A group of scientists team up with soldiers to travel to an uncharted island. Their goal is to use seismic charges to study and map the geological structures on the island. Little does the team know that this island is filled with mysterious creatures. Many of these creatures are larger than life and unlike anything the group has seen before. Unfortunately, their explosions have awoken the king of the island, and this is a king they do not want to cross.
Most audiences know the story of King Kong. It is a plot that has been redone several times, and the story is typically the same: a large gorilla-like creature rules Skull Island. He typically falls for a beautiful blonde woman who happens to be with a group of men exploring the island, then Kong gets captured and taken to New York, escapes, then climbs a tall building. This plot is usually set in the 1930’s. While some of these elements are present in Kong: Skull Island, audiences are (for the most part) given a fresh, unique take on the giant ape we know and love. The biggest difference is that the film is set in the 1970’s at the end of the Vietnam War. The filmmakers do a great job of creating the look and feel one would expect when watching a Vietnam War era film. They clearly draw heavy inspiration from films like Apocalypse Now, especially when looking at the color choices made throughout the film. Another substantial difference between the classic King Kong story and this film is that, while there is a blonde female character traveling with the group of men, she is by no means a damsel in distress. This female character, Mason Weaver, proves early on that she can tough it out with the best of them because she is an anti-war photographer in the trenches of Vietnam. These two differences alone make Kong: Skull Island stand apart from its predecessors.
When the first teaser trailer came out for this film I was very concerned about the size of Kong. I understand that Kong was enlarged to make him a more suitable foe to battle Godzilla, but taking him from 50ft to 100ft seemed like a bit much. He doesn’t scale tall buildings anymore, he’s the size of a tall building! Luckily the filmmakers manage to make Kong’s size work along with the other plot changes. Taking into consideration we will eventually have a Godzilla vs Kong film, one of the most successful aspects was how the filmmakers connected King Kong to the same universe as Godzilla. In King Kong vs Godzilla (1962) the two monsters are haphazardly thrown together in Tokyo to have an epic battle without much explanation. Kong: Skull Island clearly establishes the existence of an extensive underground system of caverns that are inhabited by all sorts of giant monsters including Kong, Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. The audience is given a great Kong story while also getting a taste of what future Kong and Godzilla films will have in store.
This is definitely an action packed monster flick, but it is also driven by the human characters. With the likes of John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane), Tom Hiddleston (Crimson Peak), and John C. Reilly (Step Brothers) you know you’re in for a treat. While the dialogue does leave a bit to be desired, there are many amazing performances that make up for it. One of the more interesting roles is played by Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight). He plays Packard, the leader of the group of soldiers. What makes his performance truly stand out is how his actions seem to directly mirror Kong’s. Both of them seem crazed and animalistic at times, but really their only goal is to protect those they care about. As I mentioned earlier, this film has the perfect strong female character in photographer Mason Weaver, played by Brie Larson (Room). There is something about Larson and how she portrays this character that makes her a true role model. In all honesty, there are so many fascinating and likeable characters that my biggest qualm with this film is that there are almost too many characters. I also wish many of the characters had been given more backstory, especially Goodman’s character.
Both the cinematography and special effects elevate the film to another level. Many scenes are so beautifully shot you almost forget you are watching a giant monster movie. One scene that stands out for its cinematography is the iconic shot when we first get a glimpse of Kong with the sunrise behind him. More gorgeous and thrilling cinematography is seen when Hiddleston runs through bright green smoke while using a sword to cut down flying monsters. In these two scenes and many others the use of vibrant color adds beauty to perilous situations. The CGI creatures are incredibly well done. With Kong, he is clearly a gorilla-like creature, but unlike gorillas Kong stands upright. This gives the perception that Kong may be somewhere between man and ape. There are various other creatures inhabiting Skull Island. Each one has a unique and beautiful creature design. The “skull crawlers” are particularly disturbing in their odd shape and the way they move, yet their features are logical for being underground lizard-like beings.It is clear that a lot of thought went into the creation of the many giant beasts.
Kong: Skull Island is my favorite giant monster film since Cloverfield (2008). It makes up for many of the mistakes that were made with the recent Godzilla film, especially in that there are more compelling characters and Kong is more prominently featured. That being said, this film does repeat some of the same mistakes. With such a star-studded cast, it is impossible not to enjoy each and every performance. Unfortunately there are simply too many characters and not enough time to really dive into each of their histories, and often the dialogue between them can sound uninspired. Despite that, audiences still get an exciting monster movie that has great creature designs, breathtaking cinematography, and a story that instantly grabs your attention (all the way through to the end of the credits). You will walk out of the theater eager to see what comes next in this epic universe of giant monsters from the depths of the earth.
OVERALL RATING. 8/10