Being a huge monster movie fan, I remember very clearly how excited I was in 2014 when the newest Godzilla movie came out. I also remember how disappointed I was with movie as well, with the cardboard cutout human characters I didn’t care about and incredibly, the lack of monsters including Godzilla himself. The people behind Kong: Skull Island seemed to recognize this and gave us a creepy island, some characters we care about, incredible monster battles and damn if King Kong wasn’t an impressive site on screen.
The movie opens with two pilots crashing on a remote and eerie island, one American and one Japanese, and they continue fighting until they come across something that is so unbelievable and dangerous they just stop what they’re doing altogether and stare. We move forward in time to 1973, smack dab at the end of the Vietnam conflict/war where we meet a man named William Randa (John Goodman) who is desperate to get his expedition funded by the government to this same strange and mysterious island to prove some of his theories that he has seen ridiculed his entire life.
Once he gets permission, Randa starts recruiting people to help him on his mission. Tracker and former soldier James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), wartime photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and a helicopter squadron for support led by Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel Jackson) all join the Randa’s quest, although at this point he has not revealed the actual mission. Before you can say ‘giant ape’ the squadron finds themselves under attack by Kong himself and after the carnage is over the survivors have three days to get to the north side of the island for the planned pickup. However, Kong is the least of their problems because as they soon discover, he is not the only threat on the island.
There are a lot of things to like about Kong: Skull Island and to that end, let’s start with the big guy himself. Although he’s not the only ‘monster’ on the island, Kong is indeed the king and there is no doubt this is his home. With a nice twist on the regular storyline we’re used to, Kong is also a guardian and protector, making sure the more nasty creatures are kept in line. He seems lonely, like a king on his throne with no one to share his good fortune with. This makes us empathize with him, especially when learn the backstory about his family, and he quickly becomes so much more than just a big ole’ ape.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts makes a lot of great decisions in this movie, showing a great eye for a movie so large, especially with no past experience that would prepare him for this undertaking. There is a great feel to the movie, and it moves quickly from point to point, letting the viewer really enjoy the experience without getting bogged down with too much plot and involving characters that nobody cares about.
As in past Kong movies, there are natives on this island, and when our survivors finally encounter them they also get to meet Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) who has been on the island a very long time. Director Roberts and Reilly play Marlow for some laughs and they pull it off, giving the character loads of heart and all the best one-liners in the movie. This could have fallen flat and really hurt the film but Reilly knows how to do this character with his eyes closed and Marlow is clearly the favorite human on the island.
Kong is also protecting the natives, especially from what Marlow refers to as “Skullcrawlers”, who in turn are a big headache for everyone, man and beast, on this island. Some of the best monster brawls involve these creatures, especially the epic final showdown and the special effects people do a great job of making these clashes look damn real.
The movie is not without some issues, though. The Apocalypse Now theme is a bit old, as is the whole humans-and-their-relationship-with-nature morality lessons. The anti-war message comes off strange as well, even with the Vietnam War as a backdrop but perhaps the biggest travesty is the dialogue that Brie Larson is forced to spew out. There were far too many times that I was either cringing or trying to stop myself from laughing out loud at some of the nonsense coming out of her mouth.
That being said, Kong: Skull Island was a great big bag of popcorn fun and the way a monster movie should be made. Watching the after credits teaser, it looks like monster movies will be around for a while longer and if they follow the same formula of this movie, that is just fine with me.
Four stars out of five
- Monster battles are fantastic
- Skull Island is creepy as hell and danger is everywhere
- There are some human characters you actually care about
- Brie Larson is stuck with some horrible and downright embarrassing dialogue
- Humans versus nature, 'Apocolypse Now' themes a little old