Grade: A/A-
Entire family: No
2017, 118 min., Color
Sci-fi Action-Adventure
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action and for brief strong language
Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos TrueHD
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Amazon link

Best. Kong. Ever.

That was our family’s verdict, with all four members awarding an A or A- to this franchise reboot. Then again, we’re not purists. We’re just movie-lovers, and we loved this movie. The action is non-stop, the CGI monsters and battles are terrific, the location footage shot in northern Vietnam and Oahu is stunning, the characters are fun, and most importantly for an action film with lots of blood and violence and killing, this film doesn’t take itself too seriously. Tonally, it’s right there with the early James Bond films . . . if Bond was on speed and there was no time for romance.

Unlike more unimaginative monster movies, this isn’t just a game of attrition, where you end up with a slow build-up to one death, then another, and another. All hell breaks loose, and it never stops breaking loose. You can’t predict who’s going to get it and when, but how upset can you possibly get when a man falls into the mouth of the great ape and is presumably eaten, when his fall is followed by a quick match cut in which we see a close-up of a soldier taking a crunchy bite out of a sandwich? And when another character is eaten, as he looks up and notices the creature we have yet to see, his last words are “Oh shit,” you’re more prone to laugh first, then shout in release at the action that follows. Which is to say, yes, this is every bit a PG-13 movie, both in language and in violent action, but director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (TV’s Single Dads) tempers it with humor. As a result, what could have been a serious bloodbath is more of a popcorn movie.

Previous Kong films seem to have been bound by the 1933 Fay Wray original, and while we inevitably watch the big ape pick up a lady in his gigantic hand, this 2017 reboot departs so significantly from the whole Kong concept that it almost feels like a totally different animal. In addition to that iconic scene, we do see Kong fight an aerial squadron (helicopters, rather than planes) but he’s on level ground. There’s also a photographer, a native village living behind a big wall, and creatures other than Kong.

Though the creatures aren’t dinosaurs forgotten by time, but rather demonic ones that come from below the earth through a portal, Kong: Skull Island still has as much in common with adaptations of Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island and Edgar Rice Burrough’s The Land That Time Forgot, while at the same time there are elements that link it to the radiated monster films of the Nuclear Age. And there are times when you’ll also have flashbacks to Jurassic Park.

Set in Southeast Asia in 1973 when soldiers are still fighting in Vietnam, Kong: Skull Island takes a cue from another Vietnam War movie—Apocalypse Now—and adds a Heart of Darkness dimension to it. As a jerry-built boat made out of a downed airplane chugs upriver, it’s hard not to think of Joseph Conrad’s classic study in the dark depths of human nature—especially when the main character, a master monster tracker, is named Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and the owner of the boat in this film is named Marlow (John C. Reilly), who was the protagonist in Conrad’s novel.

This film not only breathes new life into the Kong films, but also resurrects the trope of a marooned WWII soldier on an island so isolated that he doesn’t know the war has ended. Reilly really has fun with the character—who, when the full “scaffolding” is revealed, ends up being one of the three main characters, along with photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and Conrad. Second-tier characters include U.S. government agent Bill Randa (John Goodman), who works in the gigantic creatures division and sets the plot in motion when he hires Conrad and talks a senator into green-lighting his mission to Skull Island to check out images of strange life that their satellites have detected, and Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), who heads up military support for this Predator-style mission.

Watch the bonus footage about location filming and you’ll develop a new appreciation for the film’s combination of traditional stunt work and CGI. One scene in particular stands out, where a man is violently jerked off the boat and is whisked high into the air via a system of pulleys and wires. You’ll also see how they were able to make this Kong the most real looking of them all, and that, after all, is what sells a film like this. Does it look real? You bet. And the crazy level of action and humor makes for a great support system. It feels as much like the old-time serials as the Indiana Jones movies—all action, but all in good fun.

Readers at the only gave this film a 6.8 out of 10, which would be a B- on the Family Home Theater scale, while the average rating by readers at Rotten Tomatoes was 7.4 out of 10 (B+). We liked it a lot more than that, and make no apologies!

Language: Surprisingly, two f-bombs (thought they could only get away with one for PG-13!), and handful of “shit”s plus another handful of lesser ones, but the action moves so quickly you don’t have time to react
Sex: n/a
Violence: Pretty much nonstop once the film gets rolling: a giant spider leg impales a man through his mouth, people get gobbled up by creatures, Kong pulls out a lizard’s tongue and everything connected to it, a man is ripped apart in the air by prehistoric-looking birds, people are stomped; you name it, it happens
Adult situations: One bar fight in the early going, and one brief instance of smoking
Takeaway: Kong: Skull Island proves that the key to breathing new life into a series like this is not sticking too close to the original and not taking it too seriously