Kong: Skull Island

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KONG: SKULL ISLAND proves you can’t keep a big, essentially good-hearted ape down, especially when you increase his KK size so that he’s 104 feet tall, the height from which he rules his reign in this fun 2017 smashup, the second installment in the ‘MonsterVerse’ franchise that also resurrects our beloved Godzilla. You can have your anguished Superhero destruction derby’s, with their pretense at Meaning to buffer explosions and impossible physics: we’ll take old-style giant creatures with newly-wizarded special effects any Saturday of the week.

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After an opening tease set in 1944, this kids-of-all-ages rouser sets its hairy paws down in 1973, with a US government sponsored ‘Monarch’ organization arranging for a Vietnam War-tested helicopter squadron of soldiers, under take-no-shit ‘Lt.Col. Preston Packard’ (Samuel L.Jackson), to cover the civilian scientists led by ‘Bill Randa’ (John Goodman). Randa and his people want to discover what exactly is lurking on the mysterious island of the title. Goodman is one of the few actors who could get away with saying something like “My agency is known as MONARCH. We specialize in the hunting of Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms.” 

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As directed pedal-to-medal by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, the script sets the earnest tongue-in-cheek tone early with a cameo from a dead-panning Richard Jenkins. Working from a story by John Gatins (Flight), screenwriters Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawlers), Max Berenstein and Derek Connally make the right tone calls by hearkening back to the wide-eyed feel of matinee-days-gone-by—“Is that a monkey?”—with a sprinkle flavoring of recent era cynic savvy: “Sometime’s there’s no enemy until you look for one.”

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Going with the flow are Tom Hiddleston as a tracker (how exactly do you train for this?) and Brie Larson as a gutsy photo-journalist along to offer anti-war, pro-nature contrast to the shoot-anything-that-breathes ethos from Jackson. There are nice smaller roles for Shia Wigham and Toby Kebbell, and the lineup is topped off by the great John C. Reilly as ‘Hank Marlow’, the WW2 pilot from the opener sequence, stranded with Kong and Skull’s wildlife and indigenous folk for 29 years until the expedition shows up.

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As opposed to the Skull Island human residents of the 1933 King Kong, who were ooga-booga antagonists from the Tarzan-school of natives and the degenerate troglodytic wraiths in the 2005 version, here the islanders are understandably territorial and reticent, but are also basically friendly and helpful. A fresh array of flora & fauna feasting creatures are on display, imaginatively designed.

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It’s one of the biggest King’s yet, a good five times loftier than Peter Jackson’s 2005 hero, but Mr. Kong will need the heft for his forthcoming battle with Godzilla. Romper locations include Vietnam (Ha Long Bay, Ninh Binh, Quang Binh), Australia (Queensland’s Gold Coast, Mt.Tamborine and Moreton Bay) and Hawaii (the Kualoa Ranch on Oahu). Looks great in the camera wielded by Larry Fong (Watchmen), and the bountiful special effects are top-rate.

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Oscar-nominated for the Visual Effects (how could they not?), the adventure took $185,000,000 to make and another $136,000,000 to market. Well-spent and smartly laid on, the audience-hooking foray made a global splash by grossing $566,700,000.

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With John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Thomas Mann, Jason Mitchell, Miyavi, and Jing Tian. Henry Jackman’s soundtrack is peppered with ‘Nam Era hits like “Time Has Come Today, “Paranoid” and “Run Through The Jungle”.  Cut to fit at a trim 118 minutes. We dig.

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