I liked “Kong: Skull Island.”
It’s stylish without letting the style intrude on the film’s comprehensibility. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, besides having a cool name, looks like a filmmaker to keep an eye on. He uses artful transitions, strong compositions, and dramatic lighting to enhance the film, giving it an artistic sensibility that still doesn’t detract from the film’s raison-d’etre: watching giant monsters fight.
And there’s certainly a good amount of that, and it’s satisfying. Most of the monster mayhem takes advantage of the same technique director Gareth Edwards used so well in 2014’s “Godzilla.” The sheer scale of the creatures is consistently emphasized by always showing them in relation to something a lot smaller, mostly the humans scurrying away. This isn’t like “Pacific Rim,” a giant monsters vs. giant robots movie that somehow placed most of its action in the middle of an ocean where their scale became moot.
“Kong” also has a Spielbergian sense of humor that verges on the gallows spectrum of ha-ha moments: a smash cut from a poor soldier falling into Kong’s mouth to a close-up of a sandwich going into a man’s mouth, for example. Or when another character’s eaten (a lot of people are eaten or stomped on in the film, so think of that before bringing really young’uns to the theater) and the flash from his camera intermittently illuminates his slide down the monster’s digestive tract.
All of this is elevated by a rather clever script by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly. The film is set in 1973 at the end of Vietnam War, and it uses the setting as more than “Look at those silly outfits/hair” window dressing that period specific films sometimes do. There are a pointed exchanges peppered throughout, such as when one soldier points out that war actually creates the enemies you’re looking for, which dovetails nicely with the film’s de facto villain, Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), a Lieutenant Colonel, whose frustration and anger about Vietnam fuels his vendetta against Kong. I like that his character isn’t a bad guy; his actions are understandable, though only up to a certain point.
The movie as a whole is a giant riff on previous “King Kong” films of the past, thankfully without being beholden to any one of them. As such, characters or their types from those earlier films show up, Tom Hiddleston in roguish Han Solo mode is much like Adrien Brody’s character in Peter Jackson’s interminable “King Kong” from 2005, and Brie Larson’s photojournalist is an amalgamation of Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange from the Dino De Laurentiis produced “King Kong.” Brie has the model looks of Lange, but in a nice touch is the one looking through the camera, like Bridges in the predecessor, rather than simply the one being looked at.
“Skull Island” also only touches on the connection between Brie’s character and Kong, and it remains only that, a connection. There’s no creepy suggestion of anything more and no climbing up the Empire State Building this time around, a vision so clichéd, I was grateful I didn’t have to endure it once more.
Kong is actually less of a tragic figure in this reboot and more of a hero/protector, much like Godzilla from the aforementioned 2014 release. This extra-large superhero mode fits both of them nicely. And yes, this is the second reference to Godzilla. Stay through the end credits to find out why.
In the end, “Kong: Skull Island” is an enjoyable affair. But I must admit that even though it runs at a nice clip, only barely breaching the two hour mark, I was exhausted by the end. Even with all of the film’s nice touches, its visual inventiveness and somewhat thoughtful script, there’s only so much giant monster pummeling a man can take before it all just becomes digital noise. Still, if you’re into giant monster movies, it’s definitely worth a look.