The big ape is back in ‘Kong: Skull Island’



     I grew up watching the different versions of “King Kong” on television. In the sixties I saw the Faye Wray classic from 1933. At some point I saw “Son of Kong” as well. As a child with horrible taste in movies, my favorite one was “King Kong vs Godzilla.” In that fight Kong won, in case you were wondering.

     In 1976 a big budget film of Kong came out with stars Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange. These actors would eventually win Oscars but not for “Kong.” The one thing that stands out from that film is that Kong climbed the World Trade Center instead of Empire State Building. The film’s poster shows Kong straddling the two towers but actually he jumps from one to the other. He never stands on both at once. I was twelve when I saw that version in a theatre at a mall in Gastonia, North Carolina.

     More recently, Peter Jackson, of “Middle Earth” films, gave us his version in 2005. It starred the beautiful Naomi Watts, Jack Black and Adrien Brody. The story was set in the thirties like the original and the effects were stunning. Jackson’s version will probably always stand as the best. There is a scene on the island that involves swinging vines that is simply astonishing.

     Now we have a new film: “Kong: Skull Island.” This film happens completely on the island, except for a few beginning scenes to set the plot in motion. Unlike other “Kong” films, there is no climax when the big ape is brought off the island to reek havoc on New York City or any other setting. Maybe that will happen in a sequel, but this plot is centered in the jungles of Skull Island.

     Simply put, this is a fun film. The effects, for the most part are outstanding. Kong looks more impressive than ever in every shot of him. There are plenty of other effects-created creatures  and most of them look outstanding. None though are quite as impressive as the title character. There is one set of giant animals that do not overall impress me. It was not the authenticity; in several shots the creatures look very real. I just could not get past their strange appearance.

     Another strength of the film is the consistent humor. There is abundance of jokes throughout the film. Considering the carnage that occurs on the island, humor is very necessary.

     Then there is the setting. Some of this may have been created with “special effects” but that does not diminish the presentation. There is a village, a boat, jungle settings, all that had to be created. There are these revealing paintings which were done by the indigenous residents of the island; in reality they were created by some production designers, and they are impressive. The look of the film is simply impressive.

     Then there is the cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, just to name a few. Most outstanding among these fine actors is John C. Reilly. He gets many laughs but he is also the only one who fully understands what is happening in the jungle. 

     Another thought about the film is that there is no romance for Kong this time around. There is no actress tied to a pole as a sacrifice to the big ape. Kong does not fall in love with Oscar-winning Brie Larson. Larson does not play the damsel in distress but rather is a strong and smart scientist trying to survive just like all the men. 

     “Kong: Skull Island” is not a film for the ages, or even one that will be remembered by the end of 2017. It is simply a fun time with outstanding effects; sometimes that is enough. 

     By the way, sit through all the credits; then you will know what is going to happen in films to come.

Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.


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