Combustible Celluloid
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With: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell
Written by: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly, based on a story by John Gatins
Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language
Running Time: 118
Date: 03/09/2017

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Ape Fear

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Kong: Skull Island could have been a by-the-numbers entry in the eighty-four year-old King Kong franchise.

Instead it's a well-crafted, intense ride that derides shoot-first-think-later military rationale, and champions curiosity and compassion.

Kong: Skull Island is not a remake of the 1933 King Kong, which has already spawned two remakes, in 1976 and 2005. Rather, it's a series reboot, an attempt to turn the big ape into a super-franchise, along with his pal Godzilla.

The movie's masterstroke is setting the story in 1973, just at the end of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. A wartime mentality, transferred to this island of colossal monsters, offers constantly-intriguing commentary.

It also ties neatly into WWII. In the 1944 prologue, two soldiers, one U.S. and one Japanese, crash land on the island, and one survives there for 28 years.

He ages into Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), a man that understands the politics and hierarchies of the island. Unexpectedly, this is Reilly's richest role and best performance since his Oscar-nominated turn in Chicago.

Then, the reasons for getting a new crew of scientists to Skull Island to meet the giant simian are rather murky, but are easily forgiven.

Among them, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) is a savvy, British ex-soldier with experience in the jungle, and Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) is a spunky war photographer.

Fierce, piercing, career soldier Lt. Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his helicopter squadron are ordered to be escorts. Weirdly in his element, Packard faces down the horrendous behemoths no differently than he would the Viet Cong.

An attempt to measure the uncharted terrain accidentally awakens numerous terrifying beasties, and infuriates our famous ape. As with Peter Jackson's King Kong, this CG Kong comes with a surprisingly strong, sympathetic personality.

The effects are astonishingly smooth and detailed, and the sleek, swift camerawork and editing match them. Plus, unlike most other recent blockbusters, Kong: Skull Island never outstays its welcome, clocking in at just under two hours.

This is the second feature by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, whose The Kings of Summer was a bright, rambunctious comedy; this one is bigger but still remains rooted in humans and humor.

The director continually finds fresh angles, from overhead, gasp-inducing landscapes to close-ups intended to illustrate just who is the real monster.

If the mysterious closing line of the 1933 film was "it was beauty killed the beast," then this timely sequel may have hopes for a beautiful beast to awaken humankind.

Warner Home Video's Blu-ray release features top-of-the-line picture and sound, very impressive for any home system. It includes a happy commentary track by director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, plus several short featurettes, deleted scenes, and trailers. The disc also comes with a DVD and a digital copy.

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