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KONG: SKULL ISLAND is Big, Raucous Monster Fun (Review)

KONG: SKULL ISLAND is Big, Raucous Monster Fun (Review)

The cinematic legend of King Kong turns 84 this year, and even after all that time, the black & white original continues to bring awe to audiences everywhere. His story has been remade twice–once in 1976 and again in 2005–and I’d venture to say people know the basic premise of a King Kong flick the way they do Frankenstein or Dracula. What we haven’t seen too much of in quite a long time is a movie doing something different with Kong, using the giant ape in a way that doesn’t end with carrying a blonde up the Empire State Building. That movie is Kong: Skull Island, and boy is it fun.

Kong has existed most frequently as a tragic figure, a misunderstood creature whose feelings for a human woman ultimately leads to his downfall. There’s none of that here; Kong Skull Island is a throwback to a kind of raucous monster adventure that were all the rage in the late-’60s and ’70s. It’s fast-paced and full of in-your-face effects sequences, and above all it never takes itself too seriously, which is a good thing when dealing with monsters the size of a building.

Kong Skull Island

In 1973, scientists (John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, Tian Jing) from the Monarch Institute find satellite images of an uncharted island in the South Pacific. In the waning days of the Vietnam War, they charter an expedition to said island along with a former British special forces officer (Tom Hiddleston), a platoon of U.S. Army guys led by a colonel (Samuel L. Jackson) upset at how the war ended, and an anti-war photographer (Brie Larson), among several others. As soon as they start dropping explosives to record seismic activity, a behemoth gorilla shows up and knocks all their helicopters out of the sky.

Separated, the different factions start heading toward the north of the island for their eventual pickup date, and one group meets a WWII pilot (John C. Reilly), shot down on the island 28 years ago, who tells them that Kong is not the enemy, but the island is full of things that are. That likely won’t stop the angry army folk who want themselves a little Kong blood.

Kong Skull Island large

One of the problems with the movie is that there’s just too many characters for all of their stories to fully pay off. Some of them want to kill Kong, some of them don’t; that’s really the only major thing we need to know. Reilly is easily the best and most sympathetic character in the mix. However, there’s some terrific performances from the army folk, namely Shea Whigham and Jason Mitchell who have a really funny and touching rapport. Toby Kebbell who plays Jackson’s second in command seems woefully under-served by his human role, but he also did performance capture for Kong, and in that way he’s the star of the show.

Following 2013’s Godzilla, there was a fair amount of backlash about how little the titular beast is actually in that movie. Nobody need worry about Kong not being in Jordan Vogt-Roberts‘ monster action flick. He shows up plenty, and it’s not just him, either; Skull Island is full of strange and interesting enormous beasts that time forgot, and I love that the movie shows us that there’s not just one or two of those monsters.

Kong Skull Island 5

The action and the way it’s shot are¬†really what stood out to me, as it begins to feel like a ’70s comic book, in the best way. Stuff happens for the sake of badass-ness and certain camera moves feel totally in service of a damn cool shot, which following the impressive but often po-faced Godzilla feels like a breath of fresh air. Not every big tentpole movie needs to be an uber serious endeavor. Sometimes you just want to see a giant ape beat the crap out of a giant lizard-bird-skull thing and have a good time in the process.

It’s certainly not a perfect movie, and a lot of the characters feel like sketches more than full fledged people, but it roars along enjoyably from start to finish. Speaking of, you’re going to want to stay through the end credits. Just saying.

3.5 giant banana burritos out of 5

Images: Legendary/Warner Bros

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

Learn 6 facts about King Kong right here!

Editor’s Note: Nerdist is a subsidiary of Legendary Digital Networks

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