By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
This new reboot of King Kong is a strange, ambitious, but highly entertaining film that takes a slightly different approach to introducing the beloved beast. Not only is the movie a monster film, but it also offers commentary on the folly of machismo and the futility of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. The writers obviously draw story and character inspiration from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts draws aesthetic inspiration from Apocalypse Now. As dark as the film can get, well-written and executed humor adds much flavor and keeps things from being overly-serious. The filmmakers behind Kong: Skull Island probably tried to accomplish a tad too much with their movie, but thankfully, this ambition never takes away from what it should be–a fun and thrilling popcorn creature feature.
As America’s involvement in the Vietnam War comes to an end and the remaining troops head home, a scientific organization named Monarch (the same group in the 2014 Godzilla movie) gets the reluctant participation of the U.S. military for a scientific expedition. Monarch official William Randa (John Goodman) and geologist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) wish to explore a mysterious, uncharted island in the Pacific with the help of tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and with transportation provided by the Sky Devils helicopter squadron, a unit led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard. Vietnam War journalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) also joins the group in hopes of getting something completely different for her coverage. Well, as everyone soon discovers, the trip offers much more than they are expecting when they arrive on the island and cross paths and hairs with the mighty Kong.
Written by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Conolly, and John Gatins, Vogt-Roberts’s Kong reboot does occasionally get messy with all of what it tries to accomplish and has some cheesy and silly moments, but, nevertheless, delivers exciting action sequences with a delightfully wicked sense of humor. For a refreshing change of pace, the filmmakers have decided to mostly abandon the “damsel-in-distress”, “beauty and the beast” approach to King Kong. That story has already been told multiple times and it’s definitely time for a change. This one focuses more on the hubris of humanity angle and most of the story takes place on the island where Kong reigns. Vogt-Roberts and his crew deliver some intense and well-crafted action sequences and all of the CGI work looks impressive.
The movie feels a bit overloaded with characters that don’t all get proper development, with some of them coming across as cliches or stereotypes. John Goodman’s Randa starts off as the story’s Captain Ahab, but once he arrives on the island, he has little to do and Samuel L. Jackson’s Lieutenant Packard takes over the Ahab role. Tom Hiddleston’s James Conrad is an interesting character, but is somewhat limited by the script. Brie Larson’s Mason Weaver offers much heart and conscience to the movie. All of the main cast members deliver great work despite the limitations of the screenplay, but are ultimately overshadowed by John C. Reilly’s riotous performance as comic relief Hank Marlow, the most fascinating character of the whole movie. Marlow is probably the only character that gets a more complete realization, and Reilly delivers an exceptional turn that mixes heartfelt earnestness, and socially-awkward comic timing.
And even though the film does have its own share of unintended awkwardness, it works well enough as action-driven, comic-flavored monster movie. This movie, along with 2014’s Godzilla serve as two different installments in Legendary Pictures’s “Monsterverse” So far, both of these movies have their own flaws, but have not quite achieved excellence. The filmmakers behind Godzilla probably took the material way too seriously, while Kong’s filmmakers added a little too much cheese. Still, the fact that both movies manage to work, in spite of their flaws, shows promise and allows the filmmakers working on the next ones to learn from these missteps. Either way, I am certainly excited to see what they come up with next.