Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston Tackle a Mythical Monster in Electrifying ‘Kong: Skull Island’
There are certain roller coasters that induce such an adrenaline spike, riders are left laughing in giddy relief, still jacked up – and perhaps slightly nauseous – from the intense rush even after the ride comes to a stop. “Kong: Skull Island,” directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and starring an A-list cast of Hollywood heavyweights, is exactly that type of roller coaster. And it’s one you won’t want to miss.
The gigantic, mythical ape has a long, legendary history, and “Skull Island” hearkens back to the original 1933 film by traveling to Kong’s titular birthplace. After a brief, tantalizing introduction to Kong through the eyes of two enemy soldiers from World War II, “Skull Island” jumps to Washington D.C. in 1973 as yet another war comes to a close. Scientists/adventurers Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins, now starring in “24: Legacy”) convince a U.S. senator to provide them with resources and a military escort to survey Skull Island, a Bermuda Triangle-type place “where myth and science meet.” That military escort comes in the form of Colonel Preston Packard, a typically badass Samuel L. Jackson character with a Captain Ahab complex, and his crew of merry soldiers, fresh from their Vietnam deployment. Rounding out the crew are Tom Hiddleston’s James Conrad, a former British army captain with a particular set of tracking skills, and war photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).
“Kong: Skull Island” is instantly engrossing, providing kinetic thrills from start to finish. The film also doles out bits of background information about the various supporting characters, which, though not enough to bog down the action, is enough to lull viewers into a sense of false security. (You’ve been warned. Beware the giant spiders!) There’s John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow (no doubt an allusion to Joseph Conrad’s protagonist in “Heart of Darkness”), a stranded World War II pilot who had been living on Skull Island for 28 years, to provide some comic relief, and the colorful crop of U.S. soldiers who survived the initial descent into Skull Island and now need to grapple with the island’s many, many terrifying monstrosities: Shea Whigham plays the hilariously humorless Cole, Thomas Mann takes on jumpy everyman Slivko, and Toby Kebbell – who also provided motion capture guidance for Kong – tries out a questionable southern accent as Major Chapman.
While a compelling cast is important, this is, after all, a monster movie – and the big-stage battles deliver on impeccably choreographed, clamorous chaos. In this age of remakes, viewers might be skeptical of yet another King Kong movie, but it becomes clear that there is a credible reason for bringing back the King: visual effects. Vogt-Roberts’s Kong – as well as the menagerie of horrifying convincing, computer generated creatures on Skull Island – are visceral forces to be reckoned with. And in true cinematic apocalypse style, the devastation caused by Kong in the initial encounter is a dynamic, visual masterpiece. Say what you will about “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” but cinematographer Larry Fong (also responsible for “300” and “Watchmen”) sure knows how to turn violent action into violent art.
“Kong: Skull Island” also provides just enough thematic context to keep the more intellectually inclined moviegoers on their toes. Like “Apocalypse Now,” “Skull Island” capitalizes on the moral murkiness of the Vietnam War in order to revisit the cataclysmic hubris of humankind explored in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” “Sometimes an enemy doesn’t exist until you go looking for one,” says Kebbell’s Chapman. The notion resonates far beyond the context of the movie itself.
“Kong: Skull Island” is a worthy addition to the King Kong franchise, but it also stands on its own as a rollicking adventure-horror movie. (Of course, you won’t want to miss the delightfully teasing post-credits scene that guarantees future monster encounters for the surviving crew.) There are tidbits of contemporary relevance, such as a slapstick dig against Washington and a two-word Samuel L. Jackson line that was nearly drowned out by audience laughter. But if you really only came to watch a giant ape smash things, you won’t be disappointed: around these parts, Kong truly is king.
“Kong: Skull Island” hits theaters nationwide on March 10.