Chance of a spoiler. Well, I guess with this film and the recently released Marvel film, “Logan,” summer blockbusters have moved up to early March now. This story originated in 1933 with the RKO masterpiece that saved the studio from bankruptcy. This re-telling is different from a story line perspective but consistent with the idea. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has only one other big screen film to his credit. That was the excellent low-budget indie, “The Kings of Summer” (2013). Needless to say, he gets a lot more money to play with here.
Bill Randa (John Goodman) and his science partner Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) have discovered a new island in the China Sea. It is constantly surrounded by violent storms and has never been explored. He needs money and approaches a U. S. Senator (Richard Jenkins) to get funding for an exploration. He also needs a military escort, not knowing what they might find. The film is set in 1973 as Nixon was closing the curtain on the Vietnam War. A gung-ho Lt. Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) isn’t too happy pulling out without winning, but is given the chance to lead this expedition. Randa also wants a “tracker” and enlists a former British special forces officer, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) for the job. A wartime photo-journalist named Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), goes along to document what they find.
Things move along quite quickly as the ship, outfitted to carry several helicopters, closes in on the mysterious Skull Island. Unlike the original 1933 film and remake of 2005, we don’t have to wait long to see Kong. As the Huey’s break through the storm to a quiet tropical island, we’re reminded of “Apocalypse Now” but instead of “Flight of the Valkyries” we get some Credence Clearwater Revival. In fact we get a playlist of hits of the time throughout the movie including Jefferson Airplane, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, The Hollies, The Chambers Brothers and more.
As the helicopters drop some seismic charges to the surface (to check the geology or something), it also stirs the 100 foot Kong to find out what’s what. Under Packard’s lead the helicopters charge the giant gorilla instead of retreating. Bad idea, the first of several by the delusional commander. While I had a hard time adapting to the fire-breathing Jackson as Packard, I had no problem with John C. Reilly as Hank Marlow. Marlow and his Japanese counterpart had nearly killed each other, having crashed on the island in the later part of WW II. They somehow survived, taken in by some natives. Marlow brings some needed comedic relief to the film. He also knows a lot about the island, something Packard usually dismisses.
When asked about the high walls surrounding the village, Marlow says that it isn’t to keep Kong out. Kong is perceived as a god protecting them from the giant “skullcrawlers” who look like a light skinned, larger and quicker moving crocodile. Other various creatures tend to pick off the surviving crew as you might expect, which leads up to the epic battle between an already seriously wounded Kong and the largest of the skullcrawlers. And it’s a good one. Using a variety of special effects tricks, it all comes across realistically. And yes, there are moments of Kong’s loneliness and lack of a mate, especially when he confronts the beautiful photographer.
Toby Kebbell gets some good moments as one of the military officers, injured and alone. Shea Whigham plays another Army grunt with a quick wit. Tian Jing plays San, one of the scientists. She isn’t given much to do but would appear to be bait for the Asian audience. The film isn’t perfect but it is much better than it could have been. The acting is very good and the action sequences are excellent. Recommended.