A modern take on cinema history
What a throwback in time—literally as one of filmdom’s most awesome monsters is resurrected for what is a fresh take on a timeworn genre. King Kong, or just Kong here, has been around since the silent films, but just when you think you’ve seen it all, the fog bank enshrouding Skull Island parts and the fun begins.
Set in the ‘70s during the Vietnam War era, this gets off to a rollicking start when John Goodman’s character, Dr. Randa, comments how “government has never been more chaotic,” signaling immediately that this is going to be a bit cheeky. And, that is exactly what sets “Kong” apart from most of the ape movies—it doesn’t take itself too seriously in this smart screenplay by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly from a story by John Gatins.
The opening scenes reveal that while America was pre-occupied with the Vietnam War (anti-war demonstrations are shown), new satellites with advanced technology for the times were sending back photos of geographical locations yet to be charted. One of these locations brings great interest for Randa, who believes that we aren’t the only creatures on earth, but that monsters do exist.
He and his team (played by Corey Hawkins and Tian Jing), manage to hitch a ride on another expedition assigned to map the island led by an escort from a troop of Marine helicopter pilots under the command of Capt. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), a disillusioned war veteran, depressed (and a bit unhinged) over the announcement of the troop pullout in Vietnam. He’s not quite through with the mission, as we learn. Also, along are a mercenary James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) hired to protect Randa’s group and Brie Larson as photojournalist Mason Weaver brought along to document the findings.
Kong takes no time revealing himself as he intercepts the incoming helicopters swatting them like flies. The downed crews and their passengers are spread across the island with only a few days to get back to the pick-up point, but incredible dangers are everywhere including giant spiders, giant lizards, and a tribe of some hostile natives. Everything, but the natives, on this island is overgrown, like steroids are in the water.
It turns out Kong is actually a protector of the island—and its inhabitants—from those nasty ginormous lizards that come up from under the ground through thermal openings. Something Randa theorized before coming to Skull Island. The seismic charges initially dropped from the helicopters sends them into a flurry of deadly activity that will decimate most of the cast by the end of this.
The climax is a mano a mano duel to the death between Kong and the biggest lizard that has some impressive special effects. The whole movie benefits from great CGI with most of the scenes, are in scale with the giant creature and his surroundings. For example, when he plucks Mason out of danger and drops her back to the ground, she’s barely the length of the lifeline etched into Kong’s mighty palm.
As if all this wasn’t enough, there is also a hilarious subplot that involves a character named Hank Marlow, played with gusto by John C. Reilly. Marlow is a downed WWII pilot who has been waiting to be rescued for over 30 years. When one of the lost parties stumbles across him, it is his intricate knowledge of the island and its creatures that proves invaluable to Conrad’s attempts to get everyone off the island. Plus, he’s a bit off from having only mute natives for friends for decades.
Reilly, who has some great zingers throughout, gets most of the funny business while everyone else is just trying to stay alive. “Kong” does the almost impossible in striking a balance between humor and horror that works very well while throwing off a slightly retro vibe that completes it.
This was surprisingly good for what it is. Be warned: if you leave before the ending credits, you’ll miss something, and that something feels an awful lot like there’s going to be another trip to Skull Island.