Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island ★★★★

"Kong: Skull Island" doesn't plumb emotional depths or delve into intriguing philosophical questions. But it does provide non-stop fun from beginning to end, which is all I wanted. Like 1999's "The Mummy", "Kong" is a relentless entertainment delivery machine. Even when the action is taking a breather (which happens only occasionally), the movie serves up satisfying character moments or clever, highly amusing dialogue or some genuinely thought-provoking mythology/pseudo-science to explain its often inspired creatures and the habitat they inhabit. I loved the Hollow Earth Theory (now THAT's a band name if ever I've heard one). It allows for the creatures to venture virtually anywhere in the sequels (which I am legitimately psyched about, if the filmmakers can deliver something as energetic and fun as this one) and fight anything (stay after the credits to see how this property might connect with other properties now owned by Legendary Studio). It's an inspired idea, and one that engages the mind in a silly, fun, stoned-conversation-about-weird-conspiracies sort of way. That's the level that all of "Kong: Skull Island" works on, and I could not have been happier.

I love that the storytellers behind this movie didn't feel the need to conjure up some overly complicated plot involving some sort of bullshit mystical object. The people in this movie venture to this island to explore it because it's been unexplored, Kong swats their helicopters out of the sky (in a wonderful, super-cool sequence) and then they have to make their way to the opposite end of the island to rendezvous with the choppers that are coming to check on them in three days. That's it. And that's all the movie needs. It's enough story, and it allows the characters (who are thinly sketched but nonetheless engaging) to travel through various parts of the island and encounter various creatures. Most of the filmmaking imagination has been put to use designing the various creatures that inhabit the island, and a lot of them are pretty impressively imagined. I especially loved the spider with camouflaged legs. He was very cool, and nicely nasty. There's just enough gore here too, and lots of shots of Kong killing people and creatures in dazzingly orchestrated and highly satisfying ways. The "Skull Crawlers" weren't the coolest creations (lizards without eyes and seemingly an overdose of tongues who lack back legs, apparently) but they provided a good foil for Kong, and the final rumble between the biggest of them and everyone's favorite ape is rousing and cool. In fact, rousing and cool pretty much sums up the entire film. I was always engaged by the characters and the creatures, and I found the simple, basic plot refreshing, to be honest. It gives the special effects room to breathe and it gives the actors plenty of chances to shine, find fun little facets to play with within their simple, basic characters and to play to their strengths. The leads, Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson, are fine, and I liked them well enough, but they don't have nearly as much fun as the more seasoned members of the cast. Samuel L. Jackson gets to check off all of the usual "Sam Jackson" boxes (he even calls Kong a "motherfu...") but he also gets to do a cool variation on the deranged military commander routine that I enjoyed far more than expected. John Goodman uses his limited screen time to great advantage as well. But the most amusing members of this cast were Shea Whigham (whose story about a mouse, a lion and a thorn is one of the film's highlights) and, as I suspected he would be, John C. Reilly. Reilly is the most fully developed character, and by far the most fun and interesting. He's the comic relief of the film, and he fulfills that role amazingly well, but he gets some delightfully badass moments and a few actually tender ones as well. Reilly is excellent here and, if sequels DO come to light, I sincerely hope that he's involved in them.

I love the propulsive and exciting pace of this movie. It moves like a freight train, but it doesn't move so fast that we feel short-changed. The filmmakers give us plenty of time to explore this environment along with the characters, and allow the characters (thin as some of them are) to make an impression. The reason this works better than most of the "Transformers" films is because the movie cares about its characters and allows the actors to establish a genuine camaraderie with one another. It also, as I already mentioned, doesn't waste unnecessary time on an overly convoluted plot. It's sort of a hangout movie with wall to wall visual effects, and the effects are truly stunning. I love that they keep making Kong movies, because Kong just keeps looking better every time. I thought that his height was sometimes inconsistent (he seems taller sometimes than at others) but it didn't bother me at all, and the way his fur ripples, the way his eyes seem to contain that elusive spark of life, the lines in his palms and the scars on his body all help to make him utterly convincing. Toby Kebbell's motion capture work really brings Kong to life as well. It's a performance on par with his work as Koba in the recent "Planet of the Apes" films.

Frankly, I kinda loved this movie. It's perfectly executed popcorn entertainment with a lot of flavor and flair to it. It's incredibly fun, and it looks gorgeous from top to bottom. If you're going to do effects shots, make them as dazzling and imaginative as these. The moment where someone gets torn apart by vicious bird things in front of the sunset is a breathtaking one, and is executed with a painter's eye. The whole movie is, in fact. I am unfamiliar with Jordan Vogt-Roberts, but his work here is impressive. It isn't as good as the original "Kong", which pretty much established the formula and pace all great action/adventure films should follow, but it's in the same ballpark. It's a lot closer, quality-wise, than I expected it to be, actually. It's not messy or too complicated and, in the modern action/fantasy realm, that's a breath of fresh air.

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