Dog’s Movie House: “Kong” Is King!
Howdy Folks! It’s The Kendog!
I must confess to having an ongoing love affair with giant monster movies. From “King Kong” to “Jurassic Park” to “Godzilla” and every film in-between, I just can’t get enough of gigantic creatures rampaging through cities or breaking out of their poorly constructed enclosures to terrorize an unsuspecting populace. That said, some are better than others and I’m happy to inform you that “Kong: Skull Island” is definitely one of the better ones, with its own unique take on the big ape that keeps the adventure squarely in the geography is Kong’s home turf.
“Kong: Skull Island” takes place during the year 1973 when America has just concluded the Vietnam War. As the Cold War with the Russians heats up, Bill Randa (John Goodman) from the Monarch group, hatches up an expedition to an uncharted island, using the possibility of Russians exploiting unknown resources to secure financing. What Randa is really after is proof of giant monsters like the one he saw destroy his ship and crew when he was a young soldier during World War II. Joining him on this enterprise are a bunch of scientists led by Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), a bunch of soldiers led by the very angry Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), Mason Weaver(Brie Larson), an anti-war photographer, and expert tracker, former SAS operative James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston).
Upon reaching the island, the charges the team sets off to map the place attracts the title character who in this incarnation is well over a hundred feet tall and pissed. After the helicopter assault team is decimated, it’s up to the survivors to get across the island in just three days to be picked up by the offshore team. Along the way, the team encounters the natives (much more benign than in other Kong films), a bunch of nasty creatures, and most importantly, they run into Hank Marlowe (John C. Reilly), a WWII vet whose been stranded on the island for 28 year. Although Marlowe is a little strange, he provides the context for the group, letting the team know that Kong is the ruler of the island and is tasked to protect it and its people from a species of monsters known as “Skull Crawlers.”
I have to tell you: this movie was a hoot from start to finish. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (with only the indie feature “Kings Of Summer” under his belt) does a terrific job of balancing action and emotion throughout the picture. Vogt-Roberts (working from a script by Max Borenstein, Dan Gilroy, and Derek Connolly) paces the picture perfectly, giving us characters we can care about and advancing the story without sacrificing all the monster action we’ve come to expect from a Kong picture. The script doesn’t delve too deeply into the characters but the actors more than make up for it with even smaller rolls from the likes of Jason Mitchell and Shea Whigham (both as soldiers wondering whether Packard is losing his mind) making a strong impression.
The entire cast is very good, but if there is an MVP of “Kong: Skull Island” it has to be John C. Reilly. Don’t let the trailers fool you: the ads present him solely has comic relief but in reality he’s the heart and soul of this movie. The nearly three decades on the island has affected him in a variety of ways, some of them quite amusing, but there is a sense of loss and melancholy that weaves its way through Marlowe’s story and Reilly’s performance brings that out beautifully. Marlowe’s presence also serves to help the audience (as well as Randa’s team) know what’s going on without being overly expository. In quick, concise and often humorous terms, Marlowe lays out both the geography of the island, the monsters that inhabit it, and Kong’s place in the food chain. It’s a wonderful performance that helps keeps the film grounded.
Setting “Kong: Skull Island” during the Vietnam era is a stroke of genius in terms of atmosphere. This film plays very much like “Apocalypse Now” with monsters and I mean that as a compliment. The atmosphere in “Kong” is unique because of it and it also helps define some of the characters motivations, particularly Jackson’s Packard, who is so pissed about his country’s failure in Vietnam that he’s looking for an excuse to find a fight he can win, even if it means starting a war with an ape the size of a small skyscraper.
Speaking of the King, Kong is definitely more of a badass in this film than in any other incarnation. The effects work by ILM is marvelous, providing a sense of weight and wonder to both Kong and the creatures he takes on. This Skull Island is not quite and savage as the one in Peter Jackson’s 2005 version, but it’s definitely no picnic either. The creatures menacing both Kong and the team are unique, with some of them being fairly terrifying (I’m looking at you, Mother Long-Legs). The battles are epic, ferocious, and might be a little too intense for younger children. This film definitely earns its PG-13 rating.
Overall, “Kong: Skull Island” feels like a throwback in the best of ways. It harkens to the great-yet-cheesy monster movies of Saturday afternoons, while at the same time beefing it up via script, production, and performance to transform it into something truly special. If the excellent yet somewhat dour “Logan” isn’t to your liking, then “Kong: Skull Island” will be right up your alley. You’ll have a blast! 4 ½ Out Of 5 On Kendog’s Barkometer! So Sayeth The Kendog!
P.S. Stay until after the credits for a neat little scene that introduces you to some other famous creatures. The possibilities are endless!