The Movie: Kong: Skull Island
The Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer)
The Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz, Tian Jing, Toby Kebbel, and Jason Mitchell
The Story: A team of scientists explore an uncharted island in the Pacific, venturing into the domain of the mighty Kong, and must fight to escape a primal Eden.
One of my very first memories as a human being, such as it is, would be of having watched the 1976 version of King Kong at the long since demolished Moonlite Drive In Theater in Bellingham, Washington. I don't remember anything specific about the experience, just that it happened although later viewings solidified Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange, and the big monkey himself as cultural icons during my most formative years. The spectacle of it all was so enthralling and, to a young mind, it gave the impression that this hidden world actually existed somewhere on the planet. Eventually, we got Peter Jackson's attempt at reviving the franchise and, while it was entertaining in it's own way, it did not reach nearly the same level of wonder and awe as it's most recent predecessor.
Now, we have Legendary Pictures working hard to not only bring Kong back to the big screen in a big way, but to insert him into a shared universe that will include Godzilla and many other gigantic monster type creatures. To handle this monumental task, the studio employed the expertise of director Jordan Vogt-Roberts who, quite honestly, hadn't done much before this to make you think he could handle a project of this size, but that seems to be a growing trend in Hollywood these days so yeah, why not. This version of the story is set in the mid 70's, right at the end of the Vietnam war so the look and feel of the film has a very 70's vibe to it which, for me, turned out to be a really nice touch since I had thought it was going to be set during modern times. For me, the whole thing felt very familiar while also showing off Weta Workshop's prolific ability to push the boundaries of what is achievable in the world of special effects.
Yes, the special effects are absolutely phenomenal. In case you don't know who Weta Workshop is, they are the New Zealand based special effects company responsible for the entire Lord of the Rings franchise as well as films like District 9, Avatar, and Mad Max: Fury Road so they kind of know what they're doing. For a movie that features a plethora of other worldly creatures, it's kind of weird to say that everything looked photo realistic with appropriate textures and shading in place, but it's absolutely true. I can't recall anything that looked out of place or failing the eye test and Kong was as convincing as a real, living creature as he has ever been. As fun as they were, the days of dressing up a guy in a gorilla suit are long gone. Toby Kebbel, who has done previous motion capture work in Warcraft and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, takes on the task of bringing Kong to the screen as well as being a part of the star studded human cast of characters.
One of the first things that I noticed about the cast is that it's basically Marvel meets NWA. We have Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Brie Larson (Captain Marvel), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), John C. Reilly (Corpsman Dey from Guardians of the Galaxy), and the aforementioned Toby Kebbel (Dr. Doom) from various portions of the Marvel universe paired up with Corey Hawkins (Dr. Dre) and Jason Mitchell (Eazy E) from Straight Outta Compton. I know this doesn't really mean anything, I just notice these kinds of things so there you have it. If this was the entire cast, I would be more than happy, but we also get John Goodman, who seems to be in every other film that comes out these days, John Ortiz, Thomas Mann, and Tian Jing who also just had a starring role in The Great Wall.
The way the script is written, the cast gets to have a lot of fun interacting with each other and Vogt-Roberts takes full advantage of each person's distinct personality and abilities. Rather than putting one or two characters to the forefront as the "stars" of the film, there's a constant rotation through the roster which allows Kong to remain the focus of the story. That being said, I would have to say that Tom Hiddleston stands out above most everyone else as he continues to establish his natural born charisma and star power for the world to enjoy. Seeing him as a former member of the British SAS (Special Air Service) further solidifies my belief that he would be perfect to eventually take over a certain iconic character currently being inhabited by Daniel Craig.
Kong: Skull Island is a fun and wildly entertaining re-imagining of what is easily one of the biggest cinematic icons of all time. There is zero time wasted on trying to delve deep into emotional dramas or any of that nonsense, it's just this: intro the characters, get them to the place, have them meet Kong, and then let chaos and mayhem ensue. There are no blatant tie-ins to Godzilla although you should definitely stay to the end of the credits for a bonus scene that will give you a glimpse of things to come.
I did not see the movie in 3D, IMAX, or any of the other "premium" formats so check them out at your own risk. 3D cameras were not used during the filming process although, from what I understand, the company hired to do the 3D post conversion did a really good job.