Review – Kong: Skull Island

Kong Skull Island Poster

The king of the apes is back and bigger than ever before.

King Kong is easily one of the most recognizable and referenced movie monsters of all time, yet there have been surprisingly few films featuring this giant ape. We haven’t seen him on screen since Peter Jackson‘s 2005 epic, though one could argue that film was long enough to count as multiple movies right there. Well, Kong is back in a new origin story designed to tie in with Legendary Entertainment‘s “MonsterVerse” – the first of which was 2014’s Godzilla.

Not only does this film strive to mimic Marvel’s successful shared universe formula, most of the cast has, or will, feature in Marvel’s cinematic properties. Skull Island stars Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, and Tom Hiddelston.

Hidden for thousands of years, Skull Island is a thing of legend, now found by new satellite technology. So off we go to see what secrets it is hiding.

Skull Island is a film about concepts spectacles rather than characters and plot, and I mean that in the best possible way. The characters are little more than walking war movie tropes. With Vietnam as the backdrop you have the unit on the cusp of returning home, but there’s just this one last mission. There’s the nervous young recruit, the guy trying to get back to his family, and the oddball guy whose past is probably best left undisturbed. We have the fearless Captain Ahab type leader who doesn’t know what to do with himself as the war comes to an end, the peace loving journalist, and the political powerhouse pulling all the strings and hiding what’s really going on. The most fleshed out and emotionally satisfying character is that of the long though dead survivor found in the wild  – John C. Reilly, guilty of grand theft scenery. He’s the voice of the audience and one of the most fun movie characters you’ll ever see.

Using Vietnam and war films as a canvas, Skull Island paints a thematic picture with wide brush strokes that don’t require too much thinking to get, but the overall picture is that of a monster movie. It begins with an unexpectedly intense skirmish between two soldiers to get your blood pumping, and then takes a little bit of time to set things up – just enough to establish all the key players and the state of the world. After that, the movie takes off and never slows down. Unlike Godzilla, which spent far too much time trying to make uninteresting human characters seem important and not enough time actually giving us the creature we wanted to see, Skull Island doesn’t hide Kong in the least. We’re introduced to the giant primate right off the bat, front and center, in spectacular fashion. He’s no dumb ape, but a formidable and intelligent giant who knows how to defend his territory. After that he doesn’t disappear either, he’s always ready to show up with a defiant fist to squash his foes around each corner.

Logically speaking, much, or most, of this film necessitates being computer generated images, but I almost never felt pulled out of the movie because of it. Things flow together seamlessly and the creatures, inspired by the likes of Princess Mononoke, are breathtaking and incredibly realistic. Thankfully, though the world feels full of life, it’s never overdone. Whereas in something like Avatar, we were seemingly introduced to some new form of alien life every few moments, in Skull Island there are really only two or three featured creatures other than the obvious.

Now listen, people go to a monster movie to see people fighting monsters, and monsters fighting other monsters. There is no disappointment here as the battles are many, incredibly well executed, and entertaining. It’s easy to root for Kong as well as a few of the humans, and he gives you plenty of opportunities to do so. As far as the entertainment factor goes, this movie is perfection. Kong has a very distinct attitude and even a sense of humor about him and the way he decimates his enemies.

Kong isn’t the only one to have impressive fight scenes though – Hiddelstoners (that’s a thing, right?) be on the look out for a standing ovation worthy action sequence that could only exist in a movie like this, or perhaps a video game. Amazing.

Almost every moment of this film is a money shot. Carefully constructed, there are frames of incredible beauty here. To bring up Godzilla yet again – it had a great moment used in every poster and trailer of a team of skydivers falling alongside the king of lizards in red smoke in the city. It was a moment worthy of being framed as a work of cinematic art, even as the rest of the film felt bland in comparison. At least half of Skull Island feels just as amazing as that one moment of Godzilla.

I’m not going to lie – this is not really a cinema lover’s film. It’s a monster movie. It’s King Kong. But it is what it is so, so well. It plays with the genre just enough to give a wink and a nod and make fun of a few of the cliches, but still comes out on top as the best in the category itself. A movie of pure monster mayhem. I don’t know how director Jordan Vogt-Roberts came up with that perfect balance of taking the material just seriously enough to have some weight to it, but lightly enough to be just a good time at the movies, but he did. And it looks so good.

There’s almost zero actual character development, and little to the plot beyond survive from point A to point B. And that is fine with me. It doesn’t try and fail to create needlessly complex situations or cheesy emotional arcs. It never seems to try too hard at anything, yet it does manage to do away with the typical damsel in distress, beauty taming the beast cliche’s while still giving the appropriate nods to those aspects of the classic tale. It doesn’t try to explain everything – there is a nice logical (movie logic that is) reason for the existence of hidden monsters, and it leaves it at that. It is completely unashamed of what it is, and I am unashamed of loving every moment of it.

Don’t forget to stay after the credits for a sneak peak to see the Avengers assemble. You think I’m kidding – I’m not.

Mrs. Hamster did not screen this film

Brother Hamster says:

“It’s big, it’s loud, and it’s fun. Exactly what the last Godzilla movie should have been.”

My rating: Five out of five hats

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Trailer:

Kong: Skull Island stomps into 3,846 theaters, including IMAX 3D, March 10