(director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts; screenwriters: Dan Gilroy/Derek Connolly/Max Borenstein/from a story by John Gatins; cinematographer: Larry Fong; editor: Richard Pearson; music: Henry Jackman; cast: TomHiddleston (James Conrad), Samuel L. Jackson (Preston Packard), John Goodman (Bill Randa), Brie Larson (Mason Weaver), John C. Reilly (Hank Marlow), Jing Tian (San), Toby Kebbell (Jack Chapman/Kong), John Ortiz (Victor Nieves), Jason Mitchell (Mills), Corey Hawkins (Houston Brooks), Richard Jenkins (Senator), Shea Whigham (Cole), Marc Evan Jackson (Landsat Steve), John A. Weaver (Congressman); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Alec Garcia/Jon Jashni/Thomas Tull; Warner Bros/Legendary Pictures; 2017)

One of the better monster films.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s a robust B-film reboot of the King Kong franchise started in 1933 with the definitive version. There were seven others including a disappointing one in 1976 helmed by John Guillermin and an overblown one by Peter Jackson in 2005. This lively one has a mix of Apocalypse Now intrigue effectively added to the fantasy monster adventure tale. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts(“The Kings of Summer”), a filmmaker unfamiliar to most with only one indie film under his belt, allows its spectacular special effects to dominate and for its sharp humor to co-exist with its wild action scenes, lush photography, and an old-school premise about monsters that’s made to feel new. The highly entertaining film is enhanced further by the 1970s pulsating anti-war rock scores by groups like Creedence Clearwater Revival and by setting it at the close of the Vietnam War in 1973 to add cogent social commentary about the folly of trying to be the policeman for the world. It’s tightly written by Dan Gilroy, Derek Connolly and Max Borenstein from a story by John Gatins. Also, the talented ensemble cast help make this one of the better monster films.

In a prologue set in 1944 near the end of the Second World War, an American and a Japanese fighter pilot crash land on this remote island in the South Pacific and battle each other. It then turns to 1973 during the last days of the Vietnam War and a pushy Bill Randa (John Goodman) urges a senator (Richard Jenkins) that the U.S. explore the uncharted Skull Island, a place enshrouded with storms and where strange things have occurred. The Monarch lobbyist is a spreader of conspiracy theories such as the Bermuda Triangle. He’s the formerly secret op officer in the Pacific, where he was the sole survivor who believed he witnessed monsters as killing machines of his Pacific brigade, some thirty years ago, and still obsesses over the monster possibilities and is in need of this expedition to get proof that he’s not a nutcase. Randa describes the island as the place “where God didn’t finish the creation, a place where myth and science meet.” Since the island was just spotted on surveillance cameras and his supporter, the Washington biologist writer Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), one of the few credible scholars who doesn’t think he’s a crackpot, backs him and says it’s worthwhile studying the island even only for its unique geology and mapping it out before the Russians get there. This strikes the harried Nixon supporter senator as making some sense and authorizes funding for the mission. Those on board will include the deranged hawkish Vietnam War decorated Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), who is pissed his country abandoned the war. He will escort the expedition on and off the island with his loyal helicopter squadrons called “Sky Devils.” The decommissioned and disillusioned tough guy Brit SAS black-ops captain, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), is paid well to act as the jungle tracker. And Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), who suspects something smells fishy about this expedition chooses to tag along as the anti-war photo journalist prepared to tell the civilians back home the real nature of this mysterious expedition.

The military arrives on the island by dropping bombs on it and are greeted by an ape larger than a building (a 100-foot ape), called Kong, who destroys every helicopter. This leaves the expedition with casualties and stuck on the dangerous island for three days until they can make contact again with the boat that brought them here.

John C. Reilly plays the fighter pilot from the prologue, a blunt non-stop speaking friendly Hank Marlow. The WWII Lieutenant has been stranded on Skull Island for 28 years, leaving behind a wife and a baby son he has never met. He tells the startled military and scientist survivors that he has lived here peacefully with a bunch of primitive silent natives, who learned how to rely on Kong as their protector from the attacking prehistoric underground dwelling monster-sized shrieking lizard creatures that want to destroy them.

The film’s big star, literally and figuratively, is the fearsome and sensitive Kong.

The bearded Reilly gives a warm, playful and funny performance, and jokingly tells his new mates “We’re all going to die together out here!” And that becomes the question, as we wonder if anyone will survive this beautiful but treacherous island.

Reilly’s character gives the film a terrific emotional impact, and shows us clearly he has a better connection with the beastly Kong than with the crazed Colonel.

Goodman has the best and most prescient line when he references the protesters outside the halls of Congress calling for the impeachment of Nixon by exclaiming: “Mark my word, there’ll never be a more screwed-up time in Washington.”

It was superbly shot in 3D in Queensland and Hawaii.

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

REVIEWED ON 3/11/2017 GRADE: A-   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/