Since the 1930’s, Kong has been a major part of cinema. The original film is a masterpiece, with amazing pioneering visual effects that helped inspire filmmakers for decades to come. Now comes a new Kong adventure, from Legendary Pictures, the company behind 2014’s Godzilla. Does the King still have it?
Set in 1973 as the Vietnam War is coming to an end, the advent of satellite surveillance technology has revealed the existence of Skull Island. Bill Randa (John Goodman) and his young aid Brooks (played to an enjoyably panicked level by Corey Hawkins), both members of the government organization Monarch (the monster scientists from 2014’s Godzilla) decide to use the expedition of a group of Landsat scientists as a way to reach the until-recently-mythical island to prove their theories. To that end, they end up recruiting Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his helicopter squadron, and ex-British SAS captain turned tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston). They’re also joined by war photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Lawson).
Once this crew reaches the island, their initial bombing run (used to map the island with seismographs) ends up bringing the legendary ape in their path, utterly devastating them. Separated from each other, the different groups travel across the island, with one group aiming for an attempt to escape, but Packard, already on the edge due to America leaving Vietnam without winning the war, is plotting revenge on Kong. And when the group meets up with Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), a WW2 pilot who has been stranded on Skull Island for 28 years, they realize that Kong is the only thing standing between the world and a bigger threat, the monstrous Skullcrawlers.
Part of the fun of this movie is that it doesn’t stray too far from the spirit of the original King Kong, that of a fantastical adventure on a strange island where you’re never sure what can or will happen next. The main difference is the tone, for while the original can be interpreted as a horror movie or an allegory for colonialism destroying the natural world, Kong: Skull Island is at its core an action-adventure. The human cast is great, each one bringing a little something to the story. Hiddleston is exceptionally good as the British hero keeping cool in the face of the strange situation, while Lawson brings a lot of the rational thinking to the group. The real standouts are Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Reilly. Reilly is a naturally funny guy, but also really good at drama, so Marlow is both a source of great laughs and some of the more somber thoughts. As for Jackson, he brings his usual intensity to the role, giving Packard an unhinged Ahab feeling.
Of course, the real star of the movie is Kong, and unlike Godzilla’s last American film outing, he is prominent throughout the plot. We see him interacting with the humans, as well as the oversized animals; he is as much a part of the story as they are. In fact, he at times outshines them, as the human story is mainly there to introduce this version of Kong to the Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse. It’s helped by the amazing visual effects and cinematography, giving Skull Island as much personality as it should get when it appears in a movie. Coupled with some great action scenes, Kong: Skull Island is a lot of fun to watch.
There are some drawbacks, of course. The music isn’t as memorable as it could have been, and again, the humans aren’t as developed as they could be, sometimes taking a backseat to Skull Island and its creatures. That said, it’s great fun to watch, and has possibly one of the best post-credits teasers I’ve seen since they became a thing in films.
It may not be too deep, but if you want an entertaining ride at the movies, Kong’s royal pedigree still stands tall after over 80 years.