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Thursday, March 16, 2017 12:04 am

Kong: Skull Island an epic monster mash

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John Goodman, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson and John C. Reilly in Kong: Skull Island.
PHOTO COURTESY Warner Bros. Pictures

 

When reading about the massive budgets spent on some of today’s films, I often wonder, “Where did all the money go?” That’s certainly not the case where Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island is concerned. Sporting a $190 million price tag, there’s no question that every single cent of the budget is present on the screen. This is an epic undertaking that pays off handsomely by creating a sense of place and realism that transports the viewer, as only movies can, to a world seemingly outside of our own. More importantly, the movie puts its titular character back on top of the gigantic monster heap where he belongs, giving us a Kong that’s physically impressive as well as emotionally relatable.

What with the success of recent monster mashes Pacific Rim, Godzilla and Jurassic World, screenwriters Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly and Dan Gilroy have their work cut out for them in bringing anything fresh to the genre. Wisely, they begin before the beginning where King Kong lore is concerned, ignoring all other movie incarnations that have roared prior. We see him as the protector of Skull Island, which has remained hidden from the world due to a perpetual storm that constantly circles it.

However, satellites (circa 1974) have discovered it, with pictures of it falling into the hands of Bill Randa (John Goodman), employee of the Monarch Corporation, which specializes in tracking down massive creatures that scientist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) theorizes live beneath the earth. These two convince a haggard Senator Willis (Richard Jenkins) to OK an expedition there to map the island and before you know it, a division of Army helicopters led by Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) is escorting Randa and Brooks to Skull Island with mercenary James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), war-photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and a brigade of scientists (read: victims) in tow.

Vogt-Roberts wastes little time getting Kong on the screen and what an impressive sight he is. As rendered through motion-capture technology, which is then overlaid with computer-effects, he moves with a life-like sense of fluidity that’s matched by the other creatures – a big ole octopus and some really weird lizard things – which makes the massive throw downs between them all the more impressive. These fights, as well as an early sequence in which Kong takes out the fleet of choppers, are prolonged scenes that don’t skimp on the wow factor or cheat by cutting away before certain actions are complete. Big screen spectacle is the order of the day, and this film delivers just that where so many similar features fall short.

As for the humans who share the screen with their hairy co-star … well, they do what they can. There’s no shortage of talent on the screen but they’re really given very little to do other than run, look scared, run some more, and look even more scared. The characters are poorly written, the cast saddled with stereotypes. At the very least, John C. Reilly is allowed to have fun, given the role of Hank Marlow, a WWII fighter pilot who was shot down over Skull Island some thirty years before the film’s expedition party finds him. Vacillating between lucidity and insanity at the drop of a hat, the actor is firmly in his element delivering effective comic moments as well as a degree of poignancy that’s welcome.

While the screenwriting trio misses the boat where allusions to the other Kong films are concerned, there’s no shortage of references to Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” or to other monsters of the gigantic sort in a scene after the end credits. It should come as no surprise that Kong: Skull Island is just a warm up for other titanic fights as Godzilla returns to the big screen in 2019, while a bout between these two pop culture icons is slated for 2020. If those two features are done as well as Vogt-Roberts’ feature, their entertainment quotient should be off the charts.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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