ReelBob: ‘Kong: Skull Island’

By Bob Bloom

King Kong has undergone several iterations since he was introduced to the world in 1933 as “The Eighth Wonder of the World” in
“King Kong.”

Even after all these years, that stop-action pioneering, black-and-white feature continues to grip the imagination in a way that none of its various remakes has been able to reproduce.

Now comes “Kong: Skull Island.” The movie is a CGI extravaganza that is a feast to the eye and a prime example of how technology has improved special effects since the original film.

But technology comes with a cost. While “Kong: Skull Island” is visual eye candy, its sophistication and excellence negate the fairy tale-magical quality that endeared the original to generations of filmgoers.

In this iteration, the creatures are far more interesting than the humans.

The movie, set in 1973, involves a disparate group of people uniting for an expedition to an uncharted island in the south Pacific, where, as John Goodman’s Bill Randa says, “Myth and science meet.”

The end of the Vietnam War plays a big role in the movie. A group of soldiers, headed by Lt. Col. Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), goes along as protection.

Packard, a hard-ass type, mourns the end of the Vietnam conflict and sees this new mission as way of continuing to fight.

As the cliché goes, be careful what you wish for.

When the swarm of helicopters breach a storm that continually shrouds the island, they begin dropping explosives, which arouse Kong, who quickly turns all the copters into scrap metal, while snacking on some of their inhabitants as well.

The movie soon becomes a fight for survival as those soldiers and civilians who remain try for an extraction point.

Along the way, Packard and the expedition encounter various man-chomping beasties who relish the taste of flesh.

They also encounter a World War II pilot, played by John C. Reilly, who has been stranded on the island since 1944. His warnings about ugly and ravenous lizard-like creatures he calls “Skull Crushers” go unheeded, especially by Packard.

It seems the senior officer has gone a bit over the edge, deciding to go to war against Kong for killing his soldiers.

The two memorable performances in the film are diametrically opposed turns. Jackson’s Packard is an uber-intense war, who is Kurtz-like in his single-mindedness about destroying his new enemy. (For newbies, Marlon Brando portrayed the brooding Col. Kurtz in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.”)

Reilly adds some much-needed humor to his character, a guy the others think is crazy, despite having survived 27 years on the island.

His reaction to 1973 music, his inquiries about the Chicago Cubs and current world events, as well as some of his one-liners, help lighten the mood.

The movie’s nominal leads are Tom Hiddleston as the disillusioned former British intelligence officer and Brie Larson as an antiwar photojournalist who had been embedded in Vietnam.

Theirs are basically paycheck roles for which they did not have to do much emoting.

It’s necessary to remain through all the closing credits to get an idea of where this franchise is going. You will either get excited or roll your eyes.

Before that, though, simply enjoy the 118 minutes of men vs. monsters and marvel at the effects that offer wonderment, but no heart.

Bob Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at bobbloomjc@gmail.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND
2½ stars out of 4
(PG-13), graphic and bloody violence, language

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