Not-quite-great ape still delivers some massive popcorn thrills
Hollywood just can't quit King Kong. Since the 1933 original, it seems every decade or two we'll get another stab at the story of the greatest ape ever. And perhaps it's because they keep monkeying around and never quite get it right.
It's been just over a decade since Peter Jackson took a turn at Kong in an ambitious remake that hit a lot of the right notes but was a marathon with a three-hour running time. I suppose coming off of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy it didn't occur to him that a movie could be shorter.
“Kong: Skull Island” can't be accused of overstaying its welcome. This is slam-bang, blockbuster filmmaking stuffed with action and eye candy. And even if it's not much more than that, it's tough to not be entertained.
It's 1973 when Bill Randa (John Goodman) arrives in Washington to convince a senator to back his plan for a mission to explore a mysterious, skull-shaped island known as, wait for it, Skull Island. Randa calls it “the land where God didn't finish creation.” The team of explorers that's soon assembled will find out why.
The team includes a former British intelligence agent turned tracker-for-hire (Tom Hiddleston), a photojournalist fresh off of documenting the Vietnam War (Brie Larson) and the leader of the expedition's military escort (Samuel L. Jackson).
Spoiler alert: There's a really big monkey on the island.
“Skull Island” sets up its reimagining of this tale efficiently and effectively, and little time is wasted before we first encounter Kong (rendered in truly impressive CGI). The movie's pace is a fault at times — a little more tension building wouldn't have been a bad thing — but that's also because this movie is packed.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts is an interesting choice, with his only other feature being the quirky coming-of-age indie “The Kings of Summer,” but he keeps a lot of plates spinning admirably with doses of comedy and man vs. nature themes levied against lots of big things breaking stuff.
It helps to have that cast, to be sure, although down the final act the action may have overreached the director's skills, as things get too hectic to follow at times.
It may not reach the heights of predecessors, but “Skull Island” succeeds as an unabashed popcorn movie. Oh, and stick around after the credits for this one.