While watching Kong: Skull Island, you will witness a quite eventful minute for Brie Larson’s war photojournalist character, Mason Weaver. In the span of just a few seconds, Mason falls off of a mountain, lands in a lake filled with creatures, almost drowns, is picked up by a giant gorilla – then, my favorite part: with the same fist in which Kong is holding Mason, Kong punches a monster down the throat, ripping out its tongue.
Many years later, how does Mason Weaver tell that story to her future children?
“Mom, I had a bad day at school. Buddy Lancaster stole my lunch money.”
“Oh, yeah. Well, I was once inside a giant gorilla’s fist as he used that same fist to rip out a monster’s tongue and everything turned out okay. So, I dunno, maybe take a sack lunch tomorrow.”
Anyway, Kong: Skull Island is a hoot.
Admittedly, I really didn’t feel I needed another King Kong movie in my life. It was only 12 years ago that Peter Jackson made a pretty fine reimagining of the King Kong Story. But even with that movie, we knew the story: Kong is found on a remote island, he’s brought to the United States, he climbs a tall building and swats at airplanes. If Peter Jackson’s version couldn’t quite find its audience (Jackson’s King Kong got pretty good reviews, but was considered a disappointment at the box office), why would we think we needed director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ version in 2017?
Set in 1973 during the final days of the Vietnam War, Kong: Skull Island doesn’t really even try to associate itself with the story that we already know. In that way, it’s refreshing. Bill Randa (John Goodman) is a senior official at Monarch (we met some Monarch folks back in Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla) who is trying to secure government funding for an expedition to a previously unseen island that has been recently discovered with satellite technology. (Randa finally pulls this off by telling a senator, played by Richard Jenkins, that if the U.S. didn’t go, the Russians surely would and we wouldn’t want that. Anyway, those were the days…)
A giant expedition to Skull Island is put together. Bill Randa is there, but he and his Monarch cronies have hired The Best Tracker money can buy in James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston). The aforementioned photojournalist Mason Weaver is part of the team. And there’s a large military presence, led by Samuel L. Jackson’s Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard – in which Jackson gives a surprisingly subdued and quiet performance. (I’m kidding; Jackson even brings back his “hold onto your butts” line from Jurassic Park.)
So, if you’re at all worried that you’re going to buy a ticket to see Kong: Skull Island and have to wait until the end of the movie to finally see Kong in action, this will not be an issue. As soon as the Vietnam-era helicopters enter the Skull Island airspace, they are greeted in a very rude manner by Kong, who effortlessly swats them out of the air.
This creates a split in the team, figuratively and geographically. James Conrad and Mason Weaver soon discover that Kong is the protector of this island and Kong saw the helicopters as threats. Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard wants to kill Kong as revenge for the men that were killed from his unit and Packard doesn’t care about the consequences to the local ecosystem.
I’m going to stop writing about the plot here and just mention there’s a scene in which Tom Hiddleston, while wearing a full gas mask, takes a samurai sword, in slow motion, and starts chopping creatures in half surrounded by bright green gas. While doing this, some of the scenes are from the point of view inside the gas mask.
And then John C. Reilly shows up as a World War II pilot who crash-landed on the island almost 30 years before. Again, what a hoot. Kong: Skull Island takes quite a turn once Reilly shows up. He adds a dash of madcap lunacy to the already fairly insane proceedings. (This role was originally intended for Michael Keaton, who had to leave the project because of a scheduling issue. I have no idea what Keaton would have done with this role. I bet, also, it would have been great. But I have no doubt it would be very different. I don’t think Reilly has any idea what kind of movie he’s in and I mean this as a great thing.)
My biggest complaint about Kong: Skull Island is that it isn’t even more ridiculous. Just when you start to think it’s going there, it pulls in the reins for whatever reason. Even though this is a movie in which Tom Hiddleston fights monsters with a samurai sword and Brie Larson’s character is momentarily inside a dragon-looking thing’s esophagus, it still wants to make a statement about the atrocities of war. Which, look, is noble, but also feels a little out of place in a movie with a gas masked, sword-waving, slow motion Tom Hiddelston.
Regardless, again, Kong: Skull Island is still a hoot. It was a movie that was not at all on my radar as something I was dying to see and yet I had way too much fun watching it. I just wished it had embraced its craziness just a little bit more. (But, yes, there’s still plenty of crazy to go around.)
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