Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island ★★★★

Skull Island is immediately at odds with its MonsterVerse predecessor, establishing Kong as front and centre early on. Aesthetically, it’s a counterpoint: the washed out, colourless greys of Godzilla replaced by sun-burnt orange and yellow, and the luscious greens of exotic and extinct vegetation. Human characters are no more drawn out, but at least here are more clearly designed as monster fodder, their deaths often as a punchline, inventive and sometimes shocking. Tom Hiddleston is abrupt, Brie Larsen is not the damsel in distress of old, and John C. Reilly provides some comic relief. 

It leans heavily into a Vietnam allegory, marching unprepared into someone else’s territory, full of violent bravado and pomp. It’s a comic book pastiche, rather than something to provoke deeper thoughts. False memory of imagery and sounds. 

The scene where Kong appears in full view, the sun shimmering behind him, is a fantastic image, eventually leading to the final confrontation with Samuel L. Jackson’s Packard. His is the meatiest human role here. Near the conclusion, Packard finally stands before Kong, a raging inferno, both literal and metaphorical, between them. The two mirror each other, and although this was colourblind casting (JK Simmons was originally cast in the role), it does have some unfortunate connotations. 

Kong is impressive and awe-inspiring, surely the most detailed and imposing he has ever looked. A youthful anger, yet still the protective force that he is always established to be. Fight scenes between the skull-crawlers are visceral and linger on the action, everything visible. There are no dinosaurs here, save for a triceratops skull and some pterodactyl-like creatures, but instead a new menagerie of fantastic beasts, providing cruel deaths and a chance for Cannibal Holocaust references, and for Tom Hiddleston to wear a gas mask and swing a sword about wildly in slow motion, slicing and cleaving in two as he goes. 

Its links to Godzilla are understated and organic (apart from the Marvel style post-credits scene), shady agency Monarch tying the two together, but more than that, it’s thematic - the building of a strong mythology, and the continued understanding that man is irrelevant. Kong is king around here.

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