It’s been twelve years since King Kong has graced the big screen, but the king is back and this time he’s being incorporated into the Legendary MonsterVerse in “Kong: Skull Island”. Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. were hoping for a home run with this film to help build on the success of the 2014 “Godzilla” reboot that kicked off the MonsterVerse and while it’s not a perfect film, it proves to be an exciting and endearing experience worth enjoying.
“Skull Island” features a team of scientists and soldiers, fresh from the Vietnam War, making their way to the uncharted Skull Island to explore what the island has to offer. When they incur the wrath of the island’s resident guardian, the massive gorilla Kong, they become stranded in two groups, one seeking a safe way off the island and the other seeking the tools to get revenge against the giant ape. Along the way the soldiers, explorers, and scientists come face-to-face with the island’s inhabitants, both human and inhuman, including a dangerous species called the Skull Walkers that pose the biggest threat to both them and Kong.
The film sports a star-studded cast as many big names join in the journey to Skull Island. Tom Hiddleston (“Thor”, “Crimson Peak”) portrays James Conrad, a broken British captain who is hired as a tracker for the expedition while Brie Larson (“Room”, “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World”) plays the female lead as Mason Weaver, an anti-war photojournalist who joins the expedition to photograph what they find. They are joined by Samuel L. Jackson as Preston Packard, a US Army Lieutenant Colonel who is scarred by the United States’ departure from Vietnam and leads the soldiers charged to escort the expedition, and John Goodman, who plays Bill Randa, a senior official from the government organization known as Monarch to charged the expedition. John C. Reilly, Toby Kebbell, Jing Tian, Corey Hawkins, Thomas Mann and others join in the adventure as well.
When looking at the quality of “Kong: Skull Island” it’s important to remember that it is, indeed, part of a larger world. “Skull Island” is actually a prequel to the 2014 “Godzilla” and further establishes the existence and mission of the group known as Monarch. It’s this organization that proves to be the driving force behind the discovery of Kong and we even learn more about how beings like Kong and Godzilla could exist without humanity knowing of them or why Skull Island remained undetected. To that end “Skull Island” serves as a true launching off point that introduces many concepts that help expand the viewers understanding and the mythos of the larger universe Legendary Pictures is trying to create, and it does all that without determent to its own individual story.
“Skull Island” is not only a great universe-establishing flick, it holds its own as an entertaining and, in some ways even thought provoking monster film that completely bucks the traditional Kong story, introducing us to a new origin tale that portrays Kong as a young ape who protects his island at all cost. It’s this mission that brings him into conflict the human visitors, a group consisting of numerous character clichés that all serve as parodies of sorts for humanity with each character having their own specific traits and personalities, some adding comedic levity to the film and others adding to the action and the deeper narrative at play. What I thought was interesting, and a pretty cool decision on the part of the filmmakers, is that many of these human characters are unceremoniously killed off. Nobody is safe on Skull Island, and several of the deaths play well into the unpredictability a monster film should portray, especially on an island as mysterious as Skull Island.
Kong’s design and characterization is also to be praised. Terry Notary does a fantastic job bringing the giant ape to life via motion capture and it’s through his work that we see a young, lonely, and in some ways frustrated monster of a character express everything from fear and hurt to anger and determination that makes him lifelike and, dare I say, almost even more human than many of the explorers and soldiers that made their way to his island. His interactions with human kind find him to be compassionate in his own way, with several of the human characters returning the favor, and truly makes him the star of his own film whereas Godzilla’s 2014 adventure focused more on the humans than on the big lizard himself.
As with many interpretations of Kong, “Skull Island” has it’s own underlying themes including war, anti-war and environmental awareness, and includes subtle callbacks to stories like “Apocalypse Now” and “Moby Dick”. So while there’s plenty of actions, explosions, death, and monster-on-monster violence, there’s much more to enjoy under the service making “Skull Island” an interestingly complex film at times.
It may not be the Kong story we are all used to, but “Kong: Skull Island” is a worthy addition to the Kong legacy that builds on the larger universe that Legendary Pictures wants so bad to produce. It’s an exciting action flick that takes the monster film genre to a whole new level and while it may not be the most sophisticated story ever put to the big screen, it’s one that carries the legacy of Kong with pride in a whole new direction that fans are sure to enjoy.