A movie where the American military is sent into a situation it didn't have good intelligence on, under bullshit pretenses, and gets involved in a needless fight with a local force that endangers the future stability of the region. Maybe not the best choice for Fourth of July, but also perhaps the most quintessentially American (or perhaps 'Murican) movie possible.
(I know some people argue Ghostbusters is the most American movie ever, because the Ghostbusters prove the afterlife exists, and then try to make money off it by building a ghost prison, and that's fair, but I think this movie has a decent argument on its own cynical grounds)
Spoiler Warning, since the movie is fairly recent. Leave if that's an issue, come back tomorrow for something different.
There's an island in the middle of a neverending storm. An agency gets the green light for a "survey mission", complete with a military escort of helicopters (led by Sam Jackson, whose character is unhappy the Vietnam War is ending.) The island is full of giant creatures, including Kong, who objects to all the explosions the "seismic testing" involves, and destroys all the choppers. Jackson becomes obsessed with destroying Kong, everyone else is just trying to get off the island. It turns out there are things much worse than Kong on the island, the humans have to help him try and kill them.
John Goodman's in there, as the guy proposing the mission, for his own reasons. People obsessed with past demonstrations of their limitations get a lot of people killed in this movie. His character is a little hard to track, because he seemed to want to provoke a confrontation, but doesn't want to stick around and try to kill Kong. I'm not sure if he realized partway through how incredibly outclassed they were, or is simply focused on getting off the island with evidence, so he can come back with more military. But I'm not sure what he expected from all the explosions, clearly trouble, or why the need for military. Maybe he was just too far gone, though he didn't seem deranged, just hung up on a particular conviction.
Tom Hiddleston's in there as a former SAS guy who is an expert tracker. Doesn't do a ton of tracking, mostly spends a lot of time arguing with Sam Jackson. Oh, and making sure the sleeves on his t-shirt are pulled back for a little gun show. I guess he'd been taking tips from the Chrises, Hemsworth and Evans. Brie Larson's playing an anti-war photographer along to document things, she and Jackson don't get along, though Jackson gets along with fewer and fewer characters as the film progresses. John C. Reilly is playing a guy who has been stuck there since World War 2, and is a little loopy, but hey, he's survived, credit to him.
I was worried Reilly's character would get irritating, be too silly, but he actually works well. It lightens things up at times, and also kind of shows how isolated he's been, since the locals he lives with apparently don't speak. The line about not knowing when he's speaking or not, for example. With no one who reacts to anything he says, after awhile, it might get hard to tell if you said something out loud or in your head. Anyway, he was the character I was most invested in seeing get him, and was pretty sure he'd get killed*.
I wouldn't say many of the characters really get fleshed out much, but the movie does devote at least a little time to a lot of characters, not just the main stars. The banter between two of the soldiers, Mills and Cole (played by Jason Mitchell and Shea Whigham, respectively), did a lot to make me care about those guys. And the film didn't leave it at one scene, they kept giving those guys a little time throughout, maybe just a quick exchange here and there, but something to make us give at least a little bit of a damn.
You figure Hiddleston and Larson are safe, because they're the romantic leads (although the build in that direction felt underdeveloped). Sam Jackson is screwed, both because his character is Ahab, and because Sam Jackson doesn't survive movies with large killer animals (see also Jurassic Park and Deep Blue Sea). Makes it hard to give a shit about them either way, so it's the others we need to care about, and the movie succeeded better on that score than I expected.
I enjoyed a lot of the fight scenes, felt like the filmmakers tried to incorporate the surroundings in interesting ways. The setting of the island itself was pretty interesting, the kind of thing that would be cool to explore in a video game. I have no interest in doing so in real life, because I don't want to be eaten by some giant spider or flocks of pterosaurs. But in a game it could be really cool.
I wouldn't say I had high expectations going in. I don't have any pre-existing affection for King Kong, but it was enjoyable. I might have expected a little more pushback against Jackson's character, but the people that went along either had enough history with him that they'd trust/defer to his judgment, or were scared enough to figure they were better off staying close to the guys with the most guns. So clearly I can justify it to myself. I didn't need the attempt to turn into a whole franchise of monster movies in the post-credits sequence, but that's just a thing everyone tries to do these days, I guess.
* Which didn't stop us from joking during the credits that when he made it home to see his wife, he'd find his brother had married her in his absence, and it would be Will Ferrell.