Kong: Skull Island (2017)
Part monster movie, part "Apocalypse Now" tribute, "Kong: Skull Island" drags its victims (not heroes, victims) into a war they can't win through a place they never should have visited while adequately showcasing the cost on all fronts. Yes, "Kong" lays the groundwork for an upcoming monster throwdown, but it holds up all on its own just fine.
Set at the conclusion of the Vietnam War, "Kong" director Jordan Vogt-Roberts brings audiences into the era with a tongue-in cheek flair that mostly works. Some of the jokes fall flat, but his sense of fun helps balance what could have been a very grim affair on an island where nameless grunts die at an alarming rate.
That "Kong" offers a parallel to Vietnam isn't a surprise: without war we'd have no kaiju genre. Godzilla was born from nuclear war, after all, and while King Kong shares no such origin story it's nice to see him brought into the fold. He's a creature of war now.
This film sets an appropriately different tone from Peter Jackson's take on the character back in 2005. That's a good thing, and it makes Skull Island fresh and new. The creatures are terrific and the plant life lush and dangerous, but the humans trek through the dangerous terrain feels new and different while still perfectly dangerous.
There are similarities, of course, and some tropes to go along with it. Samuel L. Jackson's Captain Ahab-type role certainly rings a bell, and John Goodman's link-tying Monarch character resembles the no-one-believed-me mission organizer of every Kong movie up until this point. Their performances are good enough that this isn't a criticism, but there's an inescapable rhythm to a Kong movie at this point.
Then there's Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston, the protagonists who help drive the boat, so to speak. Larson is spectacular as an anti-war photographer while Hiddleston is good, not great, as an empathetic character without a whole lot of backstory. In a film with so many characters that die inconsequential deaths, it would have been nice to get a little more from them.
Instead, and perhaps for the good of the film as a whole, "Kong" decides to keep the roller coaster moving. John C. Reilly is a revelation as a long-stranded resident of Skull Island and provides comic relief while bridging the knowledge gap for the newcomers on the island. He, as much as anyone on the screen, helps keep the film going.
And go it does. If there's one thing "Kong" does spectacularly well it's that it moves. It's lean runtime breezes by as it moves from scene to scene with good humor and action. No scenes are wasted and it gives everything you could possibly want from an action tentpole.
What remains to be scene is how this film will stylistically mesh with the much grimmer "Godzilla." Both hail from Legendary Pictures, but the similarities die there. That's not to mention the large gap in time between the two films ("Kong" taking place 40 years prior to "Godzilla"). But that's not my problem; and it's not yours either. "Kong" is a great thrill ride and I highly encourage you get onboard.