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Even with its stellar cast, ‘Kong: Skull Island’ is just a monster movie

The best you can say about “Kong: Skull Island” is that it delivers on its promises.

If you want to see a 100-foot-tall ape wreak havoc not only on puny humans but on a variety of equally giant animals as well, this 3-D IMAX blockbuster fills the bill with panache. Thanks to incredibly effective CGI work, gargantuan spiders, enormous water buffaloes, huge prehistoric lizards, and swarms of pterodactyl-like birds really do seem to freely roam Skull Island.

It’s the very definition of a creature feature.

More movie reviews by Tom Tangney

And as with most creature features, the humans in “Kong: Skull Island” are pretty irrelevant. The stellar cast, which includes Oscar-winning actress Brie Larson, British actor Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, and John C. Reilly, mostly just serves to set up the action.

Goodman plays a crackpot researcher who convinces the United States government to bankroll a search party for possible monsters on Skull Island.

“An ancient species owned this Earth long before mankind and if we keep our heads buried in the sand they will take it back,” Goodman’s character explains.

This is the kooky premise of the movie. And most of the film consists of squabbling search party members being picked off one by one, sometimes by Kong himself, but more often by the various humongous creatures who also inhabit the island.

In a strained effort to give the film some unearned depth, the director makes countless visual and aural references to Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.” So numerous are they that I half expected Marlon Brando to pop up on the scene. Why?

Set in 1973, the movie halfheartedly tries to make a thematic parallel with U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war. Samuel L. Jackson plays a military officer who’s so disgusted with our country’s withdrawal from Vietnam, that he is bound and determined not to lose another battle, even if that means taking on Kong himself.

“It’s time to show that man is king!” he exclaims.

And even when the rest of the crew realizes the better part of valor is retreat, Jackson foolishly soldiers on, as one of his soldiers notes ruefully:

“Sometimes, an enemy doesn’t exist until you’re looking for one.”

“Kong: Skull Island” may make a few stabs at greater significance but at its heart, it’s really just a monster movie. And if you stay all the way through the credits, you’ll see there are plenty more monsters to come.

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