KONG: SKULL ISLAND
Author: JoAnne Hyde
Date: March 9, 2017

SYNOPSIS: Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures' "Kong: Skull Island" reimagines the origin of the mythic Kong in a compelling, original adventure from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts ("The Kings of Summer"). In the film, a diverse team of explorers is brought together to venture deep into an uncharted island in the Pacific - as beautiful as it is treacherous - unaware that they're crossing into the domain of the mythic Kong.

Kong is King again!

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts brings the legendary giant ape back to the screen in the latest reimagining of the classic story in Kong: Skull Island. Although Kong’s physical design harkens back to the 1933 version, the story is completely different. It retains a few of the elements of the original but offers a very different outcome. Audience response to the new incarnation was quite positive.

The film begins in 1944 with an American pilot and Japanese pilot shot down on what appears to be a deserted island – until they encounter Kong. Then, a montage of events that any Baby Boomer will recognize takes us forward to 1973 when the Vietnam War is ending. Bill Randa (John Goodman), who works for the secret government agency Monarch, puts together a team of scientists, military personnel, a former British Special Forces agent James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), and a war photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). They will travel to the previously unknown Skull Island, revealed by satellite imagery, under the guise of mapping it. However, they’ll really be carrying out Monarch’s secret agenda of proving that monsters thought to be myths really exist.

Along for the ride are Lt. Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), scientists Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) and San (Tian Jing), and Landsat scientist John Ortiz (Victor Nieves). Packard’s second in command Major Chapman is played by Toby Kebbell, who does double duty along with Terry Notary to bring Kong to life in motion capture.

Remember that pilot shot down in 1944? Well, he’s alive and living with the few humans on Skull Island. John C. Reilly steals the show as Hank Marlowe, the WWII soldier totally unfamiliar with the modern world, but an expert on the lay-out and hazards of Skull Island. The team has already encountered Kong – a meeting that was fatal for quite a few of Packard’s men – leaving Packard bent on revenge. Marlowe informs them that Kong is the “king” of the island and is worshipped by the locals as a god. He protects them from the Skull Crawlers, deadly, lizard-like, giant creatures that live underground.

Samuel L. Jackson does crazy very well, so he makes a believable antagonist with his maniacal desire to kill Kong for revenge. Meanwhile, Conrad and Weaver have encountered Kong in the wild and have come to understand that he’s a force for good. Marlowe tries valiantly to dissuade Packard from going after Kong, but Packard has become a single-minded vengeance seeker in the mold of Captain Ahab from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. I’ve told you that the outcome is totally different from the original story, but I’ll leave it up to you to discover how it’s all resolved.

One of the things that keeps Kong: Skull Island from being silly is the film’s excellent cast. If you’re going to have a preposterous story, you need actors that can sell it. In addition to Jackson, Academy Award nominated Tom Hiddleston and Academy Award winner Brie Larson provide convincing allies for Kong even though their characters have only minimal back stories. Hiddleston, beefed up for the role, brings the disillusioned mercenary to life – yep, Loki’s looking good! Larson has the thankless job of giving the feminist, peacenik war photographer credibility, and she does it well. A little chemistry between the two hints at romance, but it’s never realized.

The other significant factor Kong: Skull Island has going for it is superb visuals. The monsters – there are several other giant species on the island besides Kong and the Skull Crawlers – are not cheesy. Although Kong looks like an enormous teddy bear when he’s not fighting, he’s very impressive when he does! The Skull Crawlers are appropriately gruesome and vicious. The winning feature of the film, however, is the island itself. It’s an isolated world, surrounded by a perpetual thunder storm, full of misty beauty, harrowing barren landscapes, and the inventive shelter of the hardy indigenous tribe.

I saw the film in IMAX 3-D, and while I don’t usually recommend paying the extra money, this time, it’s definitely worth it. Go have some fun! - JoAnne Hyde

GRADE: A-


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