With more than a few nods to Apocalypse: Now, the latest King Kong film is not short of thrilling visuals and solid acting. Kong: Skull Island takes place in 1973, just as the U.S. is pulling out of the Vietnam War and the world is changing all at once. Satellite images reveal an undiscovered island in the middle of the Pacific and Bill Randa (John Goodman) and his Yale-educated backup, Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) make a desperate plea for a senator to fund their research on newly discovered Skull Island. They’ll need military escort too.
Choppers blasting Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” a boat going upriver on a suicide mission/quest for freedom, a wise beyond their years photojournalist, a Colonel who has gone crazy in the jungle, the poster art… all of that adds up to the previously mentioned Apocalypse references. There is plenty here that will be recognizable to anyone familiar with Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” Oddly enough, those bits help move the story forward. The colonel who is losing grip on reality is Preston Packard, played by Samuel L. Jackson with his typical bad-ass snarl. His unit is made of a mixed bag of brothers in arms, some eager to get home, others resigned to fight another day. As the war in Vietnam ends, Packard is not ready to be sent to the old soldier’s home, so he prays for one more mission. And for his sins, he is given one. At one point, Packard and Kong meet eye to eye on the field of battle and it is not clear which one is more menacing, Sam Jackson, or the 150 foot tall gorilla.
The gorilla, of course, is the reason for the film. Much like the Kong from the 1933 classic, he’s not a vicious beast, but more of a being protecting what is his. Randa came to Skull Island looking for a fight. In between clobbering giant squids and getting into a UFC throwdown with a giant lizard/killing machine, Kong gives him a fight. There have been plenty of entertaining King Kong films. The Toho Studios-produced Kong films had their charms. The 1976 version with Charles Grodin and Jeff Bridges had its’ moments. The 2005 version directed by Peter Jackson was three hours of boredom. The latest version of the Kong story has amazing special effects, a great cast that sells the premise and some amazing fight sequences.
John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow is a P-51 Mustang pilot from World War II, shot down in 1944. He’s a man who eked out an existence, passing the years dreaming about his wife, his son and opening day at Wrigley Field watching the Cubs with a beer in one hand and a hot dog in the other. Spending decades thinking about the Cubs will drive anyone crazy. The photojournalist mentioned above is played by Academy Award Winner Brie Larson. She’s experienced in war photography and surviving in the jungle. Larson has an expressive face and a few sarcastic lines that push the story forward. She is aided by former British Special Ops Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston). For a pair thrown together in adverse circumstances, the pair seems to bond quickly. Add in a tribe of silent locals who view Kong as a God and protector and you have an entertaining film. Stay until after the credits role.