Sequels and follow-ups have rarely been nice to the giant ape known as King Kong. Son of Kong, the lighthearted sequel to the original 1933 King Kong, was rushed into production with only half the budget of the first film and is only mildly diverting. After the international success of Gojira (AKA Godzilla, King of the Monsters) in the '50s, Japan's Toho Pictures made King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) which is goofy fun even though the Kong costume looks moth-eaten, but the original Japanese version, as opposed to the later Americanized version (1963), is more of a sly satire on big business. Toho went at it again with King Kong Escapes (1967) where the big ape battles a robot replica of himself. Pretty bad, and this being a co-production with Rankin/Bass – the creators of the animated Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV Christmas special – it's unintentionally funny because the design of the Kong costume resembles the look of Rudolph's Abominable Snowman. Then there is 1986's King Kong Lives, the direct sequel to the bloated Dino De Laurentiis produced remake of King Kong from 1976. The astoundingly awful King Kong Lives has Kong receiving an artificial heart and, along with his mate, being chased by not only the army but also a gang of redneck hunters.
Now we have Kong: Skull Island, a stand-alone adventure that is not a sequel to Peter Jackson's 2005 respectable King Kong remake, but rather a precursor to a new King Kong vs. Godzilla remake. Set during the Vietnam War era, a team of scientists, with a military escort, explore an island in the Pacific that is not on any map. Of course, this island is the domain of the mighty Kong, as well as other prehistoric monsters. The seismic charges used by the expedition has awakened some nasty subterranean creatures, and the humans only hope for survival is Kong.
Among the many characters, we have the lead secretive scientist (John Goodman), the crazed military leader (Samuel L. Jackson), the guide/adventurer (Tom Hiddleston, who has little to do) and the beautiful female photographer (Brie Larson, who looks like she's in a L’Oréal commercial in every shot). Then there is John C. Reilly as a man who has been marooned on the island since World War II. Yeah, he kind of plays it too modern, but Reilly's character, Hank Marlow, is a hoot. He and Larson come off best in a sea of paper thin characters.
There is barely a plot, but it is compensated by excellent CGI effects and some cool set pieces, like a giant spider and its bamboo-like legs in the bamboo forest, or a creature that has just swallowed a camera flashbulb trying to be detected through a thick fog.
Kong: Skull Island is a fun monster mash, and I am looking forward to the Godzilla and Kong rematch.