Kong: Skull Island (2017) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Welcome to Skull Island

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As a monster flick, “Kong: Skull Island”, another remake of the 1933 classic film “King Kong”, works to some degrees. Besides its gigantic titular monster, it serves us with various big creatures to watch, and it also shows some sense of offbeat humor to amuse us at times. In short, this is a super-size product as huge as demanded, and it will satisfy anyone who simply wants to see big monsters on the screen.

After the prologue scene set in 1944, the movie moves forward to 1973, when the Vietnam War was being over with Richard Nixon’s public announcement. After persuading Senator Willis (Richard Jenkins), William Randa (John Goodman), a senior official of a government organization called Monarch, is permitted to do the expedition of a recently discovered tropical island located somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, and it is clear from the beginning that Randa’s purpose is not just exploring the island in question. He wants to be escorted by US Army soldiers armed with weapons and helicopters, so a helicopter squadron led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Sameul L. Jackson) is set to join the expedition, and he also hires a British tracker played by Tim Hiddleston.

Also joining the expedition is Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), a veteran war photographer searching for scoop. Nothing seems to be suspicious, and nobody stops her from accompanying Randa and his expedition team members, but Weaver senses something fishy about the expedition. After all, who can trust the government when the American society is being shaken by a certain political scandal involved with the White House?

After flying through the stormy region surrounding the island, the expedition team and Packard’s squadron finally land on the island, and then they come across what Randa is looking for. Quite bigger and taller than what was shown in the 1933 film or the 2005 remake film by Peter Jackson (I have not watched the 1976 remake film by Peter Guillermin yet), Kong here in this movie is also quite agile and ferocious in his movements, and Packard and his men soon find themselves outmatched by this humongous ape as it ruthlessly smacks down their helicopters one by one.

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As the characters who survived from this spectacular clash with Kong move around in the island, the movie delights or terrifies the audiences with other creatures of the island including a huge buffalo emerging from a swamp and a big, nasty spider hiding around a forest. In case of a flock of reptilian birds, they merely look harmless during their first appearance, but then they show their vicious side at one point later in the movie.

Of course, there are also a number of monster fight sequences which will definitely excite any monster movie fan, and the director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who previously debuted with small whimsical comedy drama “The Kings of Summer” (2013), handles well these and other big sequences decorated with lots of special effects. I like a certain sequence which took me back to that octopus scene in “Oldboy” (2003) for a good reason, and the climax sequence involved with Kong’s natural enemy species is quite intense and dynamic to say the least.

Compared to these solid visual spectacles, the story and characters of the movie feel rather small and superficial, and the talented main cast members of the movie are mostly wasted due to flat, underdeveloped characterization. Tom Hiddleston, who has shown that he can do a lot more than playing that forgettable villain in “Thor” (2011), does not have many things to do except filling his archetype role, and neither does Brie Larson, who was far more interesting and engaging in “Short Term 12” (2013) and “Room” (2015). Stuck in one-dimensional villain role, Samuel L. Jackson monotonously chews his scenes with his glaring stare, and John Goodman and Shea Whigham manage to leave some impression as ever-reliable character actors.

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The best performance in the film comes from John C. Riley, who simply steals the show as a World War II pilot who has been marooned in the island for nearly 40 years. Watching his character’s first appearance along with a bunch of silent island natives, I could not help but think of Dennis Hopper’s unhinged supporting character in “Apocalypse Now” (1979), and there are in fact numerous references to that great war film or Joseph Conrad’s short story which inspired that film. It is certainly no coincidence that the name of Hiddleston’s character is Conrad, and you will be amused by the name of Riley’s character if you have ever read Joseph Conrad’s short story.

Besides Riley’s delightfully nutty supporting performance, there are also several humorous moments which function as welcoming intervals between big scenes. The period details in the film including a Nixon doll and a magnetic tape player will bring some smile into your face, and I must point out that one particular joke in the film becomes more amusing due to what happened during the 2016 World Series in US.

On the whole, “Kong: Skull Island” is not so successful compared to the achievement of “King Kong” and its 2005 remake. I enjoyed some parts of it, but I was not involved in its story and characters much, so I cannot wholly recommend it although you will not waste your money if you just demand spectacles. If so, I can assure you that, as shown from a teaser scene following its end credits, there will definitely more to enjoy for you in the future – and you will probably not be disappointed.

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