I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Connor Bynum // Film Critic
KONG: SKULL ISLAND
Rated PG-13, 120 minutes.
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Cast: Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann and Toby Kebbell
It seems to be a growing tradition in Hollywood to see if audiences are ready for another King Kong movie every couple of years. With such a simple premise of man vs. beast, one would think that it wouldn’t be so hard for the big ape to find his proper home on the silver screen.
Coming fresh off the heels of the 2014 Godzilla reboot, Warner Bros. appears to be gearing up for another intellectual property melting pot with KONG: SKULL ISLAND.
In 2005, filmmaker Peter Jackson crafted a painstakingly loyal remake to the 1933 original. KONG, on the other hand, mixes things up by setting our story on the end of the Vietnam War rather than The Great Depression. The new time period does offer a much needed change of pace, but by and large, the story is fairly similar to what we’ve seen before.
Billy Randa (John Goodman) is an eccentric explorer who’s obsessed with finding tangible proof that monsters exist and is finally able to get funding for an expedition to chart out the world’s last remaining patch of undiscovered land. Randa is also able to swing a military escort, led by hardened army veteran Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Randa then rounds off his team with cocky outdoorsman James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and photographer/anti-war activist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). Before long, our merry band of adventurers happen upon the titular island and almost immediately run into the 100-foot ape who does not take too kindly to strangers.
As far as soft reboots of monster movies go, KONG certainly doesn’t pull any punches. Featuring some of the best computer-generated effects Hollywood blockbusters have to offer; the jaw dropping visual effects do not disappoint.
Apparently taking one of GODZILLA’s biggest criticisms to heart, the film holds back very little in showcasing the eighth wonder of the world. Kong takes center stage in his numerous bombastic fight scenes that deliver some truly awesome moments of carnage.
Where the film stumbles, however, is with its human characters of which there are just too many. One begins to wonder if the number of people on screen is so high just to give Kong the excuse to rack up the body count rather than provide audiences with a relatable cast. Yet, at other times, the film seems to go out of its own way to provide depth for these characters that, more often than not, draw more attention to their lack of dimension. For example, very little is ever known about Hiddleston’s Conrad or Larson’s Weaver, other than he’s a hunky nature expert and she doesn’t like war.
Although, it’s not all bad news on the character front. John C. Riley truly steals the show as marooned fighter pilot Hank Marlow, adding some genuinely funny moments as well as some unexpected emotional depth for an otherwise comedic character. Goodman is able to provide convincing motivation for relentlessly searching for answers to the great unknown. And Samuel L. Jackson is Samuel L. Jackson, meaning he’s enjoyable as ever.
While our newest outing to Skull Island certainly hits harder than the particularly dull soft reboot, GODZILLA, KONG doesn’t seem to know how to do much else aside from showcase gorgeous exhibits of destruction. If audiences are able to check their brain at the door and enjoy a good, old fashioned monster brawl, they are sure to not go home disappointed.
KONG: SKULL ISLAND opens nationwide Friday (3/10).