Kong: Skull Island (PG-13) ★★★

All is not what it seems on Skull Island.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Kong: Skull Island is a blast.

Almost exactly a year ago, my husband and I ran around the Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando. We passed by a large barricaded area surrounded by high fences and halfway covered by tarp; signs informed us that it was the future site of the Skull Island: Reign of Kong attraction. I remember thinking, “Hmm, they’re making a huuuuuge bet on a movie that doesn’t even seem like it’ll be a sure-fire hit.”

I don’t know if Kong: Skull Island will do well enough at the box office to justify its $185-million-plus production budget on top of a dedicated park attraction, but what I do know is that I went into the film pretty skeptical . . . and came out feeling like the Summer 2017 film season had just kicked off three months early. It’s directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who is THE COOLEST (especially because he’s come to the Chicago Critics Film Festival twice, first for his wonderful 2013 indie The Kings of Summer and then for his hilarious 2014 documentary Nick Offerman: American Ham), but hadn’t ever worked on something of this scale, so I hoped against hope he could pull it off. Now we can count him as part of the growing trend of celebrated indie directors making the successful leap to tentpoles, along with others like Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed (one of my all-time favorites) to Jurassic World) and Gareth Edwards (Monsters, to Godzilla, to Rogue One). Kong is the definition of a great “popcorn movie”: an A-list cast, a familiar franchise, crazy action sequences, a huge budget that supports an exotic location and top-notch effects (which include tons of explosions, of course), a rockin’ soundtrack, nothing too deep to ponder over story-wise, and a couple of excellent one-liners thrown in for good measure.

I’m tempted to stop my review right there and be like, “Just go see it, you know the plot doesn’t even matter.” But I will carry on for those of you who remain as skeptical as I was.

The film takes place right as the Vietnam War is coming to an end, and after a short flashback scene introducing Kong, we see John Goodman’s character—Bill Randa, a monster-hunter type who works for the shady Monarch organization—getting out of a cab in DC and uttering a timely line that is guaranteed to make most of the audience erupt in laughter. Randa is in our nation’s capital to request governmental funding and military assistance for an exploratory mission to a mysterious island that has just been captured for the first time by satellite imaging. He of course gets the go-ahead or there would be no movie, and is eventually joined by James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a former British special forces captain; Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), the out-for-revenge leader of a helicopter squadron that will escort Randa’s team of scientists to the island; and Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), an anti-war photojournalist.

So, look. The acting’s OK and the dialogue is mostly generic and unimaginative. Packard is particularly two-dimensional—hell-bent on killing Kong (who the whole group is violently introduced to almost immediately upon arrival) for flimsy reasons. The standout is John C. Reilly as Hank Marlow, a really weird guy who’s been stranded on the island since crash-landing there during World War II. Reilly has the voice, the mannerisms, the expressions and the resume to make the eccentric Hank work, whereas in other hands the character might have been annoying and distracting.

But this movie is not really about the humans anyway. It’s about Kong, and it’s about all of the other truly awesome (in the dictionary definition of the word) beasts on Skull Island who you are likely going to end up rooting for instead of the humans. I cannot stress enough how much I loved the reveal of each new creature and how impressive the effects are. I guess the best way to put it is that they don’t seem like effects at all—everything looks completely, utterly real. I saw this film between screenings of Logan and the upcoming Beauty and the Beast, and without a doubt Kong blows them both out of the water in the effects department. It takes a lot for me to be wowed by CGI, and I was. I would recommend this film for that reason alone. You will feel like a giddy little kid while taking in some of the fight sequences, they’re that jaw-droppingly cool.

Speaking of kids, I’m not a good judge of what pre-teens can handle since my children are very young. But there are some gruesome deaths in this film, and so you might want to think twice if your kid is on the younger side of the age range that would normally be OK seeing a PG-13 movie.


The Bottom-Line? Kong: Skull Island is a ton of fun. If you’re even remotely curious about it, see it in a theater in order to get the full experience. However, I don’t think upgrading to 3D is necessary—I saw it in 2D and was still blown away.

Cast: Tom Hiddleston (James Conrad), Samuel L. Jackson (Preston Packard), Brie Larson (Mason Weaver), John C. Reilly (Hank Marlow), John Goodman (Bill Randa)

Credits: Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Written by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly

Studio: Universal Pictures

Run Time: 1 hour 58 minutes


Erika Olson © March 10, 2017