Stars: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz, Tian Jing, Toby Kebbell | Written by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly, John Gatins | Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Kong: Skull Island marks the triumphant return of King Kong to the theater for the first time since 2005 when Peter Jackson thought it was a good idea for a giant ape to ice skate with a damsel in distress, much to the chagrin of critics and audiences everywhere. This Kong doesn’t have time for ice skating or long walks around New York City because he’s got to protect his home from underground lizard hybrids, birds that can saw a man in half and even humans who feel Kong would look good over their mantle.
Kong: Skull Island is set in the year 1973, or more accurately the very day that America was pulling out from the Vietnam War, and the last chance for secretive agency of Monarch (from Godzilla) and scientist Bill Randa (John Goodman) to talk the U.S. government into a “mapping and navigation” mission on an uncharted and until just recently, unknown island in the South Pacific. Randa recruits a tracker named James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and military leader Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his fellow soldiers to complete his mission but unknown to everyone but Randa, a giant ape has other plans. After Kong strikes down every helicopter in the squad, the survivors must navigate the dangers of the island to reach their rendezvous point in three days to get off a literal Hell on Earth.
- Kong is king! Not only did the visual effects crew pull off a realistic looking monster film, Kong has never looked better at the cinema. If fans were disappointed in the lack of screen time for Godzilla in the last monster film, fans will appreciate the abundance of screen time Kong has in this film. Kong looks, moves and conveys realistic feelings not seen in prior films. Credit the writers of the film for not making Kong fall in love, which is just ridiculous in previous films, with Larson’s character and by removing the love story, it opens up the film and Kong to what fans really want, Kong being king of the island.
- Skull Island. Despite Peter Jackson’s effort in his 2005 film that caused Skull Island to look like a cheap Jurassic Park, audiences have never truly seen a good version of Skull Island. Kong changes that to incorporate not only monsters that nightmares are made of, looking at you giant octopus, but also non-threatening animals that would be needed to make the island a working ecosystem. Kong also does a favorable job giving reasoning to the Kong-worshipping tribe that lives on the island and why they worship the giant ape. The film immerses the audience into Skull Island and you won’t want to leave it.
- The monster battles. If you ignore the first 20 minutes of the film to set the back story of the film, the remaining 100 minutes is nothing but a pure adrenaline rush with numerous battles between a combination of Kong, Skull Island monsters and humans. The film grabs you from the opening battle of Kong versus helicopters (yes, you read that right and it’s amazing) and doesn’t stop till the credits roll on the film. Be warned though, the battles do get bloody and intense quickly.
- Preston Packard. I love Samuel L. Jackson as much as the next person but at this point in his career, every character he plays is just a caricature of himself or a character in a previous film. The audience learns from Packard’s opening scene that he isn’t ready for the war in Vietnam to be over and is lost if he doesn’t have an enemy to focus his hatred on so Kong becomes that enemy. The character of Packard is a one-note villain and I would have been interested how J.K. Simmons (originally cast in the role) would have played this lost character. Bonus points if you can accurately count how many famous quotes Jackson says from his prior films.
- The rest of the characters. Hiddleston and Larson do their best with their characters but the dialogue is forced at times and definitely is not Shakespeare. Packard’s soldiers actually do have some background to them and their direction is better than what most characters receive in films with a cast of “unknown” soldiers. The one character that does steal the show is Hank Marlow, played by John C. Reilly, as a World War II soldier shot down in 1944 and living amongst the tribe on the island. Reilly punctuates his dialogue well and is the well-needed comic relief for the film that audiences will grow to enjoy and root for as the film reaches it’s final battle.
Final Grade: B (Good but the scenes with Kong are amazing)
Kong: Skull Island is the best “giant monster” film in decades and minus the original film, surpasses any King Kong film prior to this one. The film feels like a great theme park ride and allows the audience to just enjoy a fun film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Kong is a great addition to the Monsterverse that Warner Brothers and Legendary Entertainment is building and eventually leading to Godzilla vs. Kong in 2020. Fans of the giant monster film genre will thoroughly enjoy this film and anyone new to the series will appreciate the thrill ride that Kong is.
**A little tip… stay through the credits to see an amazing after-credits scene that sets up the next several films in the Monsterverse.