'Kong: Skull Island' is a fun movie with an inspired setting

( PG-13 ) ( Monitor Movie Guide )

'Kong' stars Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, and Tom Hiddleston as members of an expedition who travel to a previously uncharted island in the Pacific Ocean and encounter King Kong.

Chuck Zlotnick/Warner Bros. Pictures/AP
Tian Jing appears in a scene from, 'Kong: Skull Island.'

I don’t know that I could defend my enthusiasm for “Kong: Skull Island” in a court of law. My only defense is that I’m a sucker for movies about the big guy, even when they are overlong and lumbering, like Peter Jackson’s 2005 redo. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and his screenwriters, Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly, had the inspired idea to set the film in 1973 just as the United States was hastily pulling out of Vietnam, thereby setting in motion a kind of loony mashup of “King Kong,” “Moby-Dick,” and “Apocalypse Now.”

The crew includes a dissolute black ops vet (Tom Hiddleston), an intrepid combat photographer (Brie Larson), a biologist (Corey Hawkins), and a deranged colonel (Samuel L. Jackson) who would give Ahab a run for his money. Their mission is to explore a previously uncharted fog-enshrouded island in the Pacific Ocean, a place where, as an old-time secret op (John Goodman) puts it, “God didn’t finish the creation.”

It’s not long before helicopters are crash-landing and soldiers are being dined out on by the island’s gargantuan inhabitants – giant spiders, toothy reptilian meanies, and octopuses. Kong rules the island and is a lot more philosophical than these other creatures, but he stands some 100 feet tall and roars a lot, so don’t get too close.

The island’s most enjoyable denizen is Hank Marlow (a very entertaining John C. Reilly) – note his surname, all you “Heart of Darkness” fans – who is a World War II pilot who was marooned on Skull Island and has made peace with the smattering of peaceable natives. He still thinks that war might be raging and is not in any way crazed, despite his discomfiting living accomodations for several decades. He’s an oasis of sanity in this insane terrain.

The action and special effects are mostly first-rate and Vogt-Roberts maintains a vaguely satiric tone that sidesteps schlockiness. I’m not sure having actors of the calibre of Hiddleston and Larson running around a monster-infested island is making the best use of their talents, especially since both seem poised to appear in a sequel. But at least they look as if they had fun. So will you.

The defense rests. Grade: B (Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language.)

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