Sometimes, you get exactly what you hoped you were paying for. The ol' blockbuster can be kind of a mixed bag. Usually, critical consensus will tell you what you're going to get, but sometimes an embargo denies you the advantage of knowing very far in advance whether you're heading into Captain America: Civil War or Independence Day: Resurgence. Heading out to see the latest colon-supported summer tentpole flick can be something of a coin toss, but when these movies hit their marks, the results can be as joyful and fun as it gets (and sometimes even best picture material, if you're George Miller).
And here it is, not even summer yet, and we've already got our contender for Best Summer Movie of 2017 in Kong: Skull Island. Jonathan Vogt-Roberts first entry in — and second entry in total — the Legendary Pictures MonsterVerse (seriously) is one of those rare flicks that is exactly as good and exactly as bad as it sets out to be. I have to say, I laughed as many times during this film at things I was supposed to as I did at things I was not supposed to...and I kinda got the feeling that those latter moments were intentionally-constructed, as well. There is just no shortage of scenery-chewing, line-shouting, or thing-throwing for almost the entirety of the movie's runtime, and the viewing experience is all the better for it.
Set in the days just following the Vietnam War's wrap-up, Kong mines its temporal setting for some awesome visual cues and a few needle drops (ok, so many needle drops) and little else. But that's fine! I'm not cruising to the theater and knowingly buying a ticket to a movie called Kong: Skull Island because I want to be bathed in subtext or made to think long and hard about the human condition. While we get a bit of thematic lip service about how sometimes enemies don't exist until we create them (cough, cough, political undertones, cough), but just enough to let this movie be "about" something other than a giant monkey smashing the shit out of stuff. For the most part, though, Kong understands that it needs to be a movie about a giant monkey smashing the shit out of stuff, and it consciously makes the choice to be the best movie about a giant monkey smashing the shit out of stuff that it can possibly be. Its this clearly-made decision to simply embrace its genre and give us the most stylish and engaging version of what it is that ends up elevating the movie above its expected level of B-movie schlock. Sure, plenty of things made me laugh out loud when I don't think they were supposed to...but even more importantly, nothing made me groan, and I was absolutely never bored.
Plenty of this has to do with the cast, which is 90% fantastic. Corey Hawkins is neither convincing nor engaging as an improbably-young scientist, and his Chinese counterpart has all of five lines in the entire movie. John Goodman, Sam Jackson, Brie Larson, The Hids, and John C. Riley all acquit themselves nicely, with Shea Wigham (as usual) being the background player that I legit wished could have been the star of this movie. There's a moment after the film's "Kong vs. helicopters" setpiece wherein it's nearly demanded that Wigham's character offer some sort of comment on the "what the fuck just happened" nature of their day. In the middle of eating, Wigham just shrugs and goes, "There was no tactical precedent." The line is a great one, and Wigham's delivery makes it easy to understand why he's far and away one of the best character actors working today. Of course, so is John C. Reilly, whose presence only enlivens the movie as soon as it's introduced.
The only real complaint worth leveling at this movie is that it understands too well what it's doing right. Jonathan Vogt-Roberts is a stylish as fuck director, and he shoots Kong's action sequences with a verve and pizzaz that it's impossible not to get excited over...until you realize that too much stylization is definitely a thing. Same go for the film's love-letter needle drops: when the trick is repeated a fourth or fifth time, you start to notice it in a way that doesn't really help the experience. But these are minor complaints, and were far from my mind when I walked out of the movie theater.
Kong: Skull Island is just a fucking blast. It's loaded with references to 1970s war cinema, filled to the brim with toe-tapping needle drops, and at time overstuffed with stylistic direction and chewed scenery...but holy hot goddamn if the result isn't one of the most fun times I've had at the movies in a good long while.