Kong is king! And since 1933, Kong has been one of the iconic movie monsters. For over 80 years in numerous films, the giant ape has gone from a stop-motion puppet to a spectacle of computer-generated effects. But Kong isn’t the only super-charged element in director Jordan Vogt-Roberts' new monster movie, Kong: Skull Island, a rather fun and never-too-serious action adventure film.
Monsters are real. Well, at least that’s what scientist Bill Randa (John Goodman) believes. He's spent his entire life hunting for evidence of monsters and believes that proof exists on Skull Island, an undocumented place kept hidden by a massive storm. Randa is finally given permission to explore the island with the help of a military platoon led by Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Knowing that something beyond imagination could exist on the island, Randa employs a tracker named James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) as well. It doesn’t take long for the team to realize whose toes they stepped on by invading the island. Kong is king.
You get a sense early on that Mr. Vogt-Roberts is not trying to emulate the past incarnations of the famed ape. A majority of the past films have kept the introduction of Kong a secret, waiting until the midway point of the film before we finally see the monster's full image and size. In Kong: Skull Island, we are introduced to Kong in the first few minutes of the film—even the first full battle sequence with a striking image of Kong blocking the sun happens before the 20-minute mark.
The film takes place in 1973 with the United States stumbling out of the Vietnam War. The sentiments felt by incorporating a military team at the end of their tour in Vietnam, waiting happily to go home, offers a nice compliment to the story and the ultimate battle with Kong. Leading the charge is Lt. Col. Packard, a famed war hero looking for one more chance to prove himself in a war he refuses to believe was a failure.
Lt. Col. Packard, played with wild-eyed and stern aggression by Samuel L. Jackson, leads the charge via helicopter into the uncharted island. Again, it doesn't take long for Kong to make an impact. The swarm of helicopters are blindsided by Kong, and even with all of their gun power they are no match for the massive monster. Losing many of his men during this attack, many of whom we never get a chance to meet, sends Packard into madness and on a journey of vengeance that has him touting man's superiority over animal. It's hard not to feel the influence of other war films during these moments with the soldiers. Apocalypse Now and Platoon most recognizably hold a strong influence over the creative choices in the narrative. These moments work when they function in the vein of something like Predator, however, this is not always the case, as the film also shifts to a serious tone in some awkward places.
What helps immensely with the clumsy script and at times terrible dialogue is the acting team collected here. They are all exceptionally talented. When you have actors like Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, and John Goodman, you're bound to make terrible dialogue have some kind of power. Jackson is just fun to watch, from the beginning moments his character is intriguing mostly because of Jackson's bravado. The most interesting of the group is Brie Larson's photographer, Mason Weaver; the moments that she has with Kong are less "beauty that killed the beast" and more "beauty that helps the beast." There is also a nice cameo by a familiar actor who always seems to be having the most fun in whatever role he gets to play. Unfortunately, with so much talent in the film, some characters are only given a few moments to really shine.
Kong: Skull Island is fun when it doesn't take itself too serious, the kind of monster action that emulates epic battles you may have had in the sandbox with your toys as a kid. The acting is better than expected and the action is loud, fast, and aggressive. It's already been revealed that this is just the beginning for Legendary and Warner Bros.' new MonsterVerse, and Kong: Skull Island is a good start.
Movie Score: 3.5/5
In case you missed it, check out our previous coverage of Kong: Skull Island.