Scientists find another stash of giant animals in the Pacific in Kong: Skull Island.
According to Wikipedia, this is the second movie in the MonsterVerse of films from Legendary Entertainment and Warner Bros. that also includes Godzilla.
Scientists Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) are desperate to get approval for their project before the Vietnam War ends. They get the OK just as President Nixon announces “peace with honor.” Before all the soldiers head home, though, Bill asks for a military escort to take him, Brooks, fellow scientist San (Jing Tian) and some officials from Monarch (their parent company or project codename or something) out to Skull Island, a mysterious island in the Pacific that is perpetually surrounded by storms.
The scientists join up with a squad led by Lt. Col. Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), who jumps at the “one last mission” assignment. His men include Jack Chapman (Toby Kebbell), a man who has a family and new job waiting for him back home and frequently writes letters to his son (and might as well be saying “last day before retirement!” and “I’ll be right back!”). Other men (Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Eugene Cordero) on the mission also talk about their big plans for when they get home. James (Tom Hiddleston), an ex-British military guy good at hacking his way through a jungle, also joins the group. And joining the trip for absolutely no reason that makes sense at all is photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).
Once on the paradise-like island, the soldiers in helicopters head out to drop charges that Randa and Brooks say are meant to figure out something about the geological features. In reality, the charges are meant to wake up whatever they believe lives on the island and hoo, boy, does it ever. King Kong announces his presence by throwing a tree at one helicopter and then swatting down a few more. When the smoke has cleared and Packard finds himself holding the dog tags for the men who won’t be going home, he vows vengeance on Kong, Packard giving the skyscraper-sized gorilla the staredown like only Samuel L. Jackson can give something the staredown.
Scientists, soldiers and Brie Larson are thusly scattered across the island and need to find each other and their way to the predetermined rescue spot. When part of the group meets Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), a World War II soldier we see crash on the island at the start of the movie, they hear how Kong, in addition to smacking down interlopers, keeps a whole host of large scary lizard things at bay.
Kong gets loaded with a lot of stuff: the nature of war in general and the Vietnam War specifically; the whole “soldiers on their final mission” thing; some monster-related world-building, and whatever the movie was trying to do with Samuel L. Jackson’s character. (An aside on world-building: I’m not keen on this idea that you need to take notes at every movie so you can refer to them later, say in 2019 when the next Godzilla movie is scheduled to come out, according to Wikipedia. But if expanded cinematic universes are your jam, it is worth staying until the end of the credits for a bonus scene and a certain sound effect that still gives me chills.) Not unlike with the 2014 Godzilla movie, the bare bones of Kong aren’t bad: mysterious Pacific island, early atomic age and its connection to giant subterranean monsters, the primal fear of monsters, the idea that man can try to tame nature but nature can fight back, the fun of “big thing want smash” as the source of your action. (I even appreciate the addition of the modern-feeling idea that war on one enemy can end up empowering another.)
But in Kong, as with Godzilla, I, like a kid picking broccoli and mushrooms off a pizza, would like to scrape off a good helping of Kong’s toppings. Goodbye, everything to do with Vietnam. See you later, Capt. Father-Guy and his letters to his kid. Whittle the team down to John Goodman and the two main scientists, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson (more for tradition’s sake than because her character had anything interesting to do), John C. Reilly and no more than three Monarch guys/soldiers to get eaten during the action scenes. This movie is at its best when the humans are trying to figure out the giant animal puzzle, specifically the Kong paradox of both needing to get away from him and needing him to keep a lid on all the weird lizard creatures.
Kong: Skull Island is a decent enough stab at bringing King Kong back to screens. I just wish it, and the rest of this MonsterVerse thing, would just keep its eyes on the monsters and let some of the human drama go. B-
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action and for brief strong language. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts with a screenplay by Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly, Kong: Skull Island is an hour and 58 minutes long and distributed by Warner Bros.