It is a monster movie or a war movie? It’s both. The solid, fast-paced “Kong: Skull Island” will appeal to fans of both of these action genres.
There are enough nods to the 1933 classic to show respect to its cinematic ancestor in this reboot. And it references, particularly in its cinematography, Vietnam War films, especially “Apocalypse Now.”
The setting is 1973. A svelte and handsome John Goodman is the insistent Bill Randa, a guy considered by some to be a crackpot, who assembles a group of scientists and explorers to “research” (that means release bombs to draw out the monster) the mysterious Skull Island. “This planet doesn't belong to us,” he says. “Ancient species owned this earth long before mankind. I spent 30 years trying to prove the truth: Monsters exist.”
Randa has persuaded a legislator to help him get military assistance for his journey to Skull Island with a troupe that includes Col. Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), who loathes the gigantic Kong for killing so many of his men. Also on hand is Brie Larson as a photojournalist, Tom Hiddleston as a mercenary and John C. Reilly as Hank Marlow (a sure nod to the Dennis Hopper character in “Apocalypse Now”), a survivor from World War II who has lived on Skull Island for decades. “Kong's a pretty good king. Keeps to himself, mostly,” Marlow says. “But you don't go into someone's house and start dropping bombs unless you're picking a fight.”
Kong, Marlow explains, protects that island inhabitants from giant lizards he calls “skull crawlers” (you’ll see why when the critters emerge).
So many images conjure “Apocalypse Now” that I couldn’t count all the references to the iconic Francis Ford Coppola war tale, but they include:
• The way the soundtrack is used (even though it’s Creedence Clearwater Revival instead of The Doors)
• Hiddleston’s character is named “Conrad” (Joseph Conrad is the author of “Heart of Darkness,” the novel on which “Apocalypse Now” was based).
• How Kong appears against a bright-orange sun and the way the helicopters are depicted.
The talented ensemble performs deftly amid almost non-stop action that includes military, people-against-people, people-versus-nature and nature-versus-nature violence. It’s a spectacle to behold and a loud, in-your-ears experience, too (I recommend seeing it in 3D for an extra “Wow” factor).
If you wonder where this tale of Kong might lead, stick around for the “stinger” -- an extra scene that expounds on Kong’s universe to let us know there’s more than one monster to contend with.