The King Kong cinematic machine gets cranking again with Kong: Skull Island, an entertaining enough new take on the big ape that delivers the gorilla action but lags a bit when he isn’t on screen smashing things.
Among Kong incarnations, this one has the most in common with the 1976 take on the classic story, basically because it’s set just a few years earlier in ’73. While there is a beautiful girl the big guy does get a small crush on (Brie Larson as a photographer), the story eschews the usual “beauty and the beast” Kong angle for more straight-up monster vs. monster action.
Unlike the past American Kong films, this one never makes it overseas to Manhattan, opting to stay on Kong’s island—thus, the title of the film. Kong himself is portrayed by motion-capture CGI, and he’s a badass. He’s also tall enough to be a formidable foe for Godzilla, a mash-up already announced for 2020. In the few scenes where he interacts with humans, Kong plays like an organic creature rather than a bunch of gigabytes. He blends well with his human counterparts.
That’s right, there hasn’t been much mention of those human counterparts yet. That’s because, with the exception of John C. Reilly as a fighter pilot stranded on the island during World War II, most of the humans are bland. Tom Hiddleston might make a decent James Bond someday, and he’s a lot of fun as Loki, but he just doesn’t play here as a rugged tracker/action hero. Reilly, on the other hand, gives the film the bursts of humor it needs. His castaway is a wild card, like Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now.
Actually, the whole movie, with its post-Vietnam setup and Nixon-era themes, plays like Apocalypse Now meets King Kong. When Reilly is on screen, it plays like Apocalypse Now meets King Kong meets Talladega Nights.