Entertainment Movies

'Kong: Skull Island' review: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson prove bigger is better in action-packed flick

By Jim Slotek, Postmedia Network

Entertainment Review

Kong: Skull Island

3.5 stars

  • Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly
  • Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
  • Written by: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein
  • Duration: 118 minutes

A big, dumb beast that, for all its noise, is kind of lovable at heart. That describes both a certain giant ape and Kong: Skull Island, the latest of an oeuvre of King Kong films going back 80-plus years.

For those of us who grew up in the original era of guys in monster suits knocking down to-scale Japanese buildings, it’s encouraging that Kong: Skull Island is from the producers of the most recent Godzilla. More so, now that they’ve signalled an ape-lizard donnybrook to come.

I actually liked Kong: Skull Island more than Godzilla, for the simplicity of its plot. To wit: overconfident humans invade Kong’s domain and pay the consequences.

Set at the end of the Vietnam War (with a de rigueur ‘Nam soundtrack of Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Chambers Brothers, Hendrix etc.), Kong: Skull Island sets up its plot early. As Nixon is calling the troops home, an about-to-be-cancelled “X-files”-like government project called Monarch is authorized for one last mission under its obsessed boss Bill Randa (John Goodman). The objective: to investigate the fauna on a mysterious island. Said island has been hidden from surveillance by weird weather patterns, and is an apparent graveyard for missing planes going back to WWII.

The muscle on the chopper mission is a small platoon under the command of one Col. Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and a soldier-of-fortune named James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston). And, oh yeah, there’s an “anti-war” photographer along for the ride, played by Brie Larson.

But, as colourful as the performances are (and I include John C. Reilly as a crazy, marooned WWII airman), this is one of those movies where the people are essentially the McGuffin.

Kong: Skull Island is all about monsters, starting with Kong (who is the size of a mountain, and disposes of a fleet of choppers like easily-swatted mosquitoes).

But Skull Island turns out to be a portal to a world of other monsters, so we eventually see Kong (and the human soldiers) battling giant lizard things, spiders the size of cars and pteranodons.

(This makes Skull Island sound like Monster Island of the Godzilla world. I’m informed by the filmmakers that it’s not, but that there will be a Monster Island, and this is your introduction to the concept).

This is a monster movie for the nine-year-old kid in all of us, and the filmmakers take it as un-seriously as that suggests. The dialogue seems deliberately prosaic at times, and goofy at others (Reilly’s character gets the funniest lines). By default, Jackson’s Packard becomes the Capt. Ahab of the piece, a monster in his own right in his crazed determination to revenge-kill Kong.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts seems never to tire of a singular “homage” shot to Apocalypse Now, sunrise or sunset (with a pretty identifiable Jurassic Park shot thrown in, and at least one from the original 1933 Kong).

And if it all seems at times to be pointless sound and fury, well, yeah. That’s the point.

Kong: Skull Island opens March 10.

Twitter: @jimslotek

JSlotek@postmedia.com