Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island ★★★★½

***In the Shadow of Godzilla: A Giant Monster Movie "Marathon"! Film #30***

The original King Kong came out back in 1933 and is an inarguable classic, introducing the world to cinema's first giant monster and paving the way for Godzilla, Gamera and countless others. Unfortunately, Kong has had a bit of a rough time since then, starring in a bunch of sequels, remakes and remake sequels, most largely forgettable at best. Then there are the countless copy-cats (copy-apes?), cheap cash-in rip-offs from across the world that have drug the mighty ape's name through the mud over and over again. So I think it's high time the original big monster got his fair dues, and boy does he ever in Kong: Skull Island.

Taking place in 1973, right at the end of the Vietnam War, the story follows Bill Randa, head of the failing Monarch group, a shadowy organization tasked with hunting giant monsters, as he assembles a team to travel to a newly discovered island in hopes of meeting a titan. Among his recruits are a former SAS man turned tracker, James Conrad, a blood-thirsty airman named Packard, an award winning photographer, Mason Weaver and a handful of soldiers and scientists. However, what they find on the island is more then they ever could have imagined.

It's been widely publicized that Kong: Skull Island takes place in the same universe as 2014's Godzilla reboot, and I have to say, as much as I love the Big-G, Kong's return to the big screen leaves the monster king in the dust. Skull Island does everything right that Godzilla '14 did wrong. The film is bright and colorful, taking place mostly during the sun-drenched tropical day as opposed to Godzilla's thick veil of darkness. The characters are all fun, with personalities and relationships, in contrast to the brooding cardboard cutouts in Godzilla. Best, and most importantly of all, you see monsters in Kong, and you see lots of them, no constant cut-aways here.

And what monsters they are. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has made one hell of a great call back to the adventure and monster movies of old, bringing to mind the golden age of Ray Harryhausen and Ishiro Honda. Skull Island is filled from coast to coast with wonderfully creative animals and creatures, from giant, moss-covered oxen, to bamboo-legged spiders to mosquito pterodactyls. Then, of course, there is Kong himself, a towering behemoth of a monster, scaled to massive heights to emphasize his power (and yes, to make him an even match for Godzilla in a few year's time). Vogt-Roberts said he wanted to turn Kong back into a movie monster, rather then just a giant gorilla, and there is no doubt he was successful.

There aren't just monsters populating the island and film though, Vogt-Roberts assembled a stellar cast including Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman and Brie Larson, who are all great as should be expected. However, there are two performances in particular I want to shine the light on. The first is famous comedy actor, John C. Reilly, whose performance as a stranded WWII pilot dominated most of the marketing. Reilly carries that dominance into the film, turning his humor into looniness with just the right amount of sadness and pathos. On the other end of the scale sits Samuel L. Jackson, whose dead-eyed Lt. Col Preston Packard knows nothing of mirth and instead channels his war-fueled madness into an unrelenting lust for blood and death. Jackson may be a veteran of countless roles, but this is one of his strongest.

Going forward, I can't wait to see where the Godzilla/Kong franchises go next. Hopefully the upcoming Godzilla: King of the Monsters will veer away from Gareth Edwards' dull, dark Godzilla reboot and more towards Vogt-Roberts' fun, colorful adventure style. Filled with great acting, effects and imagination, Kong: Skull Island is a fantastic monster movie and if the post credit scene is any indication, 2019 can't come soon enough!

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