Review: 'Kong: Skull Island'

Samuel L. Jackson seethes and John C. Reilly shines in new action flick
'Kong: Skull Island' is violent, fantastical and sometimes uproarious.

In IMAX 3D, Kong: Skull Island is a battle of gigantic scowls between Samuel L. Jackson and a 10-story gorilla. It's an epic stare-down, rivalling the squint-offs of Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood.

Jackson shows maximum indomitability as a Vietnam era officer called Packard, bitter over the course of the war. In 1973, Packard escorts a scientific expedition helmed by Bill Randa (John Goodman) seeking to explore Skull Island and bomb it a little in the name of scientific tests. This cursed isle, ringed by storms, is shunned by all sane mariners. Helicoptering in, Jackson roars out the legend of Icarus over the thunder; his attack force of fresh-out-of-the-'Nam soldiers bring ammo, napalm and high caliber weapons. In their party is a Bondian British mercenary (Tom Hiddleston) and a photojournalist, Mason Weaver. She's played by Brie Larson, whose attractive brown-eyed melancholy is just right for the part of the lady flirting with the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood.

Online, it's an article of faith that the 2005 Peter Jackson King Kong had crap digital dinosaurs, which misses the point: it also had soul. This one, not so much. Kong is distracted from the romance; he turns his back on Mason after he rescues her.

The witty and energetic director Jordan Vogt-Roberts corrals hallucinatory megafauna, who attack with viscera-splattering violence. One of the surprises is a marooned and cracked old fighter pilot Hank (John C. Reilly) whose comic relief is positively eloquent. (K:SI has a great deal of fiery demolition, but Reilly's F-bomb drop is probably the biggest explosion in the movie.)

Despite the speed, the epic critter-walloping and the feverish jungle—an arresting mix of Hawaii and Queensland—the movie's rules wobble. The picky should have fun pointing out the contradictions; we're told the gentle tattooed natives live without theft, and then a second later, that they cut off the hands of thieves. One needs no security system when protected by Kong: "He's a pretty good king," Marlow says. "Keeps to himself, mostly."

Kong: Skull Island
PG-13, 120 Mins.

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