Stop waiting for the summer to roll around. The most exciting blockbuster of the year is already here.
“Kong: Skull Island” is the fifth movie since 1933 to feature the giant ape. This time, the simian overlord is making his appearance to build up Legendary Entertainment’s ‘MonsterVerse’: a connected universe that will soon feature movie monsters fighting one another. After the mediocre reboot of “Godzilla”, I was highly skeptical that this universe would turn out well: American monster movies were far too self-serious to pull off the idea with the amusing ease of their Japanese counterparts.
And then along came “Kong”, going and proving me wrong by tossing all semblance of seriousness out of an open helicopter. This reboot is the stunning 70s savagery of “Apocalypse Now” meets the thrilling discovery of “Jurassic Park”, with a tone that stresses entertainment above all. It’s pure monster fun, distilled through the prettiest direction and cinematography in the genre.
The narrative is little more than a vehicle trundling towards the action on Skull Island, but the setup is brisk enough to fly by with little room for complaint. It’s 1973 and an eccentric government agent (John Goodman) is out to prove that there’s something else out there — not in space, but in our planet. He gets permission for one last search mission, prompting him to bring along the military (featuring Samuel L. Jackson), a washed-up but capable tracker (Tom Hiddleston), a driven and earnest photojournalist (Brie Larson), and a scattering of scientists.
Don’t expect more character development than those descriptions. “Kong: Skull Island” is crowded with paper-thin characters that are barely people. Only a select few of them have discernible motivations, which they tend to follow far beyond the realm of human reason. These are uninteresting pawns making stupid decisions; there is no complex humanity at odds with the island’s monsters.
But that matters little when the monsters are so glorious! The movie’s special effects work is nothing short of awe-inspiring. King Kong is huger than ever (and, biologically, more of a massive chimp than a gorilla this time around); an imposing beast that demands enraptured attention to each set piece he dominates. Whenever he’s on screen you’ll be wearing an open-mouthed smile, seeing as it’s impossible to un-drop your jaw once the island’s thrills start. The idiosyncratic creature designs allow for fascinatingly visceral fights.
Simply put, this is the greatest ‘battling giant things’ movie since “Pacific Rim”. When tiny humans participate in the skirmishes, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts finds clever staging methods that keep things engaging.
The best part of “Kong: Skull Island” though? That would be the direction and cinematography. Vogt-Roberts’ background in indie film is marked by visual experimentation, which bursts onto the scene here in grand scale without losing any ingenuity. In terms of shot composition, framing and overall photography direction, this is one of the most breathtaking and beautiful films of the millennium.
The visual style is not just impressive: it’s endlessly interesting. Every shot is inventive — all of them, I was keeping track. Each shot could be a separate painting lining the walls of an art gallery. Cinematographer Larry Fong’s vision is poetry in motion. Monster insanity this artful deserves a trip to an IMAX theater.
The dialogue is riddled with clichés and most of the actors have little to work with, save for John C. Reilly — his hilarious character is given so much attention that he ends up as the movie’s de facto emotional center. Brie Larson manages to wrestle warmness out of the bland writing, bless her gifted soul. The characters aren’t very convincing, but if you walk into “Kong: Skull Island” expecting its gorgeous brand of surface level ridiculousness, you will not be disappointed in the slightest.