Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island ★★★½

Real Talk: How can one critic blame a monster movie for being completely shameless in genre and execution? It’s as if I’m expected to take every movie I review seriously. Well today, I feel in a rather forgiving mood.

This monster action film from indie director Jordan Vogt-Roberts released worldwide on March 10th, 2017, earning back $151 million against its $185 million budget, and will no doubt double that in the coming weeks. Rather than a straight-forward retelling of the classic King Kong from 1933, this one is more of a revision told for a different generation. The 2nd film in Warner Bros.’s newly proposed MonsterVerse, which kicked off with Gareth Edwards’ "Godzilla" in 2014, this soft reboot also serves as a lead-in to an eventual crossover between the two.

Set in the remote Pacific in 1973, the breezy 118 minute-long narrative follows a group of American soldiers, a war photographer, a washed up British SAS, and government agents on an expedition into an uncharted piece of land known as Skull Island. Once they start dropping bombs on the surface, the “King” of the island, a 100-foot tall bipedal ape named Kong, crashes them in retaliation, leading to a deadly game of survival.

One of my favorite aspects of these new monster movies is that I walk into the movie theater knowing almost nothing about the plot. This has been going on since Matt Reeves’ found-footage thriller "Cloverfield" from 2008 and has arguably been perfected since then. I love going into a film shrouded in secrecy, and this film achieved that before anything else. Now, how is the movie as a whole? First and foremost, a moviegoer has to have a certain list of expectations to set and manage when viewing a film like this. Me personally, I wanted it to accomplish at least one purpose: To capture what monster movies used to be like back in the day, as well as capturing the era in which it is set. And for the most part, "Kong: Skull Island" fulfilled what it set out to do, and a few other things along the way.

On the human scale of it all, the movie has a rather large ensemble cast. Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, Corey Hawkins, John C. Reilly, Toby Kebbel, John Ortiz, Jason Mitchell, Jing Tian, and Shea Whigham all make up the cast, but not all of them are given enough backstory or screen-time to get an emotional attachment to. As with the problem with moist ensemble films, the majority of characters don’t really elevate themselves above the expected layers and cliches. The standout players are Jackson, who delivers one of his most committed and enjoyable roles in recent memory, Larson as a strong woman who tries to resist action female character cliches, Hiddleston as a broken alcoholic who suddenly finds a reason to live again, and Reilly whose sense of humor was appreciated despite his character’s rather tragic history. If for nothing else, this isn’t going to get any nominations come next January, but they were all fine and somewhat memorable.

But let’s get right into it because he’s the reason why we all bought a ticket to see the movie. Kong. Or King Kong, rather. How is he? While he may not be in the film for many scenes, he kicks complete ass and is really the character with the most layers and substance. Despite his intimidating size and presence, he evokes the behavior of a 14-year-old stuck in an adult-oriented life. It’s almost as if he doesn’t want to be a King, but has to be for the sake of other lesser beings on Skull Island. His design, along with the rest of the creatures and visual effects by Legendary Pictures, is quite impressive to behold.

While on the subject, the fight sequences involving Kong are truly exciting fare. Larry Fong’s sharp camera work is impressive, especially considering the absurdity and longevity of some of the fights. What the MonsterVerse has achieved better than anything else is showing the scale of the humans compared to the monsters very well. I’m telling you, this lonely ape is absolutely ENORMOUS. It has become a commonality for filmmakers to use helicopters as a scientific measuring tool for their creations, and this PG-13 movie is no exception. Very early on, he’s bashing away at military helicopters like they’re nothing.

At the same time, "Kong: Skull Island" attempts to use its story as a parallel to the Vietnam War, which had ended just before the events of the plot. These are veteran soldiers going into an unpredictable island, where all manner of beasts await them. And they don’t really go to war, so much as get chopped up and eaten by a variety of creatures. And while that aspect of the story can seem a bit pretentious, it does serve as a nice foil to an otherwise formulaic monster movie. While "Kong: Skull Island" is far from perfect, it still does a great job at doing an iconic character justice in the modern era. It hits all the right notes required for action monster cinema and hits a few more targets it didn’t need to- with decidedly positive results. This is certainly a fun, rewatchable film for all fans, as long as you know to kick your feet back and have a good time. Now, bring on "Godzilla Vs. Kong" as soon as possible, guys.

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