Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island ★★★★½

A visual feast.

I've enjoyed every major theatrical version of "Kong", and this action adventure is no exception. Directed by the young Jordan Vogt-Roberts, this $185 million dollar adventure film is second entry in Legendary's 'MonsterVerse'. The impressive effort netted more than half a billion following its March 2017 release. The PG-13 rated story follows a team of scientists and military personnel who explore an uncharted island in the south Pacific - one that is crawling with impossible large and deadly creatures.

The performances from the big-name ensemble cast were especially great; even if there's a few too many of them. Tom Hiddleston carries himself with just the right amount of swagger (I could easily see him making a run at more action films); Samuel L. Jackson shares echoes of past performances as the loud army Colonel (even parroting his famous "Jurassic Park" line, "Hold onto your butts!"); eager scientist John Goodman who begins a powerful and cautionary monologue by admiring, "Monsters exist."; John C. Reilly is terrific fun as a downed WWII pilot marooned for three decades; while fourth-billed Brie Larson gives a headstrong performance as a beautiful and self-reliant photographer.

From Toby Kebbel to John Ortiz, the rest of the mammoth cast does respectful, if under-utilized work. Speaking of 'mammoth' though -the title character has never been bigger or badder. Seriously, he went from the size of a truck to being larger than a sports stadium. Plus, his 'fight' scenes are true showstoppers; accomplished with impeccable computer effects.

Whereas the 1976 and 2005 versions felt like modern-day updates; this is a unique adaptation all its own, only borrowing imagery and inspiration from the original 1933 masterpiece, rather than specific moments or characters. Which is likely why this film isn't the fourth to call itself "King Kong", but "Skull Island" instead.

Indeed, it disappointingly does away with the story's famous New York-bound final act. It leaves the film feeling like an unfinished prequel to a much larger project (because it is) - but I honestly didn't mind much since everything was so gorgeous! Talk about "every frame a painting" - the color grading here is phenomenal! One of the best looking motion pictures I've seen in years, especially in the big-budget action category.

The exposition of a 'hollow earth' was a particularly fascinating way of explaining how such large creatures live on a relatively small island - they don't. That being said, the attempts to tie this narrative into a larger monster-focused cinematic universe (namely, 2014's "Godzilla") felt clumsy and unnecessary. Especially since this film's 1970s-era characters will all be long dead/irrelevant by the time Aaron Taylor Johnson starts fighting giant dinos.

A solid score from Henry Jackman weaves around your typical Vietnam-era classic rock songs, while the sound design for the island has a personality all its on. With virtually the entire 118-minute film taking place on Skull Island, it's a good thing that environment was so beautifully realized and thoroughly explored. Glimpses of secondary 'monsters' like 30-foot spiders or huge water buffalo added to the exotic scenery.

One of the rare creature-feature blockbusters that actually approaches what some might consider "art", "Kong: Skull Island" is also a tremendously entertaining adventure with interesting characters. I thought it was AWESOME.