Director – Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Cast – Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz, Tian Jing, Toby Kebbell, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Eugene Cordero, Marc Evan Jackson, Will Brittain
Release Year – 2017
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Words could not express my excitement when I saw the first trailer to Kong: Skull Island. I was enamored at the idea of a different storyline for Kong and not another remake. On top of this, it was announced that this would be an entry into the Godzilla MonsterVerse. Watching my childhood monster icons on the big screen is something I never thought I would see, considering their rise to the top occurred in the 1960s-1980s. We now have our chance to see these dreams fulfilled, and with Kong: Skull Island the filmmakers sealed the deal. Equal parts horror and adventure, this is a must-watch for those who grew up loving these films.
Set days after Nixon ended the Vietnam War, a team of scientists, a war photographer (Brie Larson) and their military escort embark to an uncharted island after it shows up on a satellite image. The mystique behind the territory is that nobody has mapped the island and lived to tell about it. Lead by Monarch scientist Bill Randa (John Goodman), former SAS serviceman James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), and US Army Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), they learn firsthand why ships and planes never return from “Skull Island”. The geographic location has allowed nature’s prehistoric beasts to live in isolation, and the island’s king is a 100 foot gorilla the locals refer to as Kong. With their means of transportation destroyed and the survivors being killed off by the island’s native predators, James Conrad has three days to get them across the island to a rendezvous point. He doesn’t just have Kong and the island’s killers in his way though, as Lt. Col. Packard isn’t leaving until he gets his revenge against Skull Island’s king of the jungle.
Penned by a team of writers associated with Godzilla and Jurassic World, the story blends adventure and horror in a tight package. It begins with an intro set during the second world war (which will become an important factor later into the film), and then sends us to 1973. It doesn’t take long for Bill Randa to set up the expedition, which required approval from a senator and convincing James Conrad to guide them through the uncharted jungle. Packard and his men are one day away from leave, which leaves them a bit unenthused about the trip. Then there is Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), an (anti) war photographer who believes the expedition is really an undercover military ploy. The moment you see the island you realize why it has bene untapped for so long. It is surrounded by inclement weather that makes travel by ship or air very dangerous, but there is a reason the elite helicopter squadron was assigned with getting Randa to the island. This first act moves quickly, not only getting them to the island within the first 15 minutes but also having Kong greet them almost immediately upon arriving. This scene is fantastic and immediately sucked me in when I saw just how big Kong is in this film. The producers (who also produced Godzilla) were not going for the 30 foot tall Kong seen in the 1933 original or Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake. No, they wanted the Kaiju sized Kong seen in the Toho Kong films King Kong vs. Gozilla and King Kong Escapes. In this film he stands 100 feet tall, whereas the Koho Kong was about 150 feet tall. I wasn’t sure how I would like a Kong of this size, but he was employed in fantastic fashion where his size did not hold him back from delivering some thrilling scenes. You’d think his size would affect his athleticism, and maybe it does in comparison to the original Kong, but this behemoth is no slouch.
I was glad to see the writers include several other dangers to the survivors aside from Kong. There are giant species of spiders, ocean dwellers, and the main foe – the Skull Crawlers. These reptiles provide the thrills I was hoping for, and they pull at the heartstrings by killing off characters you enjoy in violent fashion. Much like Jurassic World, I was surprised by the violence seen in this effort. It isn’t overly gory, but the kills were brutal and shown in a full-frontal fashion that refused to shy away. This gutsy approach has been missing in horror these days, and I am glad to see it emerging with our monster movies.
Going into this film I had heard only one minor complaint, and it had to do with characters that aren’t that likable. To an extent that is true and much to my surprise it applies only to the leads. Lt. Col. Packard is the obvious antagonist, and he becomes unlikable when his quest for vengeance overrides leaving the island alive. As for James Conrad and Mason Weaver, they were OK but their characters weren’t very dramatic. I enjoyed seeing Hiddleston cast in a masculine role and abandoning the aristocratic gentlemen he has been type casted with. Unfortunately, his character isn’t pushed very hard in a developmental sense. This results in a monotonous character that is cool to look at but somewhat boring to listen to. The same goes for Mason Weaver, however her occupation as a photographer gives us a little bit more insight into what goes on in her mind. I was also glad to see she wasn’t used as a strong romantic interest to Kong, which was the case with the (blonde) female leads of the 1933, 1976, and 2005 King Kong films. Thankfully, the supporting characters carry the team and take on the likable roles. I really enjoyed John C. Reilly’s character Hank Marlow. He not only provided the comic relief but served as a strong story arch that elevated my interest in the film. You’ll want the guy to make it out alive. The same goes for Cole (Shea Whigham; Blood Creek), the right hand man for Lt. Col. Packard. He also provides comic relief and does so in a much tamer tone. You’ll be rooting for him to survive as well.
This is the second film for director Jordan Vogt-Roberts after The Kings of Summer (not a horror film). For a guy whose resume includes nothing in the vein of a film like this I was impressed with what he delivered. There were numerous times where he left me captivated at what was going on. The entrance scenes for Kong and the giant Skull Crawler were amazing, as were the full-frontal kills that came at the expense of beloved characters. I was glad that he did not shy away from the goods, and this resulted in more heartbreaking scenes than I imagined there would be. He achieves good acting performances with all of the actors, and while John C. Reilly essentially played the character he usually plays, it was he who stole the show. If there are any character issues it is due to how they were written, and not the performance itself. The look of Kong was great, and he had a stature that was unique to the other Kongs we have seen. He definitely seemed more human in his bipedal movements, which I actually did not prefer. I will at least respect that it is something different for the series. It is obvious that the filmmakers wanted to please fans of the Monsterverse, and that is especially the case with the post-credits scene.
Overall, Kong: Skull Island is a fun watch that I would probably watch again. As a fan of these giant monster movies I can say this is one for the fans and it leaves us with a glimpse of what is to come for the Monsterverse. Give this a shot.