You want monsters? “Kong: Skull Island” has got monsters. Big honking, er, bellowing, howling, roaring monsters. The most impressive behemoths those CG wizards at Industrial Light & Magic have ever brought forth from their legendary arrays of work stations.
Giant octopi. Ginormous ugly creatures called skullcrawlers (snakelike bodies, grasping arms, pointy heads, large sharp teeth). And the biggest, baddest behmoth of all is King K himself. One hundred feet tall. Hairy and scary, with blazing eyes. Lord and master of eternally cloud-shrouded Skull Island, “the land,” intones the character played by John Goodman, “where God did not finish creation.”
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and a team of writers have largely dispensed with many of the signature elements of classic Kong iconography. Which is to say he never leaves the island. And — shocker! — there is no narrative through line of brute animal desire for a, from his perspective, a teeny blonde lovely.
Which makes sense, because when you think about it, his blonde fixation has never made any sense. I mean, what do they have to talk about on their dates? And those dates always end badly, with him plunging from great heights, his hide perforated by aircraft bullets.
And all that screaming. Hard on the ears.
Which isn’t to say there isn’t a lot of screaming in “Skull Island.” There is. The shrieks of men flung hither and yon by a rampaging Kong, who really gets into the swing of things early on when he yanks countless Army helicopters out of the sky and hurls them to the ground.
The time is 1973 when America’s involvement in the war Vietnam is winding down, and the choppers have been dispatched from Vietnam as a protective force for a scientific mission headed by Goodman’s character to penetrate the mystery of the uncharted island.
Large sections of the picture were filmed in Vietnam itself, which is perhaps the most unusual aspect about it. Forty-plus years after the end of the war there, things have changed to such an extent that the country now welcomes a Hollywood production set during the war era. File that under the category: The world turned upside down.
Most prominent in the cast is the reliable character actor John C. Reilly, playing a World War II vet stranded on the island who fills in the newcomers on how things work on Skull. He has all the best lines.
The only female character of significance is a photojournalist played by Brie Larson whose hair shade is dirty blonde (closer to brunette) and who spends most of her time with a camera to her face peering through a viewfinder. And does little screaming.
It’s practically a bit part, which is also true of most of the rest of the characters, including a mercenary played by Tom Hiddleston and, for that matter, Goodman’s character.
Most prominent in the cast is the reliable character actor John C. Reilly, playing a World War II vet stranded on the island who fills in the newcomers on how things work on Skull. He has all the best lines. Like this, to the surviving soldiers: “This is a good group of boys. We’re all going to die together out here. (Laughs) You shouldn’t have come here.”
If there’s a villain, it’s an Army colonel played by Samuel L. Jackson who is fanatically dedicated to avenging the deaths of his men. This sets up a confrontation between him and Hiddleston and Larson, who become the beast’s defenders, thanks to a momentary mind meld of sorts between ape and woman that allows her to divine that Kong is not really bad, just misunderstood. Hey, they bombed his island. He’s just defending his turf.
The human characters are very much of secondary importance. It’s Kong, often dramatically backlit by flames, who truly dominates.
See him rampage. Hear him roar.
Kong: Skull Island
☆☆☆ out of 5
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly.
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts.
Running time: 1:58.
Rated: PG-13, for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language.