Scene & Heard: ‘Kong: Skull Island” isn’t monkeying around

 

 

By Jared Huizenga – Contributing Writer

 

We live in a world of nostalgia. Rather than modernization, musicals are trying to bring back the classic Hollywood style; later this year, “The Mummy” will get a reboot; and – somehow – a cheeseball staple of mid-’90s TV – “Power Rangers” – will another crack at the big screen.

 

Riding that wave of nostalgia is “Kong: Skull Island,” which is, in fact, yet another reboot of the classic series … which was also rebooted in 1976 and 2005.

 

The year is 1973. The U.S. is pulling out of Vietnam. And, somehow, a mysterious, uncharted south pacific island has come into the view of U.S. satellites.

 

Calling in his final favor from a political ally – and feeding off of that ally’s fear of Russia exploring the island before the U.S. can – struggling scientist Bill Randa (John Goodman) forms a team of soldiers and scientists to make the trip. Before they can go, however, the team needs to add a couple of additional pieces … namely a former British soldier/guide/survivalist, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), and photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).

 

What Randa fails to mention, and the team quickly discovers, is that the island isn’t completely unknown, and is home to monsters whose appetites are matched only by their size.

 

Hunters on Skull Island

(L-R) Jing Tian as San, Brie Larson as Mason Weaver, Tom Hiddleston as James Conrad and Thomas Mann as Slivko search for an escape route in “Kong: Skull Island.” (Photo by Vince Valitutti © 2017 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC., LEGENDARY PICTURES PRODUCTIONS, LLC AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINMENT LLC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

King among those animals is the skyscraper-sized Kong, who “welcomes” the team to his turf in the most violent way imaginable.

 

As the team struggles against Mother Nature, and the soldiers – led by Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) – seek out Kong to exact revenge, they learn that there’s more to the island and Kong than meets the eye.

 

First and foremost, the highlight of Kong is the special effects.

 

For as far as technology has advanced, there’s still a considerable challenge in making animals and/or monsters believable. They have to be big and they have to be scary, but if they lack even every shred of realness, the audience won’t buy into it. Kong is believable – at least in terms of a furry building that kills anything it feels is encroaching on its turf can be believable.

 

Granted, virtually every other monster that call Skull Island home is wildly ridiculous, but by the time they come around you’ve already seen and bought into Kong. And if you can buy into that, you can buy into these other giant critters.

 

The action sequences are plentiful and substantial, and I really appreciated the fact that the filmmakers didn’t feel the need to take you on a fully-immersive experience. While it’s sometimes nice to feel like you’re in the middle of the action, sometimes the amount of motion in the action sequences can make it hard to focus and leave you feeling a little queasy. Very little to none of that here, and you don’t feel like you’re missing out on anything.

 

The other highlight of “Kong” is the acting.

 

Believe me – I’m just as surprised about that as anyone. Granted, Hiddleston and Jackson are formidable actors, particularly in action fare, and Larson is obviously one of the best out there, but I wasn’t expecting a movie about a giant ape to have much of a story, much less strong acting performances. But it has both of those.

 

We’re not talking Oscar-worthy script or acting, but solid performances from those previously mentioned, as well as from Goodman and John C. Reilly as one of the Skull Island surprises the team encounters.

 

But the absolute best part of this for me was that it felt like a classic monster (vs. monster) movie like you stumble upon from time to time. It truly feels like director Jordan Vogt-Roberts channeled those movies, updated them for the CGI generation, and let it fall where it may.

 

And the result is success. It’s fun, it’s action-packed, it’s everything I hoped it could be.

 

★★★★ of ★★★★★

 

Jared Huizenga is a freelance movie critic. Follow his work at www.facebook.com/JaredMovies.

 

 

Sam Jackson in Kong
Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) leads a mission for vengeance in “Kong: Skull Island.” (Photo by Chuck Zlotnick © 2017 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC., LEGENDARY PICTURES PRODUCTIONS, LLC AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINMENT LLC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)