Cocktails & Movies Review: “Kong: Skull Island” – Massive Fun, With Minor Flaws

by Mike Reyes

Kong Lives Again In This Fast Paced Action-Adventure, That Skimps A Bit On Heart, But Goes All In With Spectacle.

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A funny story to preface this review to what looked like it was going to be another hollow exercise in franchise building and cheap thrills: Universal was originally supposed to produce Kong: Skull Island. But, presumably after some of the setbacks that their producing partner Legendary Entertainment had suffered with high profile bombs such as The Seventh Son and Blackhat, they passed the project over to Warner Bros. without a second thought. It’s funny, because Kong: Skull Island is actually a hell of a fun thrill ride that not only should have Universal kicking itself, but should give Warner Bros cause to celebrate, as their burgeoning “Monsterverse” is still going strong as ever.

In the shadow of Watergate and the end of the Vietnam War, Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) have a special favor to ask of Uncle Sam. That favor is to allow for these two men to make an expedition to an uncharted island that hides a lot more than what can be seen on the surface. With a military escort, led by a Lieutenant Colonel looking for a fight (Samuel L. Jackson,) and accompanied by various scientists, a war photographer (Brie Larson,) and an expert tracker (Tom Hiddleston,) the secrets of Skull Island will slowly reveal themselves. And Kong himself is acting as the god of the island, and possibly the fates of the humans who’ve come so far to seek him.

The first thing you should know about Kong: Skull Island is that it’s not another straight up remake of King Kong. So if you’re looking forward to the Empire State Building or beauty killing the beast, Peter Jackson’s 2005 epic is the most modern you’ll be getting with all of that. Instead, writers Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein (who also helped pen Godzilla ’14,) and Derek Connolly (who served as a writer on Jurassic World,) have decided to go with a Vietnam War movie themed mold to shape their monster movie. It shows in the soundtrack, the cinematography, and even in the film’s predominantly orange, brown, and green color palette, and it’s a refreshing change.

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With this fresh lens, Kong: Skull Island is dripping with 70’s throwback mojo that charms as much as it does anchor the story of Kong in a more modern context. Gone is the old school adventurer vibe, and in its place is a “man on a mission / war is hell” film that crosses the character of Kong with Apocalypse Now. Nowhere is this more present than in Samuel L. Jackson’s Packard, a character who swears an oath to stomp out Kong, after a particularly eventful engagement during our first moments on the island.

However, there’s still some of the awe and wonder of discovering a new ecosystem, as there are plenty of new beasts and environmental factors that our characters discover throughout the running time of the film. In fact, this is more where Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson’s characters of James and Mason come into play, as they’re on the side that wants to preserve Skull Island, and Kong himself. Through their chemistry together, as well as with late game contributor John C. Reilly, they explore the conservationist side of Kong: Skull Island, setting up the major conflict of the film’s narrative.

Though don’t get too attached to the characters in director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ first blockbuster picture. Not only do you know they’re going to be monster fodder, but they just aren’t all that well fleshed out, seeing as this expedition actually has a lot of participants among its ranks. If there’s any fault to Kong: Skull Island, the film could have stood to engaged in some more character and story development, and dropping some of the extra characters could have helped immensely. That’s not to say the break neck pace of the film isn’t an advantage, as the film’s almost two hour screen time breezes by on a gale of excitement. But a couple more moments learning about the pieces in the game would have been nice, if anything so we had more of a connection to the film at large.

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Kong: Skull Island is unapologetic blockbuster fun, and it’s certainly recommended as a fun night out at the movies. In fact, IMAX 3D is the only real way to go with this film, as it sells the scale of Kong and his compatriots properly, immersing the audience in a true clash of titan level glory. By time the final post credits stinger rolls, and ties in Godzilla ’14 alongside the adventures of Kong: Skull Island, you’ll be ready for the next chapter. It’s big, it’s loud, and it’s exciting – and in this case, the parts that are missing don’t sink the ship.

My Rating: 4/5