Kong: Skull Island was one of the films I was the most excited for coming into 2017, ever since the very first trailer was released. While I enjoyed Peter Jackson’s spin on the original King Kong back in 2005, it was a story I had already seen, and I wanted to see something new, something that truly celebrated the majesty of everyone’s favorite larger-than-life primate who has been a part of cinematic history for over 80 years now.
And thankfully, Kong: Skull Island delivers just that. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has crafted a breathtaking and exhilarating monster movie that doesn’t hold back when it comes to the film’s titular hero, as well as his habitat, which is teeming with all sorts of creatures both good and bad. Skull Island’s story does feel like it’s often working from two very different scripts, but Vogt-Roberts manages to interweave his epic, old-school adventure with the story’s war movie swagger rather well, making Kong: Skull Island feel like pure monster movie magic from beginning to end.
Skull Island starts off with a thrilling crash on a remote island during WWII, and we see two pilots, one from each side of the conflict, set to square off in a fight to the death. But as they prepare to battle, a curious monstrosity—Kong, who is breathtaking in that first introduction (and we don’t even see all of him)—peeks in on the pair’s fisticuffs, and that intrusion throws off both adversaries in the heat of the moment.
The story then moves forward into the early 1970s, when a scientific team, led by John Goodman’s character, Bill Randa, have discovered a mysterious island in the Pacific completely encapsulated by an intense storm system. Randa and his team (which includes characters played by Corey Hawkins and Tian Jing) believe that the uncharted landmass could contain new species of animals and various creatures, but they need a ride to the exotic locale first. Randa gets a big favor from a politician friend, who calls upon a platoon of soldiers, led by Lieutenant Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), to take his team into the exotic region, with both Tom Hiddleston (who plays a Special Air Service veteran named Conrad) and Brie Larson (as anti-war photographer Mason Weaver) tagging along for the ride.
But as they finally make their way to Skull Island, the invading humans manage to piss off Kong with their aggressive antics, leaving the travelers scattered throughout the undiscovered terrain after he attacks them upon arrival, setting off a chain of events that will forever change the landscape of Kong’s legendary habitat.
One of the biggest questions fans probably have going into Kong: Skull Island is just how much of Kong do we actually get to see, especially since we didn’t get nearly enough of Godzilla in Gareth Edwards’ 2014 film. That being said, I’m happy to report that (as mentioned) we not only get up close and personal with the big guy in the movie’s opener, but we also get a lot of great jaw-dropping moments with Kong throughout Skull Island. And beyond the titular behemoth, the film’s locale features a bevvy of other beasts to feast your eyes upon, some of a peaceful nature, and some ready to strike at a moment’s notice, and I loved all of them (the gigantic yak and stick creatures ended up being my favorite non-Kong monsters). In previous stories, Skull Island was home to a lot of dinosaurs and creatures of that ilk, so I’m happy that the writers on this one took some liberties to give us different beasts that help make Kong: Skull Island a standout creature feature.
Some might be wondering just how far things go in Vogt-Roberts’ latest cinematic endeavor, and there’s one incredibly gnarly kill in Kong: Skull Island that comes from a gigantic spider that totally shocked me, and I loved how surprisingly vicious that moment is, especially considering the movie’s PG-13 rating. There’s an unexpectedness to Skull Island’s environment that keeps the story very exciting—literally anything could happen at any moment, and I found that to be thrilling as a viewer because no one is ever safe, and that uncertainty kept me on my proverbial toes once we finally reached the titular locale.
Kong himself is everything I wanted him to be as well. He’s far more of a bipedal primate in Skull Island than in Jackson’s previous King Kong, which felt more in line with the creature I grew up loving as a kid, and his enormity is breathtaking to behold. He’s way more than just a force of nature here, too (at one point he punches a helicopter out of the sky the way you or I would swat at an annoying mosquito), and what’s pretty cool is that in this film, he’s set up to still be in his juvenile phase of life, which means that when we get more of Kong in the future, he’s probably going to be even grander in scale. Vogt-Roberts also does a fantastic job of infusing his CG hero with a palpable sense of humanity as well, and you can’t help but want to cheer him on as he defends his home island against some deadly creatures that we find out are responsible for his parents’ deaths prior to the events of the film.
As far as the human co-stars in Skull Island go, the entire ensemble is great, but it is both Hiddleston and Goodman who add some gravitas to the project and ended up being the real highlights of the cast for me. Jackson’s character, Packard, goes a bit down the Apocalypse Now path, which felt a little heavy-handed and forced at times, and while I enjoyed Larson’s performance in the film, too, I do wish the script had given her character more to do throughout the story.
Larson spends a lot of her time in Skull Island traveling with Hiddleston, and during their journey, they encounter John C. Reilly’s character, a lovable goof who brings levity to the table whenever he’s on screen (he get’s Skull Island’s one f-bomb, and I’m still chuckling about that moment two weeks later), and considering just how many characters there are at play in Kong: Skull Island, it’s Reilly who gets the film’s most satisfying character arc that left a big smile on my face.
As a whole, Kong: Skull Island is an incredible amount of fun, and I do think monster movie fans are going to have a great time with it in theaters. While I didn’t have a chance to see it on IMAX myself, I’m planning on watching it in that format myself once it’s released in theaters, because Vogt-Roberts has created an immensely spectacular visual feast, and it deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible. Oh, and you’ll absolutely want to make sure you stay through the credits, as there’s a scene with a really amazing setup that you won’t want to miss. From beginning to end, Kong: Skull Island is one geek-out moment after another, and I’m so glad that this new iteration of the iconic character gets such a glorious cinematic treatment as he does here. Long live the King of Skull Island!
Movie Score: 4/5