Sure the calendar may say that summer starts in the third week of June, but the movie world makes its own rules. Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe know full-well summer starts in the first weekend of May, where for six of the past seven years, the studio has gifted us with its tentpole flick. Now Legendary Pictures has created its own calendar (and “Monsterverse”), and damned if you don’t want to fire up the grill and put your boat in the water once you see its latest, Kong: Skull Island.

As big and loud and in-your-face as anything to ever hit theaters on a balmy July weekend and as much a spectacle as any movie whose lead character sports a superpower, Skull Island is a throw-you-through-the-back-of-the-theater thrill ride that shakes the walls, dazzles with its visual effects, and overcomes a somewhat cheesy script to emerge as a rock-solid bit of frothy entertainment.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (TV’s You’re the Worst) may not have been the conventional choice to helm a movie of this magnitude—Kong’s budget was roughly 100 times the entire box office take of Vogt-Robert’s only other movie, 2013’s The Kings of Summer—but from Skull Island‘s opening scene of a World War II dogfight that culminates in two pilots coming face to face with the giant ape, Vogt-Roberts proves his worth. It’s a big movie in almost every sense of the word, but it still manages to feel remarkably intimate in parts, especially for those of us who actually root for the monster in these things.

John Goodman leads the way as Bill Randa, a researcher who rustles up support for the exploration of the mysterious (and, naturally, uncharted) Skull Island in 1973. Once he gets the funding he needs, a team is assembled including expert tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and Army captain Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), who’s desperate for one more mission now that the Vietnam War has wrapped up.

Along with Packard’s entire platoon, the gang makes their way to the island via helicopter squadron, only to be met by Kong himself, who we quickly learn isn’t the welcoming type. The survivors then only have three days to regroup and trek across the island to the evacuation point, assuming they can avoid any further entanglements with very large creatures.

The journey is not only one of survival, it’s one of discovery, too, as the explorers learn the truth of the island and all of its varied inhabitants. Screenwriters Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler) and Derek Connolly (Jurassic World) joined forces with Max Borenstein (who wrote the Monsterverse’s inaugural film, 2014’s Godzilla) to create an immensely satisfying script that rarely falters. In fact, it walks right up to the doorstep of cliché on a number of occasions only to completely skewer it. Watch out for a particularly hilarious interchange between Jackson and Larson toward the end of the film.

Vogt-Roberts took his inspiration from a number of places, including the 1933 original King Kong, Apocalypse Now, and even Tropic Thunder. In addition, he gave Skull Island a wonderfully retro, almost vintage feel, which only adds to the experience. And despite its over-the-top brutality and gore, Skull Island still winds up feeling like an immensely satisfying bit of summertime fun—in, well…March.


4/5 stars

Worth the 3D glasses?

Eh, you could go either way on this one. While there is plenty of 3D-ness going on (from flying birds to tossed people to crashing helicopters), Skull Island works perfectly well without the glasses, too. If you want the full craziness, go for it; it’s certainly worth it. But it’s not a requirement.