For the classic that the original movie is, every iteration of “King Kong” has been timed – if not intentionally – for a stage of film history when special effects have taken a big leap forward. Given what screen wizards can do now, “Kong: Skull Island” had better deliver the goods.
By and large, and that’s “large” literally, it does. You certainly get one ginormous ape, which only is to be expected, but there’s also the assortment of other weird creatures built like giant lizards and spiders to put chills down your spine … particularly when seen in 3-D. And, of course, those are the main attractions of any Kong tale.
The new picture’s makers also try to build a better story overall, and they succeed to a certain degree, partially by relying on a specific part of the past (in the same way that many other “King Kong” versions have). It’s set at the end of the Vietnam War, with the ever-enjoyable John Goodman as the would-be profiteer who wants to find out what’s on an untouched island.
Naturally, that takes a crew that’s only too willing to sign up for adventure, with no idea of what they’re getting themselves into. That’s always part of the weird enjoyment here: We know, and they don’t. But oh, they will.
Therefore, enter Samuel L. Jackson as the fresh-from-war leader of mercenaries who include Tom Hiddleston (giving the picture the leading-man quality a Kong saga always needs) and Corey Hawkins of “Straight Outta Compton” and television’s “24: Legacy,” plus Brie Larson as a journalist who’s along to document the trek. (Larson won’t win an Oscar for this one, but it’s fun to see her here anyway.)
When they reach the logically foreboding Skull Island, they also find John C. Reilly as a World War II survivor who’s been hanging out with the natives for a long time. That’s a rather clever nod to the “Apocalypse Now” era of the story, and the reliable Reilly does add much to the proceedings – but let’s face it, in the end, this is really about King Kong and how well he fights and how loud he roars.
Given that, “Kong: Skull Island” puts forth what it needs to sufficiently as the latest of the franchise’s reboots. The very simple formula is that you want the thrills you pay for here, and you get enough of them… and with a showdown with Godzilla already in the works for the next round, it’s a given that it won’t be long before Kong roars yet again.