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Kong: Skull Island Is Everything A Blockbuster Should Be

If there’s one thing painfully lacking in most of today’s blockbusters (even the good ones), it’s specificity. Hundreds of millions of dollars are routinely spent on these movies, but little time is spent building a credible reality for the characters. By choosing to set Kong: Skull Island in 1973, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer) has a convenient excuse to obsess over the kind of detail that blockbusters so often overlook. Integrating archival footage, songs from the period, and all kinds of obsolete technology, he gives the film’s fantastical elements a vivid sense of reality, resulting in a giant monster movie that perfectly fuses the fascination of real world exploration with the escapist thrill of high-grade genre cinema.

As the Vietnam War winds to an end, government agent Bill Randa (John Goodman) plans a mission to take a closer look at Skull Island, a remote locale with an abundance of secrets. He is joined by British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), anti-war combat photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), disgruntled U.S. military commander Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), a number of soldiers, and several others. Arriving in a convoy of helicopters, this group manages to survive a volatile storm, only to be swatted to the ground by a giant ape. The survivors’ only hope for escape is a re-supply team that plans to meet them at the other end of the island in three days.

After being attacked by a giant spider—that kills several more men—this group stumbles upon Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), a pilot who crashed on the island during World War II and has been living among the natives ever since. A long-bearded eccentric, Marlow also has an impressive knowledge and understanding of Skull Island. He explains that Kong attacked their helicopters because he feared that their bombs would awake “the Big One,” a massive beast likely to destroy Kong and all other life on the island. Eventually, Marlow volunteers to guide his new friends to their destination on his boat, a plan that gets severely sidetracked by Packard’s obsessive desire to kill Kong. This leads to division, destruction, and more giant monsters.

Much has been made of this film’s resemblance to Apocalypse Now and Vogt-Roberts’ acknowledged debt to Ray Harryhausen and Werner Herzog is also apparent throughout, but this unlikely fusion of sensibilities make for a refreshingly unfamiliar experience. Crafting each sequence with inventive precision, Vogt-Roberts has the playful confidence of Sam Raimi and the artful assurance of a young Tony Scott. It doesn’t hurt that he also has a top-notch ensemble cast breathing life into even the most throwaway moments. Kong: Skull Island is not without its shortcomings—we never really get inside Kong’s head and the epilogue is an undeniable misfire—but this film delivers everything you could want from a blockbuster: wit, craft, suspense, humanity, and giant monster battles like you’ve never seen before.

Kong: Skull Island stomps into theatres today. Check out InnerSpaces press junkets below: