KONG: SKULL ISLAND Review: 8 out of 10 (Monkey See, Monkey Smash)
KONG: SKULL ISLAND is the latest blockbuster monster movie that also stands in as the second film in Legendary's MonsterVerse franchise. It is directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and written by Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein, and stars an ensemble cast including Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, and John C. Reilly. The initial chapter in this series was 2014's GODZILLA which I liked quite a bit. This movie feels much like a summer blockbuster that has landed here in March. It is goofy, over the top, but I had a pretty damn good time watching it. Here is a quote from that previous GODZILLA review that works nearly exactly again here:
"It is bombastic, has gigantic action pieces, some characters completely wasted for disaster fodder, and lots of silly contrivances that are big enough to rival [Kong] himself"
Truer words couldn't be spoken here of this film. There are scientists, military men, strange natives, monsters of Skull Island, more monsters of Skull Island, a crazy marooned soldier played by John C. Reilly (who steals every scene) and a madman Army commander cast perfectly by Samuel L. Jackson. There is a lot going on here, and most of it makes sense...that is if you buy into the notion that giant monsters roam the earth. What I didn't realize until the film began is that this is a period piece film. Taking place in 1973 at the close of Vietnam, KONG: SKULL ISLAND is infused with a 70s soundtrack that includes Black Sabbath, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Jefferson Airplane. In many ways, this movie is a war film genre. It feels like Oliver Stone's Platoon with a lot of giant monsters running in the jungle. If that appeals to you, there is a lot here to like.
It isn't a perfect movie. Lots of characters are thinly written, and might not have even had names before they were crushed, eaten, or otherwise dispatched. Even Brie Larson's character (a photographer) seems to have no purpose whatsoever in the film except to offer the requisite Beauty/Beast Fay Wray moment with Kong himself. Hiddleston does play the default hero here as a jungle tracker on the trip to the mysterious island, but there isn't anything special here. All that belongs to Reilly and Jackson. The CGI effects here are a mixed bag--some impressive, others feeling dated. Your mileage may vary. Finally, this is a film that is also surprisingly brutal and violent. Though it may say PG13 on the poster, KONG feels more like an R-rated film with plenty of hyper-violent deaths on screen.
Go for the monster movie--but stay for the great performances of Reilly and Jackson, the hip tunes, and the over-the-top violent boss fights. If you are looking for a fun time at the movies with a bucket of popcorn this month, KONG: SKULL ISLAND is your ticket.
PS: Stay through the credits for a fun easter egg that furthers this Monsterverse franchise.