Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Film Review by Nicholas Haberling
When I first heard about the release of a new King Kong movie a few years ago the inner child in me was excited. The new Godzilla film had been an enjoyable romp through the ruins of San Francisco so I felt I was ready for King Kong to get the same treatment. Then the movie trailers dropped. Vietnam-era music played as UH-1 “Huey” helicopters dropped bombs on the jungle below. Suddenly a tree tore through the air like a missile, taking one of the choppers down before the camera panned upwards to reveal a tall and bipedal figure silhouetted in the background. My heart sank. I grew up with Peter Jackson’s more natural King Kong rather than the costumed iterations of decades past. I thought the return of bipedal King Kong would be silly and ultimately leave me unable to enjoy the film. But it turns out that first impressions aren’t everything.
Kong: Skull Island is the second film in Legendary’s new MonsterVerse. Much like 2014’s Godzilla, this film begins with a series of images showing headlines and classified reels detailing the government’s attempt to study these gigantic monsters. I for one appreciated the effort it took to build this fictional universe and felt accomplished when I caught a glimpse of a submerged Godzilla in the corner of one of the photographs before it disappeared from the screen.
While there is a short scene at the start of the film showing the arrival of a crashed American and Japanese pilot to Skull Island during World War II, the film truly begins in 1973 during the close of the Vietnam War. A Monarch employee, played by John Goodman, is desperate for funding in order to explore a recently discovered island in the South Pacific. Of course his request is granted otherwise we wouldn’t have the rest of the film. This is followed by the recruitment of a former British SAS officer, played by Tom Hiddleston, and a helicopter squadron commanded by Samuel L. Jackson. A wartime photographer played by Brie Larson rounds out the cast for this act of the film.
Shortly thereafter our band of explorers reaches Skull Island and begins dropping seismic charges from the assumed safety of their helicopter escort. As the trailer showed us, they are definitely not safe from King Kong. Chaos ensues and with the group scattered across the island they must find their way to safety. Luckily they are helped along the way by a certain downed American pilot played by John C. Reilly. As they continue their trek across the island they learn more about Skull Island’s king as well as his lizard-like enemies.
Kong: Skull Island made two improvements over 2014’s Godzilla. First, it allowed the main attraction to shine. Rather than hiding Kong behind mountains or pillars of smoke, when Kong was part of the scene, he was the scene. Second, the supporting cast of human characters had conflict and their own story arcs. John Goodman’s character finally gains validation in his belief that monsters walk amongst us. Samuel L. Jackson’s Lieutenant Colonel Packard found one last enemy to fight after the Vietnam War with Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson serving as counter-weights. And of course there was plenty of humor and banter between characters that has become a familiar trait in modern movies, but works well here in a film that ultimately doesn’t take itself too seriously.
I have to give Kong: Skull Island a 7.5/10. My rating system is an unscientific combination of personal enjoyment of the film, preconceived expectations, and whether or not the film has that timeless yet intangible quality of truly being good. Kong: Skull Island’s combination of exceeding my expectations and being an enjoyable film in its own right is well worth the price of admission for a standard showing. While I don’t think there are any timeless qualities here, the film is a fun trip back to Skull Island that fits into the greater MonsterVerse quite nicely.