King Kong has always been one of my favourite monsters. I remember the terror, titillation and marvel I approached the 1976 one with -- I was 9 when in cinema, so it must have been VHS tapes a few years later. From the Burt Reynolds wannabe (Charles Grodin with a moustache; years later, I realized it wasn't Reynolds) to me sharing the curiosity with the ape as to what was under all those beads to how they would get him off the island. And that poster, with feet a-straddle both of the World Trade Centres as he crushes a jet fighter. All my adolescent fascination with kaiju grew from that movie, as all I knew of the 30s flick was his fight with a t-rex. I own the Peter Jackson flick.
It's easy to say that this movie was meant to be Apocalypse Now with Giant Monkeys, but you cannot deny that Vogt-Roberts drew upon some 70s stylistic choices to depict his Vietnam era helicopter attack squad. Insert three Vietnam era war movies here. Sam Jackson plays their cannot-stop-fighting Colonel on the last day of the war, and when offered the chance to escort some scientist types to The Last Uncharted Island, he jumps at the chance. He knows something is up; you don't bring that many soldiers to a peaceful tropical paradise. You may wonder why they are setting a current King Kong movie in the 70s, but like John Goodman's Bill Randa dropping bombs to map geology, there are methods to the madness.
Once they fly the helicopters past the pink storm (seriously, can lightning even be pink?) we are given briefly over to a Marvel at the Majesty of Untouched Nature chopper flight before Kong tosses a tree through the lead helicopter. I get being distracted by all the pretty, but how do you miss an ape who is able to snatch helicopters out of the air? Where could he hide? That first battle, in which Jackson loses most of his soldier mooks and all his helicopters, is incredible, terrifying and filled with WTF. Dudes, stop flying within reach of those arms!! But it leaves our heroes separated and stranded on the island, Goodman feeling vindicated and Jackson happy he has another enemy to obsess over.
This movie is all, really well done setup. Not a lot makes sense, but this is not the movie of great import. The next few will be. Once we do the wink wink nod nod connection to Godzilla we get why they and we are here. Oh, you didn't know that by now? Puh-leeze; it only took three clips for that the be confirmed, and loudly. Randa was there on that first ship that Godzilla shredded; he was the last survivor. And he is a member of Monarch, that company from the first movie, but in the 70s they are failing, having no confirmed sightings since the military A-bombed Gojira in the 40s. This trip is his, his to confirm his life long obsession. The setting of the movie gives time for young Kong to grow, grow big enough to take on Godzilla. Right now he is Hold a Girl in the Palm of His Hand size, but in the future...
So, obviously, this is not the Capture Kong movies of previous plot fame. This is Get the Hell Out of Dodge movie, as the scientists and soldiers are no longer mapping the island, they are just trying to reach the exfil point before they are stranded. And between here and that point are monsters monsters monsters. And a bit of wonder. This island is chock full of nutzoid creatures, from the giant spider with bamboo legs to the titular Skull Crawlers. We never get to see the ants that sing like birds; maybe in the extended Blu-ray.
And Kong, lovingly CGIed (and mo-cap-ed by Toby Kebbell, who also plays a helicopter mook who doesn't last long) and very quickly our sympathetic beast. He is King after all, and you don't get to be King without subjects. The humans on the island, as explained by wacky Soldier Left Over from WWII John C Reilly, see Kong as their protector from all the other nasties. So yeah, Sam Jackson has to be stopped.
The thing is that for all the spectacular depictions of the island and Kong, the humans are rather a side note to the entire movie. When they are not monkey or monster snacks, they have very little personality and contribute almost nothing to the movie. And don't get me started on the inserted Chinese actor. I get it, China contributes a lot to the funding of movies these days, but for gawds sake Hollywood, work with them. At least the nameless jumpsuit scientists get to be stepped on or taken by flying Sawsharks, but she does nothing in the movie but emote badly and stick around till the very end.
All in all, I can actually say I liked it. But remember, I am the guy who loves disaster flicks.