Friday, March 10, 2017

Savvy script, nearly non-stop action highlight ‘Kong: Skull Island’

By Steve Crum
Stereotypical in many ways, Kong: Skull Island is great fun to watch, thanks to a literate, savvy script, fine acting, and visuals that should please the most discriminating monster movie fan. Prepare for gigantic thrills, literally.
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer), this take on King Kong employs the basic template of Kong films since 1933’s King Kong. For example, there is the expected First Act set-up, covering the organization of an expedition to a remote South Pacific island, here called Skull Island—as in the ’33 version. 
Adding a diverse mix of explorers is part of the typical story scheme. In Kong: Skull Island, we get three scientists, Bill Randa (a slimmed down John Goodman), Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins of TV's 24: Legacy) and San Lin (Jing Tian). There also has to be a heroic adventurer type, here played by Tom Hiddleston. In a King Kong movie, a beautiful young lady is also required, but in this case it is not Ann Darrow, but Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) who fits the mold as a photojournalist, peacenik, and naturalist of sorts. All three attributes come in handy when dealing closeup with Kong as well as the terra firma and waterways of the island. 
As with many (most?) giant monster movies, there is a military element that sometimes clashes with the accompanying scientists. The soldiers want to immediately blast Kong and his fellow monsters to oblivion while the civilians would prefer to shoot only in self defense. Unique to K: SI is that the time setting is 1973, just as the Vietnam War is winding down. Samuel L. Jackson’s Lt. Col. Preston Packard is assigned to lead a squadron of grunts to escort the exploratory team. 
About the “fellow monsters” mentioned, there are realistic, jarring battles with humongous spiders, birds and octopi. Check out the huge walking stick insect that more aptly resembles a large walking log. Then there are the vicious baddies that give Kong himself a run for island dominance: the lizard-alligator big boys called Skullcrawlers. They are featured, along with Kong, in the bloody Third Act. (Kong and his antics essentially dominate the Second Act.) 
Not only is the Vietnam era angle a fresh approach, but there is also a tie-in to WWII via John C. Reilly as stranded American pilot Hank Marlow, discovered on Skull after living there with local natives (yes, there are live humans amongst) for nearly 30 years. A preamble to the main story sets up that backstory.  
Incidentally, the Marlow character provides K: SI with at least minimal comedy relief, a much needed ingredient for a film of this intensity.
Vogt-Roberts and screen scribes Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Sevak Anakhasyan have purposely laced Kong: Skull Island with numerous classic movie references. For one, there are both pop music and a a gunboat-cruising-down-the-river sequence from Apocalypse Now (1979). Add to that John Goodman’s wardrobe, a duplicate of what the Carl Denham character wore in 1933’s King Kong. Bits of 1987’s Platoon and 1964’s Dr. Strangelove are also woven into the storyline. 
Stick around for the tag following the film’s end credits. You will learn that this isn’t the end of King Kong movies. 
Or Godzilla movies. 
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GRADE on an A-F Scale: B+

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