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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Kong: Skull Island is a very violent, action-packed reboot of the King Kong story. Set in the 1970s, the movie follows a group of scientists on a mission to survey a mysterious island in Southeast Asia. That's where they encounter several dangerous giant creatures, including an ape trying to protect his habitat (there are also giant birds, a spider, an octopus, and reptilian creatures). Things get pretty brutal, with victims being dismembered, stomped on, eaten, and tossed around; helicopters also crash and are ripped apart. So you can expect a high body count, with scene after scene of jump-worthy action, death, and gore. The language can also be strong, with one use of "f--k," plus several uses of "s--t," "ass," "bitch," etc. There's also some social drinking, but sex is limited to embraces and very brief implied prostitution in a couple of scenes set in Vietnam and Thailand. Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, and Oscar winner Brie Larson co-star, accompanied by a diverse supporting cast; themes include teamwork and courage.
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What's the story?
KONG: SKULL ISLAND is set in 1973, toward the end of America's involvement in the Vietnam War. A mysterious, well-connected group of scientists, led by Bill Randa (John Goodman), joins forces with a map-surveying mission to visit an uncharted island in Southeast Asia. They're accompanied by a military escort, courtesy of Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his intrepid helicopter brigade. Shady British tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) are along for the ride, as are the soldiers, surveyors, and geologists, like Victor Nieves (John Ortiz), who have no idea what they're in for when the island turns out to be home to all sorts of giant, flesh-eating creatures. And a humongous ape, aka Kong, is at the top of the food chain. When the helicopters arrive and start dropping bombs, Kong takes them out, killing much of the expedition and stranding the rest of them. Soon the crew is divided, with Packard set on getting vengeance, while Conrad and Weaver bump into Marlow (John C. Reilly), an American pilot who's been surviving among the island's native people since WWII. Marlow explains that Kong is the king and guardian of the island and that it's the slithering underground creatures that are the real danger.
Is it any good?
Part reboot, part Apocalypse Now homage, this is the goriest and least approachable Kong to date. But Skull Island does have enough memorable creature battle scenes to make for a fun, if jumpy, moviegoing experience. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and the screenwriters give Kong a case of Coppola fever. From Jackson's bloodthirsty "love the smell of napalm in the morning" need for vengeance to the fact that a character is named Conrad (Apocalypse Now was based on Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad) to the aviator sunglasses and slow-motion shots of helicopter rotor blades, it's all there. Except instead of Marlon Brando's Col. Kurtz living among the natives, it's Reilly's goofy Capt. Marlow (also a Heart of Darkness name) who's been stranded there. Reilly adds much-needed levity to the intensity of the big-budget fight sequences, which are well-executed, if gruesome.
The actors are all talented, though Hiddleston seems like a slightly odd choice for his role. Yes, he plays Loki, but his name isn't exactly synonymous with action flicks, and there are times he seems too posh to be believable as a shady tracker battling serious demons. Among the supporting cast, Toby Kebbell's terrible Southern accent is somewhat distracting. But Shea Whigham and Jason Mills stand out as opposites-attract soldiers Cole and Mills, who have each other's backs. With so many more human characters, it's unsurprising that Kong himself is less "human" and more awesome, godly beast. For high-stakes, jump-out-of-your-seat popcorn fare, this will do the trick, but don't expect to feel quite as much for Kong as you might have in previous versions of the story.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Kong: Skull Island. How does it compare to previous King Kong movies? Does exposure to violent media desensitize kids to violence?
What's the movie's message about offensive vs. defensive war? Is Kong justified in his actions? Is Packard?
The movie pays tribute to several Vietnam War-themed films. Do you think that conflict is relevant to younger viewers? Teens: Do you want to learn more about it because of the movie?
- In theaters: March 10, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: July 18, 2017
- Cast: Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman
- Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Wild Animals
- Character Strengths: Courage, Teamwork
- Run time: 118 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language
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