Have I got a movie bargain for you. This film stars Samuel L. Jackson, Oscar winner Brie Larson and Mr. Taylor Swift. Er, ... make that Tom Hiddleston. It's a fusion of Moby Dick, None But the Brave, Apocalypse Now and Jurassic Park. But wait. There's more. It's got one of the most iconic, legendary characters in film. I mean Hollywood has made three movies about him. It's got the big guy himself. Mickey Mouse? No, it's got King Kong. The film is Kong:Skull Island.
The movie takes place in 1973. The United States is winding down its war with Viet Nam. Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) lead a scientific expedition to Skull Island which is somewhere in the South Pacific. They enlist the help of James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) a former SAS soldier whose role is basically your Great White Hunter. Providing protection is Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his Army company of helicopter borne infantry. Brie Larson plays Mason Weaver, a photojournalist. I have no idea why she is in this movie other than to provide a Fay Wray to King Kong. She does rock a tank top. Another thankless role for the other woman in the cast goes to Jing Tian as scientist San Lin. My guess is that her presence in the movie is for the Chinese audience.
Randa and Brooks decide it's a good idea to drop bombs on the island to map it. What?! Anyway, Conrad's choppers come upon King Kong who doesn't like the wake up call and is not a morning person. He destroys all of them. Obviously, that makes it hard to "get to the chopper" to escape. Anyway, Packard, Randa and others survive but are separated from Conrad and Weaver. The latter team finds a bloated Marlon Brando leading a savage, unauthorized war against the Viet Cong. Oops, sorry that's Apocalypse Now. Conrad's team really discovers a World War II American airman named Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) He's been living on the island with the help of a now deceased foe, a Japanese pilot, and some silent islanders. They're probably silent because it was cheaper not to write them any lines. But I digress. Marlow tells them of something worse than Kong. They're giant bony lizards called Skullcrawlers. Conrad's team then decides to work on escaping while Col. Packard has a different motive. He wants revenge.
For any movie to work, it's got to start with a competent screenplay, followed by good acting and direction. Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly wrote a cliched movie that needlessly crams Hiddleston and Larson's characters into a monster mash up of Moby Dick, Apocalypse Now and Jurassic Park. There is even a homage by Larson to Fay Wray, and Jessica Lange, the other blond damsel in distress in the 1976 King Kong movie. I won't say there is a beauty killed the beast moment so as to not spoil it but folks, there is a Samuel L. Jackson one and you can guess what his line is going to be. That being said, the movie sticks to the compelling story lines, that being Packard's desire for revenge and the monsters that like eating human snacks. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts keeps the action moving with clear action scenes and no wasted time.
When I was watching this, I initially thought they could have made this film without the big stars. I mean it could have been a glorified SyFy movie. However, they're are two performances that carry this film. Samuel L. Jackson as the revenge bent Col. Packard, gives an intense and riveting portrayal. I know he's like that in many of his movies. But here, you can't take your eyes off him. He's so good, you will believe in his need for vengeance. He's Captain Ahab wrapped up in Col. Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. The other performance is actually the comic relief. John C. Reilly as the isolated Marlow steals the show. He clearly is having fun as a guy who has lived without verbal communication for decades. That leads to Marlow unable at times to control his expressions.
Kong: Skull Island is not going to win the Oscar for Best Picture. However, it's entertaining. If you see this movie, stay for the post credits end scene. Yes, the producers are confident for a sequel. Thankfully, this movie is not The Last Airbender. As for the future of this franchise, you'll ask yourself, Warner Brothers has the right to that monster? The grade is B.