Even if you aren’t a fanboy of the monster movie genre, you’ll have a good time at “Kong: Skull Island,” an eye popping popcorn movie that offers up some good old fashioned cinematic escapism. The film has a serious-yet-satirical attitude that gives it an elevated B-movie vibe, and it’s a ton of fun.
Setting the film in the 1970s was a brilliant move and it serves the story well. Conspiracy theorist Bill (John Goodman) convinces the government to give him a military escort to chart a mysterious island. Accompanying him are tough and combative career military man Lt. Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his helicopter squadron, British tracker James (Tom Hiddleston), anti-war photojournalist Mason (Brie Larson) and several other random company suits and scientists. After arriving on the island the group encounters wildly strange hermit Hank (the scene stealing John C. Reilly), a presumed dead WWII military pilot who crash landed and has been stuck on the island since the 1940s. King Kong is a hero ape in this version, keeping the local tribespeople safe from the Skull Crawlers (which are admittedly lame and fake looking dino lizard things).
The plot is thin, the dialogue is at times clunky, and there’s little character development. But that’s not really why audiences flock to movies like this, is it? We’re here to see a giant monkey wreak havoc, and the film delivers. (In fact, Kong shows up within the film’s first few minutes, providing an instant satisfaction by giving us an early and grandiose glimpse of the beast).
This is one great looking movie that’s extraordinarily visually focused (if not so much story-wise). It’s an expensive spectacle with a huge budget (rumored to be in the $190 million range), and you sure as heck can see where the money was spent onscreen. It’s not in the talented, credible actors that helm the cast: it’s in the absolutely flawless — and I mean FLAWLESS — visual effects. The CGI eye candy is breathtaking and the classic movie monster is brought to life on an epic scale by the animation geniuses at Industrial Light & Magic (with visual effects supervisor Stephen Rosenbaum working at the top of his game here). Kong looks and feels like an actual ape and is given a real humanity through the topnotch animation.
Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who directed the intimate film “Kings of Summer” (which clocked in at #4 on my list of the Top 10 Best Movies of 2013), makes an enormous and impressive creative leap from spearheading a low budget indie to an extravagant blockbuster with enviable ease. Vogt-Roberts has a skilled, artistic eye for visual beauty and stages some epic set pieces here. You’ll get big monsters and even bigger explosions with a pulsating retro rock soundtrack throughout.
All of this dazzling spectacle serves as a flashy distraction from the thin story and flat acting, but this is a wildly entertaining movie that breathes life into the Kong franchise.