If you’ve gone to the movies this century, you know that you never, never say yes to a mission on a remote island, especially if you’re going with a mix of scientists and soldiers.
But in 1973 nobody knew that, at least not if they didn’t watch Godzilla movies, so Samuel L. Jackson can be forgiven if it takes half of Kong: Skull Island before he says “I’m getting’ sick and tired of these mother frakking monkeys on this mother frakking island!” (Kidding. But if he did say that, I’d be paraphrasing.)
Jackson is Colonel Packard, who commands the military part of the expedition, and for him it’s perfect timing: the Vietnam War has just ended, leaving Packard out of sorts and looking for a fight he’ll be allowed to win. He doesn’t hesitate to join up with a British survival guide (Tom Hiddleston), a war photographer (Brie Larson), and members of the mysterious Project Monarch, including Bill Randa (John Goodman), who knows more than he’s letting on about a strange island surrounded by perpetual storms.
Spoiler alert: There’s a giant ape stomping around on the island.
In fairly short order the humans manage to piss off the ape, who in even shorter order makes (sometimes literally) mincemeat out of them. The saner characters want to get the heck out, but Packard has lost men and goes full on Captain Ahab with this hairy Moby Dick. This even after a stranded World War II airman (John C. Reilly) tries to explain Kong is protecting a tribe on the island—and maybe all humanity—from even more violent beasts, which we learn are called Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms.
By this time many moviegoers are scratching their heads over a strange feeling of deja vus. “Wait—haven’t we heard of M.U.T.O. and Project Monarch before?
Yes, we have: In 2014’s Godzilla, which is why monster movie buffs are in such a tizzy. One of the first movies I remember was Godzilla vs. King Kong, which was released the year I was born (ahem--I saw it later), and now we’re being set up for a rematch.
But back to Kong: Skull Island, which stands up very well on its own, thank you. The cast is first rate, and you’d be hard pressed to tell where the digital effects began, although I’m betting they didn’t have a hundred foot tall animatronic ape on set. The movie was filmed around the world, and some of the scenery is breathtaking, as are the action sequences. Oh, and there’s also a plot, which in general amounts to “How do we get off this island?” and “which monster’s side are we on?” The characters face the possibility that killing Kong might release the island’s other monsters onto the world, but that if they don’t Kong might, you know, kill them.
One warning: The movie’s rated PG13, but it should be R. The violence is pretty intense and sometimes graphic and, naturally, lots of people die. Also, there’s a giant spider. Eek!
If you’re any kind of a monster movie fan, stay for the post-credits scene.
Entertainment value: 4 M&M’s. The movie was so fast-paced and action-packed that even the little kid two rows back who would NOT. STOP. TALKING. didn’t ruin the experience.
Oscar potential: 4 M&M’s. Not for actors, cause’ hey—genre movie. But there needs to be some Academy love for effects, cinematography … I don’t know … Kong’s makeup?