March 12, 2017
It’s the post-Oscar movie season, so it’s time we bid a fond farewell to the sophisticated, high-brow heaviness of those Academy darlings and yell, “What up!” at some mindless levity, right? Except for the fact that the past month has offered up three of the finest action flicks in recent memory. If there was an Oscar-style award show for “surprisingly great early-year blockbusters” (the Neesons, maybe?) it might play out like this:
If Logan is the gritty, brooding, downcast Manchester by the Sea, and John Wick 2 is Moonlight, slightly unexpected, daring, high-stakes, arguably the best of the bunch, then one envelope malfunction away is La La Land or, in this analogy, Kong: Skull Island; that bright, beautiful, Technicolor reminder of why you love the movies. None of these will likely win any real awards, but if you’re looking for pure, popcorn fun, then this is manna from heaven.
Sticking with our principle of threes, here are the three things that make Kong kingly:
Considering screenwriters Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler), Derek Connolly (Jurassic World), and Max Borenstein (Godzilla, Minority Report) all had a hand in this, it should be no shocker that the result is a rollicking Apocalypse Now-meets-Predator thrill ride. The characters may be underdeveloped and the plot a bit conventional (a post-Vietnam War team of soldiers and scientists journey to a mysterious South Pacific island to investigate weird activity) but it’s rip-roaringly paced, LOL-a-minute, and entertaining as hell.
First of all, this Kong is straight ripped! He definitely did not skip shoulder day at the gym. Whether he’s taking on a swarm of military helicopters or other hideous monsters of Skull Island, the fight sequences are spectacular, the CGI work is amazing, and the violence is totally brutal. In fact, I am stunned that this movie somehow got a PG-13 rating with all the F-bombs and giant monsters ripping people in half. Maybe that can be attributed to the fact that it’s not realistically sobering man vs. man violence, and that so-called “intense sci-fi violence” is apparently less offensive to the MPAA. Anyway, it’s good stuff, and it’s all set to a sensational soundtrack of far-out ‘70s rock classics!
It’s an incredible ensemble crew: Tom Hiddleston (aka Loki) proves that he is equally adept as heroic leading man as he is as nefarious villain; Oscar-winner Brie Larson (Room) flawlessly brings her girl-next-door charm from art house indie to big budget blockbuster; Corey Hawkins shows that he can not only fight record execs (Straight Outta Compton), zombies (The Walking Dead), and terrorists (24: Legacy), but also monstrous monkeys and other supernatural beasts (seriously, the dude is in everything right now); and John Goodman (The Big Lebowski) is never out of his element.
However, since we’re making making up awards, here are three Neesons for the most outstanding actors in this film.
Samuel L. Jackson continues to somehow find new and better ways to curse. Make no mistake, this is not Mace Windu/CapitalOne Sammy J, this is Stephen from Django/Bad Mother F*cker Sammy J. “Hold onto your butts!”
Most Understated Awesomeness
Character actor Shea Whigham (Boardwalk Empire, The Wolf of Wall Street) is fantastic at everything he does and this is no exception. From hilarious to heartbreaking to horrific, the man can do it all (and he’ll be visiting TV’s Fargo in Season 3).
Ultimately, with all the great performances, this movie belongs to John C. Reilly (Talladega Nights, Boogie Nights, many other non-Nights movies). I don’t want to drop a spoiler by describing his character too much, but let’s just say he’s brilliantly bonkers. He somehow manages to be both the funniest and most moving character in the story.
For better or worse, Skull Island does what 2005’s King Kong could not: give birth to yet another monster franchise. And, reportedly there are crossovers in the works. As much as I’ve resisted the Hollywood fixation on franchising, I get it, and I guess I’ve got to embrace it. Will I line up for the Fantastic Beasts magicians vs. the Now You See Me kids? Um, no. But do I wanna see Kong vs. Godzilla on Planet of the Apes? Um, yes.
Or, to quote the great Sammy J, “Bitch, please!”
Star Rating: 4 out of 5