Kong: Skull Island
Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language.
2 hrs.

There’s something about a big ape that continuously fascinates American audiences. From the original King Kong release in 1933 to the most recent Kong: Skull Island, audiences seem mesmerized by the thought of a creature this large, this powerful and this . . . well, hairy. Do you ever wonder, when the cameras focus on the eyes of Kong, if we’re somehow seeing ourselves? Well, whatever the reasoning, we’re back once more to reimagining the story of Kong.

The film opens in 1944 during the World War II U.S. campaign against Japan. An American Army pilot and his Japanese enemy crash-land on a remote island in the Pacific. They engage in hand-to-hand combat, a fight to the death. Suddenly, their battle is interrupted by something powerful and quite large. Kong. Fade to black.

Flash-forward to 1973. It’s the end of the Vietnam War. Bill Randa (John Goodman) and his assistant Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) of the Monarch Corporation anxiously harangue Senator Willis (Richard Jenkins) for funding to explore a previously unknown island. Skull Island. They request and receive a team of scientists, helicopters and army personnel to accompany them, and they hire expert tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston). Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), a war photographer, slips in for the journey.

At the head of the search party is hard-nosed Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), who seems to be itching for one last apocalyptic post-Vietnam fight.

Things don’t go well for the search party. When they cross Skull Island, Kong intercepts their helicopters and tears them to pieces. The surviving team members are scattered to the four winds.

What they don’t know is that the jungles are inhabited, not only by a strange island tribe and U.S. Army pilot survivor Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), but by other creatures large in size and quite hungry. It turns out that Kong is really the least of their worries.

Pay no attention to the script. It’s a by-the-numbers plot, periodically punctuated by Marlow’s oddball sense of humor.

What elevates this film is the imaginative use of CGI to turn Kong into a creature that is expressive, dangerous and honorable in its protection of its home terrain. There appears to be a seamless connection between the actors and the green screen, a crossover of film DNA that makes Kong and his island fit tightly together.

Kong is not just a screen ape. Kong is one of the actors in the film. His movements are so realistic that you might ask if a real ape was used, or maybe Andy Serkis in his motion-capture technology suit. The answer is no and no. Kong is digital, but you wouldn’t know that from watching this film.

Furthermore, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts knows exactly what the audience wants — scenes with Kong and lots of action. He gives them in abundance. From the opening to the final fadeout, there’s plenty of ape-centered drama. So while you might blow raspberries at the thought of paying to see another giant ape movie, Kong’s fast pace and high energy keep you entertained throughout. Throw in a peppy ’70s soundtrack plus Marlow’s one-liners and you’ve got yourself a fun night.

This isn’t rocket science. It’s a monster movie, pure and simple. But there is plenty of science that goes into this, and it’s all surprisingly fun, which just goes to show that Kong remains an icon of American film history. His big mug and loud roar are still mesmerizing.

Yeah, it’s repetitious, but who cares? I just like to see the big guy go at it. Full speed. Slo-mo. Fists flying. Guns, helicopters, deadly spiders, skullcrawlers and the rescue of a beautiful girl. All good stuff. Even better, in this film, Kong has home field advantage — and uses everything he’s got to come out a winner.