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‘Kong: Skull Island’: Big monkeys, big screen, big fun

“Kong: Skull Island” is a standout from similar movies in its genre for several reasons: not only was it unafraid to take risks, but it also wasn’t afraid to have fun. In his silver screen debut director Jordan Vogt-Roberts assembled an all-star cast including Tom Hiddleston, John C. Riley, Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson to put together the beginning of what will be a “King Kong” franchise.

The movie opens with Bill Ronda (John Goodman) and Corey Hawkins (Houston Brooks) of Monarch asking the government for money to fund an expedition to a previously uncharted island in the South Pacific. They are immediately dismissed as they are known to go on “ghost hunts,” until they reveal that in a few days Russian satellites will have the same images and will beat the United States to this mysterious island — and what red-blooded American would pass an opportunity to beat the Russians?

Their expedition will be led by Preston Packard (Jackson) and his helicopter team who have been assigned only a day before leaving Vietnam (the only way soldiers are ever assigned to dangerous tasks). Before setting sail from Vietnam, an expert tracker, James Conrad (Hiddleston), and the best photographer in Vietnam, Mason Weaver (Larson), join the crew.

It is clear the mission is not to just explore the island, but that Ronda and Hawkins are looking for something. Upon flying to the island the explorers find themselves hovering face to face with the great ape. After engaging, Kong has downed the team all over the island and they will have three days to regroup and make it to the north of the island before they can be rescued.

If “Skull Island” could only be commended for one aspect, it would be its set pieces. From the first encounter with Kong until the final showdown, every fight carried a sense of importance, uniqueness and danger. There was no doubt that the island carried with it real dangers and that Packard and his men were always outmatched and outgunned when trying to protect the team of adventurers and scientists. Every action scene brought with it a new and memorable moment and these moments never felt misplaced or stagnant.

A part of what made this work so well was that the CGI was rarely a factor in the film. Not to say the movie was almost entirely CGI monsters, but rather that the CGI in the movie was almost never overbearing. When you spend the majority of the movie focused on the computer generated aspects it’s easy to lose interest (an issue that notoriously plagued the “Star Wars” prequels). In the case of “Kong: Skull Island” I think the movie benefited from practical set design such as the giant graveyard, to immerse the audience before revealing any kind of CGI encounters.

As I have mentioned before, this movie was not lacking star power in any way and if anything, this was the movie’s most glaring issue. With a cast this large it was easy to underdevelop so many of their story lines. There was almost no character development anywhere in the movie and leaving the theater, I am not sure if I remembered a single character’s name.

Any time spent with a character was immediately overshadowed by action in the next scene. Although keeping the focus on Kong may have been regarded as a high priority, after the overwhelming majority of “Godzilla,” a movie by the same studio, was spent with the world’s most boring family rather than the world’s coolest lizard.

The writers of “Kong: Skull Island” had a monster of a problem facing them when writing began: how to make a movie about King Kong where he doesn’t go to New York. Most moviegoers are familiar with the classic tale first created in 1933’s “King Kong,” but if this new Kong was to go on to fight Godzilla in a later film he couldn’t go to New York now. The idea of focusing this movie on the island and the team’s discoveries there was a clever and entertaining rewrite. Especially considering 2005’s “King Kong” lost most of its steam once they left the island.

This movie really had two main goals: fix the complaints made about 2014’s “Godzilla” and get audiences ready for these monsters to meet on the big screen. All things considered I think “Kong: Skull Island” did both extremely well. If you enjoy any type of action or would love to see Tom Hiddleston wield a wakizashi sword, absolutely go see this movie.