“Critic Proof” is a phrase that people like to throw around a lot, usually in defense of something godawful that mainstream consumers rightly eviscerate that was supposedly made “for the fans”. The recent DC films immediately come to mind when it comes to this kind of apologist behavior. I have almost a half sleeve of Batman tattoos and trust me, Batman V Superman and especially Suicide Squad were definitely not made for me or anyone else who actually cares about those characters beyond how much Hot Topic merch Jared Leto’s Juggalo Joker could push before anyone with half a brain got a chance to actually see the “film” and hate themselves for supporting it.
Then there’s the other side of “Critic Proof”, where a piece of entertainment is so perfectly conceptualized and executed that it can’t help but leave an enormous smile on your face for the entire duration of the time that you experience it. Or at least that was how I felt while I thoroughly enjoyed a Saturday afternoon screening of Kong: Skull Island.
The premise is paper thin, and it matters not one bit. All that does matter is how quickly we can get literally one of the greatest ensemble casts ever assembled (seriously, they’re that good) to the titular island and set them against (and for, surprisingly) the titular Ape. Genuine national treasure John Goodman assembles a team to map out an uncharted area known only as “Skull Island”, including nothing-to-lose mercenary Tom Hiddleston, grizzled anti-war photographer Brie Larson and disillusioned military vet Samuel L. Jackson, in the closing days of America’s tragic involvement in the Vietnam War. Of course Goodman knows more than he’s letting on about the mysterious island (and no, it isn’t that it’s actually a peninsula), but if the whole operation didn’t almost immediately go pear shaped what fun would that be?
And pear shaped it does go. Those turned off by the somewhat boring corporate intrigue in 2014’s Godzilla and the impenetrable wall of terrible acting in 2013’s Pacific Rim that viewers had to endure before their satisfying big screen monster mashes got underway will find themselves right at home on Skull Island, as Kong and his fellow menagerie of monstrous wildlife are definitely not shy about taking on each other and our human heroes early and often during the entirety of K:SR’s furiously entertaining run time.
Rookie director Jordan Vogt-Roberts finds a way to make his human cast just as engrossing though, with Jackson his usual reliable self in the unhinged role of Captain Ahab-esque Kong hating villain, Hiddleston sliding comfortably into the old school action adventure leading man role, and Larson’s takes-no-shit badass making me anticipate her upcoming turn as Captain Marvel even more. The unsung MVP though? John C. Reilly as a World War II lieutenant stranded on the island for 26 years, who has obviously gone just a bit too native. The writers must’ve owed him money or something because he gets ALL the best lines, and they’re ALL great.
Absolutely gorgeous cinematography and staging, completely seamless effects, a score that brilliantly mixes period anthems and thunderous orchestral accompaniment and genuinely the best monster fighting ever seen on screen, I repeat ever, are going to make this a hard popcorn blockbuster to beat for the rest of the year’s PG-13 punch ‘em ups. The makers of Kong: Skull Island have literally raised the bar for all tentpole films to come by keeping the concept simple and the execution flawless. Leave it to the big ape that started it all to take action adventure spectacle to the next level.