Kong: Skull Island Review: Exceedingly Silly, Monstrously Fun

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Kong: Skull Island is insane. Expeditions going awry on tropical islands is hardly a fresh premise (the last time it was might have been was 1933), but director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s gargantuan monster film sports a light tone that welcomes the absurd. The jokes come as often and quick as ridiculous visuals like Samuel L. Jackson having a staring contest with Kong as one of his men runs past him while on fire. In cheesy slow motion, of course. Sometimes you’re laughing with the film, sometimes at it. The only thing that’s clear is that Vogt-Roberts really doesn’t give a sh*t so long as what’s on screen is fun for the audience. In an age where blockbusters are led by superheroes carefully adhering to and setting up continuity, and Star Wars films desperate to please, Kong: Skull Island is refreshingly carefree.

It’s also the rare studio film that just keeps getting better as it goes. Which is great because the beginning is pretty terrible. We see an American pilot and a Japanese pilot crash land on Skull Island during World War II. They fight across the jungle until Kong interrupts them. Roll title card. We jump to the Vietnam era where government agent Bill Randa (John Goodman) is trying to get the okay to document the unchartered Skull Island. He does so and assembles a rag-tag crew that includes the tracker, James (Tom Hiddleston, brooding so hard you can almost see the actor trying to wink through it); the photographer, Mason (Brie Larson, tragically and comparatively sane); and the military man, Packard (Jackson, kooky, but almost not kooky enough). This set up is fast and boring, giving the audience really nothing we haven’t seen before or anything to attach to.

But once the carnage begins on the island, all is forgiven, as this motley crew comes across a plethora of well-designed creatures that intend to eat them in increasingly grotesque ways. Once split up, James and Mason’s group of cast aways finds Hank (John C. Reilly), the American pilot from the opening scene who’s been living among the island natives since he crash landed. The film gets a jump start of insanity with Reilly’s clownish, fun performance. This occurs while Jackson descends into madness, aching for revenge on Kong for killing so many of his men. The more these actors ham it up, the better.

But you likely came to Kong: Skull Island for the titular beast, and he sure impresses. The special effects here don’t quite hit the highs of the rebooted Planet of the Apes films, but they’re pretty close, which is enough. The slight downgrade really doesn’t matter much anyone once you get to watch Kong duke it out with a giant lizard thing for a long while in the film’s climax.

Much like its predecessor, Gareth Edwards’ strong Godzilla (yes, they are part of the same Marvel-esque franchise), the human characters really don’t matter or amount to much here. But at least Kong: Skull Island lets its players have more fun than Aaron Taylor-Johnson dared to in that film. This is a harmless hulking blockbuster that more than serves its purpose as an enjoyable ride through an island of monsters. Whether you’re laughing with it, laughing at it, or your mouth is ajar at the breathtaking monster battles, Kong: Skull Island is an absolute hoot. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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