Kong: Skull Island is a refreshingly new take on the story that gives us a re-imagining that is a fun action adventure mixed in with various cherry-picked elements of the original story. Three parts Apocalypse Now, two parts classic King Kong, and one part Lost, it might be many things, but a rehash isn’t one of them. King Kong has long suffered from the truth that the original story simply isn’t that great. Without question the ’33 original version is a classic in cinematic achievement, but the various times that the Kong story were told they were rather like varied productions of Hamlet. Some with less of the original story (like the ’76 version excised most of the islands monsters) and at other times keeping it all in (as with Peter Jackson’s ’05 version).
Agent Bill Randa (played by John Goodman) is at the very end of the Government’s tolerance for his pseudo-scientific research (he’s kind of like a monster-hunting precursor to X-Files‘ Agent Mulder. Pleading for one more chance to prove his hollow-earth theory, he reveals that he’s discovered an uncharted island in the South Pacific. Perpetually surrounded by a storm system the island, he argues, is their last chance to prove there’s monsters out there.
It’s the tail end of the Vietnam War, and the governments agencies have their attentions and resources focused elsewhere, but they finally agree to let Bill go off tilting at his windmills. He recruits a helicopter squadron led be Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel Jackson) and photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).
The idea is to sail close to the storm system and then punch through with the helicopters to get to the island where they will drop seismic bombs to test the density of the landmass. They’re doing their best impersonation of the Kilgore’s beach attack from Apocalypse Now (complete with the speakers attached to the outside of the choppers) when a sudden appearance of a full sized tree ramming into one of the lead helicopters announces Kong’s arrival. It turns out that Kong is none too pleased to have bombs being dropped all over his private island paradise.
Kong makes short work of nearly the entire squadron, and the race is on to find a way off the island before the big ape or any of the other similarly oversized monsters can finish them all off. It’s not a great film, it doesn’t break any new ground for special effects or brilliant acting. What it is, is a really fun, action-packed film. Jackson doesn’t ever get scared, no matter how many trees are flying at him. He’s just pissed that Kong has the audacity to mess with his troops with impunity and would be perfectly fine going at the ape with just a machete.
Goodman isn’t as strong here as he was last year with 10 Cloverfield Land, but then this isn’t really that kind of mental mystery. Here we know what’s kicking the crap out of the expedition, we know that they need to find their way to the extraction point, and we know that the island has a lot more than just Kong out there to get in the way.
The film does capture the vibe and look of the Pacific theater in ’73; much of it is probably the best ‘Nam film of the past decade. That said, there’s the term “popcorn fluff” in describing movies – and that fits the bill here, but in the best of ways. If you’re looking for a fun action movie this weekend and have either already seen Logan, or don’t want to be that bummed out – go check out Kong.
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