In the 84 years since the original King Kong dazzled cinema-goers in 1933, the giant-sized ape’s story has been told many times over, but aside from a few details here and there, his story has, for the most part, stayed the same. That is, until now…
Kong: Skull Island is an exciting new chapter in the story of everyone’s favorite ape. Set in 1973, a so-called crackpot researcher obsessed with proving that monsters exist (John Goodman) assembles a team of soldiers and scientists, in addition to professional adventurer (Tom Hiddleston) and war photographer (Brie Larson), to explore an uncharted island in the Pacific that he believes is home to a massive mythic beast. So, the group ventures to Skull Island, where blondes don’t always have more fun, in hopes of bringing back proof that there are things out there that we can’t even fathom.
Simply put, this film is a hell of a lot of fun, if you’re into this sort of thing. We’ve seen the Kong story play out on screens 3 times now, including the original, the 1976 remake with Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange, and Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake starring Jack Black, Naomi Watts and Adrian Brody. I think it was about time someone did something new with him, which I’m happy to say we got with this film. Sure, he’s still fighting equally massive monsters and all that good stuff, but this time we got something more than just the played out (by this point) premise of “It was beauty killed the beast.” I also really dug this film’s setting. Taking place after the U.S. pulled out of the Vietnam War, it was cool seeing the film’s armed forces taking on these creatures utilizing the weaponry of the era, i.e. helicopters, flamethrowers, and napalm.
As far as the human element of the film goes, Brie Larson was the clear highlight as war photographer Mason Weaver. I’m not going out on a limb by saying that Larson is a fantastic actress, but she sold her character’s awe and wonder and joy and whatever other emotion asked of her exceptionally well. Also, it was so refreshing, especially for this franchise, that she was not the damsel in distress that every other female lead in this series has been. I totally bought Tom Hiddleston in the role of James Conrad. We don’t get to see him that often in the lead action hero roles, but this one definitely suited him. Seeing him in this film, it kinda put the idea into my head of him playing Nathan Drake in an Uncharted film. If Nathan Fillion’s not gonna do it, I think maybe Hiddleston has the chops and the charm to pull it off. I’m a huge fan of both John Goodman and Samuel L. Jackson, and both actors were solid as usual in their roles as the ultimate believer Bill Randa and Preston Packard, the soldier that isn’t right if there isn’t a war to fight.
Surprisingly, this film was a lot funnier than I had anticipated and John C. Reilly’s character, Lieutenant Hank Marlow, was responsible for the vast majority of the humor. From the trailers, I was unsure how he would fit into the world of this film, but I thought he totally worked and was completely in tone with what’s established here. In fact, he was my favorite character and will no doubt be a lot of other movie-goers’ favorite as well. The rest of the cast was filled with other great performers, such as Corey Hawkins, Tian Jing, Jon Ortiz, Marc Evan Jackson and Toby Kebbell, who played dual roles as Chapman and motion capture for Kong himself. Additionally, aside from Reilly’s role, I think I enjoyed the rapport between Jason Mitchell and Shea Whigham’s characters most. These types of films typically forgo displaying even a modicum of character development for the soldiers, so I appreciated that this film tried to at least give us something to relate to with each of these characters, even if it wasn’t quite enough in some places.
But no one’s going to see this movie for the humans, so let’s talk about the main event here. If I remember correctly, this film was originally just going to be called Skull Island, and I’m glad they amended that, as Kong truly is the star of this film. I was pleasantly surprised by how much we actually get to see the creature and we didn’t even have to wait an entire hour, as is the norm for this series. I liked the design of Kong in the film a lot more than I did when I first saw him in initial trailers, with his looking more in line with the ’33 version than the over-sized silverback gorilla of the 2005 film, just 100 feet tall. He’s bigger, badder and better than ever. Also, it certainly felt like he got a lot more screen time than Godzilla did in the 2014 film, and the action isn’t obscured behind buildings or shown predominantly from the point-of-view of the humans on the ground either. We get to see what’s actually going on and it is glorious. Kong is most definitely still the King, and after seeing this film, no one will be able to dispute that.
One of the great things about this movie is that while it could totally get away with being just another paint-by-numbers monster movie, when given opportunities to subvert expectations, it more often than not does so. There were several characters that I fully expected to bite the big one early on that made it out in one piece, whereas some of the other characters who I thought would survive the whole ordeal were taken out far earlier than I had anticipated. I also enjoyed that the antagonists of the film, both human and otherwise, didn’t just simply check off all the right boxes and call it a day. I won’t say too much, but I was a bit surprised that the human I assumed would be the main villain was in fact not and that Kong had more motivation to defeat the villainous monsters than his simply being territorial.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts did a tremendous job here. I loved his last feature, The Kings of Summer, but it was a smaller film, so I was curious to see how he would handle something of this scale. I think he totally nailed it. This was a gorgeous film. The colors were vibrant and popped beautifully, and the scenery looked spectacular. Also well done was the script by Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler), Max Borenstein (Godzilla) and Derek Connolly (Jurassic World), from a story by John Gatins (Power Rangers). The two-hour run time flew by as the movie knew how and when to focus on just the right things for the just right amount of time so as to not drag. The writers also filled the movie with plenty of nice nods to the genre (there’s even a great Jurassic Park reference in there that I appreciated).
As a whole, I was left thoroughly satisfied by this film. I was really looking forward to this film and I’m so happy to have not left the theater disappointed. It’s not a perfect film (I have a few negatives, most of which might be considered spoilers, so I’ll skip over them for now), but for a massive fan of giant monsters duking it out like myself, it delivered everything I went in hoping for. If you’re a fan of the genre like I am, then I wholeheartedly recommend this film. I liked the 2014 Godzilla (this one’s better), which was technically the first film in this new MonsterVerse, but Kong: Skull Island goes above and beyond in establishing a solid foundation for the rest of this cinematic universe to grow from. I will advise you, though, when the credits start to roll, make sure you stay in your seat for what I would call one of the most satisfying post-credits scenes I’ve seen in a long time. My party was one of the few groups that remained in our seats when the lights went up in my theater, so in case you were thinking of taking off, trust me, you don’t wanna miss it.