An expedition to an uncharted South Pacific island during the final days of the Vietnam War in the early 1970s has catastrophic results. Scientists Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), British tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and a military escort commanded by Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) find themselves fighting for survival in a land of dangerous creatures dominated by the gigantic ape Kong. Their only help comes from
World War II pilot Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), who has been stranded on the island since 1944 and is desperate to go home, and a native tribe. A trek through a deadly jungle to the shore where possible rescue awaits is the only way out.

Dazzling special effects and frenetic pacing overcome a run-of-the-mill, predictable story for some mindless fun at the movies. The most impressive is the mighty Kong himself - the best incarnation since his 1933 big screen debut. This film shines when the monsters take the spotlight. Huge beasts ranging from a giant squid through large lizard-like Skullcrawlers are among the terrors that the King must protect his turf from. It's only when the humans get involved that this thriller begins to falter. The stars are not at fault here. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts ("The Kings of Summer") has assembled a stellar group of actors that take their roles seriously - maybe too seriously. Tom Hiddleston makes a stalwart hero and Brie Larson is fine as a fearless heroine. Yes, she does have a Fay Wray moment with the big ape. Samuel L. Jackson chews up the scenery as the crazed military leader obsessed with killing Kong (shades of "Moby Dick") and John C. Reilly seems to have been added for comic relief. John Goodman and Corey Hawkins, the star of TV's "24: Legacy", are credible as the scientists looking to prove that monsters exist. A fine cast indeed, but the only pleasure is in finding out who becomes animal food. With the Vietnam War era soldiers present, the result is a mix of "Apocalypse Now" and "Jurassic Park". If this is your cup of tea, be sure to see it on the biggest screen possible. The IMAX 3D presentation is impressive. Stay through the end credits for a surprising scene that foretells the shape of things to come. "Kong: Skull Island" reigns as prime matinee fare. (3 CAMS)

Rated PG-13 / Running Time: 118 minutes

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