Kong: Skull Island: I Liked It?!?!

Kong: Skull Island Plot Summary:

Set in 1973, an eccentric scientist (John Goodman), who believes in the existence of monsters, leads an expedition to a mysterious island not yet explored.  With the aid of a military escort, led by the fiery Col. Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), an experienced tracker (Tom Hiddleston) and famous photographer (Brie Larson), the crew get more than they bargained for, including the finding of a monstrous sized ape known only as Kong.

I was ready to bash my head in with a Kong-sized bat within the first three minutes of this film. Even while the studio/production credits are going on, you can hear silly little cartoon sound effects in the background. Then we cut to a goofy shot of a guy falling. The acting is over bearing to the point of nausea. I kept thinking to myself, “What in God’s name am I in for?”  I was terrified about the next two hours of my life.

By the grace of the movie gods though, the film settles down, and Kong: Skull Island is easily my biggest early surprise of the year. I’m not saying this is The Deer Hunter, but director Jordan Vogt-Roberts managed to make a non-boring, entertaining, and most importantly of all, an engaging story that just happens to have a giant ape in it.  Unlike 2014’s atrocious Godzilla, this movie works because the human characters are actual people. I cared.

Thank Donkey Kong for this cast. They came to work. The script isn’t exactly J.D. Salinger, but it gives all these great actors enough material to work with. It’s really hard for John Goodman to be bad. He was even decent in The Flintstones for crying out loud, a movie that is Yabba Dabba crap. Goodman is the perfect lynchpin to kick all of this off.  All his theories are the ramblings of a crack pot scientist, but just like Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future, you buy into him because he’s John Goodman.  As Bill Randa, it’s Goodman’s job in the first scene to get you excited about the mission, and he succeeds.

A lot of people think that merely getting Samuel L. Jackson in your movie means automatic entertainment value at the very least. I will point you to xXx: Return of Xander Cage and The Legend of Tarzan to dissuade you of that notion. Even a presence like Jackson doesn’t always work. Thankfully in this film, it does. The script actually gives him a pathos and motivator.  This is a disgruntled war hero whose life means nothing if he isn’t fighting things.  Jackson brings his vintage brand of crazy, with a good mix of seriousness.  He’s a great foil for not only Kong, but all these characters.

Rounding out the primary players are Brie Larson as a ballsy photo journalist, and Tom Hiddleston as a jaded professional bad ass, I guess? I don’t know how else to describe him.  Cards on the table – I’m not a big Hiddleston fan. He’s fine. This is probably one of his better performances. He’s very charismatic and takes the bull by the horns. Larson gives a great performance, as she usually does. My only complaint with her character is how annoying she is. She always looks like she wants to say something uber snarky.  She’ll fit right in with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The one character I thought was going to derail this entire movie turned out to be the most emotionally satisfying, that being John C. Reilly as a guy from World War II who’s been living on the island for nearly thirty years. When you see him in the trailers, you’re thinking he’s going to be the annoying crazy comic relief guy. Not at all. While he’s a bit rattled from isolation, he’s actually the heart of the film. John C. Reilly gives a legit performance, showing off his versatility to the fullest.

While some of the other supporting roles contribute meaty moments, such as Shea Whigham as Captain Cole, and Thomas Mann as Slivko, in a cast this big, some are bound to be stinkers. Corey Hawkins and Tian Jing are fine as Randa’s science team, but Toby Kebbell and Jason Mitchell are wasted as no personality military guys #1 & #2, effectively playing the Josh Duhamel/Tyrese Gibson Transformer roles. The bottom-line is this – unlike 2014, where not seeing Godzilla was a huge detriment because the characters blew, I could have waited even more time before Kong showed up.  Having said that, once Kong pops in, he’s King, pun intended.

Any fear of 2014 Godzilla syndrome can be officially wiped away. You see Kong. You see him a lot. You see him eat. You see him fight. You see him in all his damn glory. They nailed it. Big kudos to director Jordan Vogt-Roberts. The direction is top notch. Vogt-Roberts pulls off a lot of nifty tricks and surprises. Aside from Kong, there’s plenty of other down right terrifying monsters and creatures running around. And unlike Peter Jackson’s 2005 dung-fest, it’s not an exhaustive 80-minute CGI sequence of people running through the jungle. The movie is efficient. This is basically a better Jurassic World.

Speaking of Jurassic World, this movie doesn’t escape the dumb factor. There’s still plenty of silly non-sense to kvetch about.  Some of the early dialogue is embarrassing. Samuel L. Jackson at one point says “Hold onto your butts.” Get it?  It’s because Samuel L. Jackson was in this movie called Jurassic Park in 1993 where he says the exact same line, and it became really famous. So get this?  This is so genius! They thought it would be “hilarious” to have him say that in this movie!  Get it?  Isn’t that just so clever?  In the words of Billy Madison, “HAHAHAHAHA!  OH MY GOD, THAT IS FUNNY!”  That really pisses me off! WHY DO THAT?  And this can’t be a studio demand. Is Samuel L Jackson saying that line really going to have a financial advantage when it comes to the film’s box office?  That means this falls directly onto the screenwriters or director.  If true, that’s really disappointing.

Despite that unfortunate debacle, this is a very entertaining film.  It’s never boring, and there’s always crap going on.  It does wear a bit thin at the end, but the runtime doesn’t over stay its welcome.  It’s also got a solid soundtrack.

This isn’t the greatest movie ever made, but they could have easily dumped out a milk dud turd for a quick buck, but kudos to the cast and director, who clearly showed a level of care.  You’ll get your money’s worth.

Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow’s fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.