Eighty years of cinema have not taught explorers that it's a bad idea to seek out Skull Island and mess with its chief inhabitant. And it's an even worse idea to fly helicopters anywhere close to him.
Hopefully they never learn, if the quality of "King Kong" movies remains as strong as they've been. The iconic king of monster movie cinema continues to roar and beat his chest, shaking off the cheesy outings of the past several decades to restore his reign.
"Kong: Skull Island" brings something new to the mythos by keeping all the action on Kong's Skull Island, a prehistoric holdover where gigantic, vicious creatures stomp, roar and tangle. There's no need to ship Kong off on a barge to go through the typical motions of romping through New York City and climb the Empire State Building when there is plenty of mayhem to conjure in his bizarre homeland.
It helps that CGI magic has continued to evolve to match filmmakers' visions of a fantastical netherworld. The beast himself, as well as his surroundings, are as convincing as they would be if they were real, and somehow filmed on location. The breathtaking spectacle is what makes the movie soar, overcoming patches of dull, uninspired writing.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts ("The Kings of Summer") follows the recent monster movie less-is-more formula, recognizing that the humongous beast looms even larger when you don't see him in action.
When Kong does show up, every moment makes all the more impact. He does a cannonball into the shallow end of the pool, raging with exquisitely designed CGI and motion capture to provide the most stunningly feasible presentation of the creature. His battles with other beasts on the island shake the theater with convincing impact and heft, providing spine-tingling thrills.
He sets the movie in the 1970s, probably to avoid the trappings of modern technology that could save its daredevil protagonists from their deaths, or alert authorities to bring in rescue crews that would spring them immediately. It also makes more sense that an uncharted island could exist in the pre-GPS era.
While there's a solid supporting cast, including Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson, there's not much for them to do other than run around, scream and unwisely challenge Kong and other creatures to battles. Collectively, the human cast does just enough to make you wince rather than cheer when they get stomped by various beasties.
"Kong: Skull Island" sets out to be a thrilling action spectacle, and nails its goals with relish and vigor. Hail to the king, baby.
RATING: 3 stars out of 4.