Is it great art? No. Is it great fun? Absolutely!
"Kong" sets out to be a first-rate monster movie, and it succeeds.
There's action from the moment the movie begins. The first scene, set in 1944, features an American pilot and a Japanese pilot crashing on Skull Island. Their hand-to-hand combat is interrupted by … you know who.
This "Kong" does not spend a lot of time trying to pretend there's any great mystery here. Sure, there are characters who are surprised that there's a mountain-size gorilla but, c'mon, this is a King Kong movie. Everyone knows it's about a giant ape.
And it's smart not to try to make a mystery where there is none.
There are echoes of the ape's devotion to the leading lady in the 1933, 1976 and 2005 films, but this is by no means a romance. And, while it's definitely a successor to those early King Kongs, there are echoes of everything from "Apocalypse Now" to "Pacific Rim."
After the brief opening bit set during WWII, the narrative moves to 1973. When conspiracy theorist Bill Randa (John Goodman) arrives in the nation's capital wracked by the end of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal he says, "Mark my words there'll never be a more screwed-up time in Washington!"
That gets a laugh with Donald Trump in the White House.
Randa gets backing for a mission to a mysterious island that's been discovered by a newfangled satellite. He enlists a ticked-off (of course) U.S. colonel (Samuel L. Jackson) unhappy about the Americans exiting Vietnam with their tails between their legs; his team of helicopter pilots and crew; and a British mercenary (Tom Hiddleston) for the mission.
An "anti-war" photographer (Oscar winner Brie Larson) tags along.
Skull Island is surrounded by perpetual storms, so, even in 1973, it's still "uncharted." And it takes military helicopters to break through the storm.
There are some incredibly beautiful shots as the helicopters fly in formation over the island, but as you'd expect things go wrong quickly. And guess who wins when the whirlybirds face off against King Kong?
A giant ape punches helicopters!
And this giant ape is enormous. He's 100 feet tall, four times the size of the Kong in the 2005 remake.
Kong isn't the only monster on the island. There are enormous, lizardlike creatures that threaten everything and you'll recall that the gorilla wasn't the villain in 1933, 1976 or 2005, either.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, working from a screenplay by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly, has basically taken the Skull Island portions of the original and expanded them to a full movie. One of the best decisions was to leave the narrative there. Nobody takes Kong to New York; he doesn't climb any skyscrapers.
The plot of "Kong: Skull Island" isn't complicated outsiders blunder into a savage, dangerous world; they get themselves in trouble; and many get themselves killed.
You get to know a lot of them at least a bit before they die, and some of the deaths are sad and/or shocking. And some of the deaths are believe it or not funny.
There are natives on the island, but they're not stupid savages. An American who's been trapped on the island for three decades (John C. Reilly) is both comic relief and an oddball voice of reason, basically telling the others that the natives are smarter than they are.
On the other hand, Jackson's Army colonel is little more than a stereotype of the crazed, gung-ho military fanatic. He's the bad guy … along with some of those (spoiler alert) monsters.
"Kong: Skull Island" is the movie that the "Jurassic Parks" wanted to be. The movie that the "Godzilla" remakes wanted to be. It's a fun, action-packed romp with monsters chasing people around an island.
And again a giant ape punches helicopters! What more could you ask for?
'Kong: Skull Island'
This 'King Kong' reboot never goes near the Empire State Building, but that's a bonus.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Friday, March 10.
Rating • PG-13 for sci-fi violence and brief strong language.
Running time • 118 minutes.