MANILA, Philippines - The age of the Hollywood reboot continues full force with Kong: Skull Island, a thriller that takes us somewhere to the South Pacific for a bit of face-time with the largest Kong to yet hit the big screen. Directed by relative newcomer Jordan Vogt-Roberts, the $185 million resurrection of our favorite oversized primate brings a team of scientists, backed by military might during the tail-end of the Vietnam War (circa 1973), to a remote location where wild things are said to roam.
The government scientists are led by John Goodman, playing a researcher with secrets, while the Vietnam A-team is handled by far-too-enthusiastic commander Samuel L. Jackson. To keep things humanistic, there’s a soulful tracker played by Tom Hiddleston, and Brie Larson as a war photographer in a tanktop.
There’s more than a little loopiness to this concoction, which goes cheerfully bananas quite often (though perhaps not often enough), and is about as logic-free as a Sean Spicer White House press conference.
Our boys from the military are willing to follow Lt. Col Preston Packard (Jackson) into a brand new mission, despite just getting their discharge papers, in order to land a crew of researchers on so-called Skull Island, a forbidding place where prehistoric and evolutionary abnormalities flourish. (In fact, we’re told, military efforts to destroy these creatures with nuclear weapons post-WWII might have just, you know, exacerbated their mutations.)
Naturally, in this reboot of the ever-popular King Kong franchise, the big ape is largely misunderstood; he’s actually a protector of the island, a balancing force for its precarious (and deadly) ecosystem.
None of this cuts any ice with Packard, who quickly slips into Captain Ahab mode when several of his men are killed in an ill-advised helicopter raid on the island. He wants R-E-V-E-N-G-E, big-time.
Add to this a large slice of pecan crazy pie in the presence of John C. Reilly as a stranded WWII vet who never left Skull Island but has befriended its native (and completely speechless) inhabitants. He knows the true dangers that lurk there, but do the boys in khaki listen? Hell, no!
The script, which seems to have been written by 10-year-olds but was actually penned by Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler) and Max Borenstein, lurches from creature encounter to creature encounter, and it’s no spoiler to say that classic King Kong monsters pop up now and again, such as nasty towering spiders and large sea snakes. There are great and eerie prehistoric vistas (shot in Hawaii, mostly), fun bits involving a Japanese samurai sword, and though the dialogue is merely functional, the acting by Hiddleston, Larson, Reilly, Jackson and Goodman is more than committed enough to this bit of cinematic hokum. (I mean, the film is enough to wipe from your mind completely the fact that Larson won an Oscar for Room. It’s like a total brain reset.)
Kong himself, in this motion-grab incarnation, is dominant and sympathetic, and much bigger than previous outings (something like 150 feet tall). Director Vogt-Roberts works in some overt Apocalypse Now imagery (that fireball sun that Kong is silhouetted against, the slow-sweeping chopper blades, the crazy Reilly character channeling Dennis Hopper). The film also makes some kind of argument about ecological balance, and the danger of waging war on foreign terrains where the enemy dwells underground (Vietnam, in case you weren’t paying attention); but it’s really just an excuse to get Hiddleston out there in the jungle with a rifle, with Larson by his side in tanktop — a placeholder, as it were, for a promised future encounter with another primordial mutation from a recent reboot movie, one involving a huge lizard with noxious breath. Yes, the Toho-Godzilla-Hollywood reboot is now officially a thing, with hinted appearances by Ghidra, Mothra and Rodan. Hop aboard if you dare. (Or care.)