PLOT: 1972: An expedition consisting of scientists, soldiers and a handful of civilians ventures into an uncharted section of the South Pacific in search of the fabled Skull Island. Once they find it, they meet its king, a gigantic ape known as Kong - and Kong is not willing to share his home with these interlopers.
REVIEW: When Gareth Edwards' GODZILLA came out in 2014, a major drawback for me (along with plenty of others) was that there simply wasn't enough actual Godzilla in the film. Complaint number two was the flimsy nature of the protagonists, who were tepid placeholders while we waited for actual monster action. Well, no such issues with KONG: SKULL ISLAND, which introduces its titular monster early and ensures we see him - and other beasts - throughout the film as often as possible. Furthermore, the human cast is much more appealing here, and if the main characters aren't exactly lovable, they're played by A-listers who are likable enough to get us to invest in their plight for two hours.
You want to know what it's about? A bunch of humans foolishly seek out Skull Island, meet Kong, meet the other inhabitants of the place, regret the hell out of it. Really that uncomplicated. The script (worked on by three scribes, including NIGHTCRAWLER writer/director Dan Gilroy) needn't embellish this very simple story of man vs horrific nature. Additionally, it doesn't have much time for pleasantries like character development or inventive dialogue - and that's okay. KONG: SKULL ISLAND has one job, and it does it reasonably well.
This is a movie that my 13-year-old self would have loved. An enjoyably pulpy monster movie; over-the-top, filled to the brim with freakish creatures, shamelessly boasting a high body count. Not that my (age redacted) self didn't enjoy it, but the movie's pleasures are aimed directly at the adolescent part of the brain, which still gets a kick out of the sight of snarling behemoths beating the crap out of each other. You can tell director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (THE KINGS OF SUMMER) shares this enthusiasm, as his direction cleverly keeps us right in the thick of the action, which is plentiful. The CGI isn't always top-notch - there's just so much of it, flawlessness would be an impossibility - but when viewed as something of a live-action cartoon, it's hard to complain too much about the film's vast array of creepy beasts.
It's not necessarily fair to stack SKULL ISLAND up to Kong movies of the past, as it's definitely not a remake. The action is set almost entirely in the deadly jungle, and Kong is a real brute, which means you needn't worry about him ice skating while on a date, or getting romantically involved at all. This movie correctly views its big boy as a savage animal, concerned with protecting his territory, eating, and little else. That's not to say he's mindless; KONG does acknowledge that this beast is capable of knowing who's with him and who's against him. But he's no sweetheart, either. Early on we witness him bash about a dozen army helicopters to bits with angry aplomb, even chowing down on a helpless man or two. In terms of his natural neighbors, Kong can kick the ass of any sizable colossus. While I do believe the sequence between King Kong and the T-Rexs in Peter Jackson's 2005 film has not been topped in terms of pure outrageous spectacle, there are several scenes where Vogt-Roberts' Kong throws down in rousing fashion (especially an epic final battle with the island's other alpha-predator).
As for the human players, there is only one genuine standout: John C. Reilly, who shows up mid-movie to bring a whole new energy to the proceedings. As a 30-year resident of the island (his fighter plane was shot down during WWII), Reilly's loopy Hank Marlowe is a little bit Dennis Hopper in APOCALYPSE NOW, a little bit... well, John C. Reilly. The script cares more about Hank than anyone else in the picture, giving him equal opportunity to admit affection for his surroundings and its inhabitants while also yearning for his family back home. Tom Hiddleston is perfectly acceptable as the British tracker hired to get the team through the jungle, although he's not quite the leading man you might expect. (The film is assuredly an ensemble piece.) Brie Larson is inherently likable, and though her war photographer character doesn't have many layers, Larson instills her with self-possessed amiability. Old pros Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman only need bring their faces to the roles of a vengeful colonel and monster hunter, respectively, and we'll buy them. There are many other supporting players involved, and they're just fine, but they don't bring much to the table... other than themselves as potential meals for the island's hungry residents.
But you come to SKULL ISLAND for a monster mash, and on those terms it delivers. It's not an instant-classic or a game-changer, but it gets enough right to satisfy the part of you that enjoys nothing more than seeing enormous creatures lay waste to each other and humans alike. KONG: SKULL ISLAND is undemanding entertainment, and you can't ask for much more than that.