’s time to do king stuff.

As the US exits the Vietnam War in 1973, monster hunter Bill Randa (John Goodman) and geologist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) manage to secure government funding for an expedition to recently discovered “Skull Island” with promises about what might be found there and beating the competition to any discoveries. Enlisting the services of a renowned tracker (Tom Hiddleston), a photojournalist (Brie Larson), and a tactical team lead by a gung-ho commander (Samuel L. Jackson), the group crosses the ocean boundaries surrounding the island to drop seismic charges for mapping purposes. Unfortunately, the island natives think they’re being bombed — which they are — and the king of the island is none-too-pleased.

If you look carefully at the writing credits, the name Max Borenstein appears, which is curious since he was the sole screenwriter on 2014’s Godzilla; no, that’s not a coincidence. There is already an expectation when you advertise classic giant monsters that there will be teeth, claws, and the destruction of anything and everything smaller. And, of course, there’ll be a plot where the characters have to do something about the fact that they’re in the middle of all of this. Will this group of humans add to the monster mash or distract from it?

While 2014’s Godzilla was a far sight better than Matthew Broderick’s 1998 version, humans still seemed to spend more time running than actually interacting with the giant lizard in question. King Kong, on the other hand, has always had a soft spot for the human ladies, but with modern sensibilities in play at the box office, it won’t do to have a bikini-clad or evening-gowned woman for the big guy to save. While not a perfect film and a bit gratuitous focusing upon Ms. Larson’s filthy yet ever-tightening tank top, we get a better-than-average ensemble story thanks to a clever castaway.

While much of the film is spent in and out of danger in a typical disaster film trope, the inclusion of John C. Reilly as a World War II pilot trapped on the island and how he’s made it a home while dreaming of escape changes much of the dynamic. How many films can you name where a man out of time appears in a period piece that has nothing to do with time travel? The back story could have been its own movie, and it’s kind of wonderful. Plus: it’s John C. Reilly, y’all.

Between crazy Jackson, hopeful Reilly, and the unlikely team of Hiddleston and Larson, Kong himself never overstays his welcome nor is missed between appearances. Besides, the humans are the invaders, not the other way around, and they all get pretty much get what they deserve for being where they shouldn’t. The denouement goes on for a bit throughout the credits, even until the very end, but they’re worth it if you’re invested in the film… including the obvious promise of more monsters to come.

Kong: Skull Island is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, for brief strong language, and for brief strong tank tops.

Three skull recommendation out of four

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