Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Written by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly (Story by John Gatins)
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly
Tagline: All Hail The King
Trivia: Many of the actors repeat iconic lines from their previous films.
Although Kong: Skull Island rides the nostalgia train like so many other recent movies, it manages to tell a great story and succeeds where so many reboots fail: presenting an innovative twist on an old idea. A monster movie—Vietnam Allegory – – – telegraphed to 21st Century = the sweet spot.
The screenwriters picked the right films to emulate: the King Kong versions from 1933 and 1976. There’s the sense of fun and wonder from the original and the 70’s flavor of the maligned remake from the Bicentennial year (thankfully avoids the self-indulgent Peter Jackson version from 2005). Visually and thematically Skull Island also looked to Apocalypse Now and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. There’s also allusions to Aliens and Predator.
Set during the final days of the Vietnam War, the first half hour achieves a retro sense of gloom. John Goodman plays an explorer seeking government funding for an expedition to a mysterious island in the Pacific. Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) leads the military escort, joined by English Mercenary James Conrad (Tom Huddleston) and combat photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).
Their arrival on the island plays on the Apocalypse Now mythos as a squadron of helicopters attempt to penetrate the storm cloud surrounding it. Things quickly go south. Kong makes a grand entrance and takes out most of the expedition, but that’s just the beginning: several monsters inhabit the island.
Colonel Packard wants to re-fight the Vietnam War, waging a foolhardy campaign of extermination against Kong. Jackson took a stock character and added an extra dimension, with echoes of Captain Ahab and Colonel Kurtz.
On the island they meet a castaway from the Pacific War Hank Marlowe (John C. Reilly) in a performance rife with humor and humanity. Marlow takes over the second half of the movie.
Skull Island succeeds as a solid b-movie. The soundtrack features a fun set of 1970s tunes, taking a note from Guardians of the Galaxy. The action scenes are cartoonish, but compelling and well edited. Maybe not the best film of 2017, but certainly among the most entertaining.