When you think of a traditional King Kong film you are immediately hit with images of New York City, attacking airplanes, and an ape on The Empire State Building. In Kong: Skull Island that classic imagery is replaced with a new and exciting adventure. This is an adventure that takes place almost exclusively on Kong’s home turf Skull Island. KONG: SKULL ISLAND offers a new take on the mythos of King Kong and provides him with a deep and interesting backstory that truly makes the towering ape feel more like a god than a king.
I love monster movies but my biggest problems with 2014’s GODZILLA was the boring characters and the lack of “monster” screen time. Since this is apparently a shared universe film (more on that later) I had concerns that ‘Kong’ would suffer from similar issues. I was pleasantly surprised that the human characters in this film were engaging and fleshed out and more importantly the incredible monsters stole the show.
The majority of the film takes place in 1973 when the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam. Since this is a Vietnam era film the soundtrack is obviously loaded with Creedence and the imagery is very reminiscent of films like APOCALYPSE NOW and FULL METAL JACKET. This hybrid of war movie and monster flick makes for an adventure that feels familiar yet still very unique.
A research team with a military escort goes to “survey” the island which apparently requires hordes of bombs and military helicopters. The hidden motivations of the characters are slowly revealed as the story develops and in the end, it mostly makes sense John Goodman’s performance as scientist Bill Randa, was terrific, as I have come to expect from him. Although I found holes in the characters logic that Kong was a threat to the outside world, it did effectively move the story along. Samuel L. Jackson delivers a great performance and despite his very serious character, he does still manage to have some absolutely hysterical lines. I felt like tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) was under used and rarely tracked anything but his dynamic with Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) added depth and sincerity to the film. Their interactions with Kong were also very interesting and I am assuming that they are going to be heavily involved in the inevitable sequels.
The island is full of surprises including amazing creatures, an ancient tribe and even World War II pilot Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) who crashed on Skull Island in the 1940’s. John C. Reilly completely owns every scene he is in and is the most likable character in the movie. He is incredibly sympathetic and genuine and I found myself more invested in him than any of the other characters. His musing about the past and questions about the current civilized world were endearing and fun and his banter with the group had me laughing throughout the movie. I actually would love a Hank Marlow prequel showing events that led up to this movie.
The new version of the infamous King Kong is massive and intimidating. He also has a more fleshed out backstory that makes him even more sympathetic. The Skull Crawlers (that sounds stupid when I say it out loud) were very cool looking and provided an enemy for Kong other than the pesky humans. Overall I really enjoyed KONG: SKULL ISLAND and would recommend it to just about anyone. If you are a fan of action, monsters and adventure then this is a no-brainer.
Some Images Behind-The-Scenes
I tried to keep things pretty spoiler free but do yourself a favor and stay for the after credits stinger. It connects the KONG: SKULL ISLAND universe with other classic monsters and it sets up the direction of the upcoming movies. It was such a good after credits scene that someone behind me actually screamed “What a time to be alive!” amongst all the cheering.