More than once, the meeting of eyes inspired an alternative title… “King Kong vs. Samuel L. Jackson.” Regardless, Kong: Skull Island owes something to its director. As such, Jordan Vogt-Roberts coordinates spectacle at a perilous clip. He’s beyond the gimmick of teasing us because this iconic face has been mapped thoroughly. Also, there’s no time for character development as the big bad ape does a lot of smashing. Then again, does this creature seem all that villainous or does his behaviour reflect someone defending home turf?
The gold standard might always be Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s 1933 undertaking King Kong. Many misfires have followed, including Peter Jackson’s well-intentioned if hyperbolic 2005 reboot. However, Jackson inspired our belief in Kong as a spiritual being. The same goes for Vogt-Roberts. Despite the loss of human life, rooting for Kong virtually conquers all other matters. Ultimately, the heart behind this beast resides in empathy.
Things I enjoyed about Kong: Skull Island could fill many long chapters inside a book. Forgiving the rather ham-fisted soundtrack that composer Henry Jackman could not master, this film boasts expertly rendered, character-driven CGI. Pluses also include Richard Pearson’s editing. His work excites the pulse, while allowing room to exhale.
Meanwhile, Samuel L. Jackson harkens back to the cool characters he played in the 1990s. Films such as Pulp Fiction and The Long Kiss Goodnight gave him plenty to do, while he made it seem effortless. For Kong: Skull Island, he doesn’t appear to be acting, only reacting. That makes the bigger sequences involving crashed helicopters and automatic weapons feel immediate rather than stale or pre-planned.
Wishing there was more to say about Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson, they feel like the least interesting personalities here. By contrast, John C. Reilly virtually walks away with film in pocket. He’s the long-standing survivor who can read the dangerous terrain as an Indian spies tracks leading to a worthy prospect. He contributes so much good will and spontaneous chuckles as Hank Marlow that his co-stars lose significance.
Time for a poem.
Kong both animal and human being
Wonderful effects we’ll be seeing.
Don’t march on his land
or he’ll swat you with his hand.
Gathering up broken forces
A commander defending lost causes.
More men lost during airborne battle
Samuel L. Jackson has a score to settle.
Eyes only on payback
Using what he can, bullet or hack.
Finding Kong rather scary.
Incendiary device can awaken monstrous fury
Skulls where liquid courage gains
A drum echoing beneath graveyard plains.
Watch those kindly spirits gather
Not the same old palaver.
Pride tests both the gentle and ferocious
Linking a web tangled yet obvious.
Solution points to busier road
Where’s the fun standing still as a toad?
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated "PG-13" for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language.)