Kong: Skull Island Review: Second Opinion
Production Company: Legendary Entertainment, Warner Bros.
Release date: March 10, 2017
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Kong has come a long way since his debut on the big screen in 1933. We’ve seen him in multiple iterations, from the stop motion creation in the classic original to the man in the rubber suit in King Kong Escapes to the motion capture performance by Andy Serkis in Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake. Along the way, the big ape has battled various dinosaurs, robotic versions of himself, and Godzilla. He’s rampaged through New York and Tokyo, often in search of a girl he’s become smitten with. Now, in 2017, we get a new bigger, badder Kong, one who’s shown in his element as undisputed king of his world on Skull Island. This is a Kong that treads both familiar and new territory, and serves as a connection to a much larger “monsterverse”. It’s a good move that serves the classic movie monster well, and prepares us for future features with the big ape.
Kong: Skull Island opens with a bang, as dueling pilots, one American and one Japanese, crash on the island. The pair naturally try to kill each other before getting interrupted by the appearance of the giant ape. Things flash forward to 1973, where Bill Randa (John Goodman) is trying to secure permission to mount an expedition to a mysterious island. Randa represents Monarch (the same organization in 2014’s Godzilla), and they seek to prove the existence of unknown creatures. Randa secures a military escort, led by Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Also tagging along is tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). The expedition arrives at Skull Island and begins dropping explosives, much to the displeasure of its ruler. Kong swats the expedition’s helicopters from the sky, and it then becomes a trek for survival. Along the way, they meet the surviving downed airman from the film’s opening, Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), who has lived on the island for the past 28 years with the local native population.
Naturally, man and nature collide, with predictable results. And the nature of Skull Island is a bit beyond your typical flora and fauna. There’s a giant spider that towers above the trees, monstrous water buffalo, lizard like creatures that Marlow has dubbed ” Skull Crawlers”, and more. And then there’s Kong. Standing at 104 feet tall, this Kong is the largest incarnation of the great ape in an American film (The Kong featured in the 1962 Japanese monster movie King Kong vs. Godzilla was larger, at 147 feet. By way of comparison, Kong in Peter Jackson’s 2005 film stood at a mere 25 feet tall.). That size befits a king of this world of monsters, as Kong’s many enemies, including a giant octopus and a big Skull Crawler, are of massive size themselves. This makes for some impressively staged battles, including one brutal one late in the film.
Director Vogt-Roberts keeps the action moving at a fairly brisk pace, and wisely avoids the typical Kong falling for the girl scenario. Not that there isn’t contact between Larson’s character and Kong. There is, but it’s handled in a much different way, with the pair more having a mutual respect for each other than with one being offered up as a sacrifice to the other. The native population is much more subdued this time around, living more or less at peace with Kong, who is viewed more as a protector from worse things than as a menace to be feared. The action is contained to the island for this outing, and that too works in the film’s favor. The 70’s soundtrack provides a nice backdrop, and allusions to the Vietnam War are evident, as are some slight homages to Apocalypse Now in the scenes of the bombing of the jungle and a boat voyage up a river. There’s also a nice nod to Jurassic Park when Jackson’s character utters a familiar phrase.
The cast is all likable and give serviceable performances. Hiddleston and Larson make for capable good guys and voices of reason to counteract the more aggressive tone of Jackson’s Packard. Goodman’s Randa works as a man wanting to prove his theories right regardless of cost, and Reilly provides some nice comic relief. Also providing some comic relief was Shea Whigham’s (Boardwalk Empire) pilot Cole, who has a very laid back reaction to having his chopper knocked from the sky by a gigantic gorilla. Jackson is great when he uses that trademark stare, facing down Kong in a fiery confrontation. Jackson’s declaration “It’s time to show Kong that man is king!” rings true to his character, who seems born of war and holds loyalty to his men in high regard, and vows vengeance to any who would harm his squad. In this way, Kong is cast more in a hero role with Jackson as a villain, with both sharing that same protective drive over that which they command. They become two sides of the same coin, catching the others in the middle.
In all, Kong: Skull Island delivers as advertised- a fun monster movie with plenty of action and some nice touches of humor. While it does lack any real character development (but you don’t go to these type of movies for that anyway), the characters are likable enough, and the role of Monarch is established nicely and ties in well with Godzilla. A post credits scene is well worth staying in your seat for, as it offers some big hints for the future of this franchise. This is a movie that demands to be seen on the big screen, offering some terrific visuals and creatures we haven’t entirely seen before. There are few scenes to slow things up for the movie’s two hour runtime, and it remains consistently entertaining throughout. For those critics that Godzilla didn’t get enough screen time in the 2014 film, they should be quite satisfied here, as Kong appears early and often. Fans of giant monster movies should enjoy this, and for Kong this is a movie that honors him well.
Kong: Skull Island
- Plenty of action, humor
- Great monster fights
- Terrific visual effects
- Good soundtrack
- Likeable cast
- No real character development
- Some talky exposition
- Plot just serviceable