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He’s always been misunderstood. Tall, dark, with a menacing roar, one could easily view him as a threat. Prickly disposition. Territorial at best. Unlucky at love. Clearly not easy to get to know. Garden variety film star!

 

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He’s always been misunderstood. Tall, dark, with a menacing roar, one could easily view him as a threat. Prickly disposition. Territorial at best. Unlucky at love. Clearly not easy to get to know. Garden variety film star!

Despite the danger, he’s always been pursued. As a mythic movie maven, the path to his island is more violated than the map of homes of the Hollywood stars.

This time film has done right by this reclusive star. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts gives Kong a stunning, green canopied island; a competent cast of well-developed characters; mysterious, exotic extras - the painted Iwi natives; and vicious scene stealing praetorian primordials. Perhaps sensing the current anti-immigrant phobia, Vogt-Roberts has chosen to keep Kong on his own island rather bringing him to New York as other Kong films have done. There is even a retaining wall in the film, though it’s not clear who built or paid for it. 

 

It hardly matters that the pretext for the Skull Island expedition is as thin as faux scientist John Goodman’s svelte new look. The movie works best as a jaw dropping travelogue, more resplendent even than Bourne or Bond backdrops. The viewer is transported with the explorers over craggy karst towers rising from the seas and plains that would make Machu Picchu and Guilin green with envy, National Geographic postcards imperfected only by pernicious prehistoric pillagers.

Goodman (“Roseanne” “Sea of Love”) as Bill Randa leads fellow scientist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins – “24 Legacy”), socially responsible photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson – “Room”) and guide James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston – “I Saw the Light”), in this exploration into the heart of darkness. Shedding light and also mirth, John C. Reilly lifts the entire production with his brilliant cameo as Hank Marlow, a World War II vet who has been stranded on skull island for 28 years. The versatile, talented and very funny Reilly bridges the movies themes of nature and conflict.

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The scientists are escorted on their journey with military force led by scenery chewing, savage baiting Samuel L. Jackson as Lieutenant Preston Packard. Packard is an old school avenger, Vietnam war apologist who has trouble recognizing friend from foe.

Could he possibly be on a collision course with peace activist Mason Weaver? Could he possibly jeopardize his charges by his shoot first, take scientific samples later fiery disposition? Will tracker James Conrad work well with Weaver, send Packard packing, save the expedition and win PETA plaudits for teaming with rather than torturing Kong?

Although certainly not in need of spoiler alerts, “Kong: Skull Island” is a worthy contribution to this classic film franchise.

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Previously published March 4, 2017 on The Huffington Post

Images via Warner Bros.

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