In 2014, Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures launched a new cinematic universe with their Godzilla reboot. The film was, in a nutshell, good. It wasn’t anything amazing, but it was a legitimate monster movie with stunning effects, intense action, and even a few applaud worthy moments. That’s more than can be said about Roland Emmerich’s 1998 film. Above all else, 2014’s Godzilla got us all excited for the MonsterVerse’s follow-up outing: Kong: Skull Island.
The latest incarnation of Kong doesn’t have the emotional impact of the 1933 classic or Peter Jackson’s breathtaking remake, but that’s clearly not what the studio was aiming for. They set out to produce a traditional giant monster flick and that’s exactly what we get. It’s loud, dumb, and silly, but also creative, fun, and atmospheric. Most importantly, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts understands what the target audience wants to see and he delivers in a big way… for the most part. As with Godzilla, there are some areas where Kong: Skull Island really shines and others where it could’ve used some tweaking.
As with Godzilla, there are some areas where Kong: Skull Island really shines and others where it could’ve used some tweaking.
John Goodman plays Bill Randa, who’s a bit like Carl Denham if you took out the director aspect. He’s a government employee who gets the funding to explore a mysterious uncharted island. With the Vietnam War coming to an end, Randa enlists a helicopter squadron, which is lead by Samuel L. Jackson’s Preston Packard. An experienced tracker named James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and a photojournalist named Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) also join the expedition. Upon arriving, the humans quickly find that a giant ape inhabits Skull Island. He turns out to be the least of their problems, though, as the island is also overrun with mysterious creatures known as Skull Crawlers.
As you might’ve guessed, the highlight of the film is Kong himself. He’s not as expressive or sympathetic as Peter Jackson’s version, but the filmmakers make up for that in size and strength. Kong has never looked this mounting or intimidating, leading to several kickass fights and action sequences. It’s like Apocalypse Now meets a kaiju movie. Sure, the set pieces can get pretty over-the-top and even inexplicable, but that’s exactly what the doctor ordered. Whenever Kong is onscreen, the film is simply a blast. With that said, there are long stretches of time when Kong is nowhere to be found.
Whenever Kong is onscreen, the film is simply a blast.
In the same vein as Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island puts more emphasis on the human characters, which is kind of a letdown. Fortunately, the humans here are a little more interesting than the ones we got in Godzilla. Hiddleston and Larson make for solid leads. While there is a spark of romance between these two, it’s refreshingly downplayed. John C. Reilly is especially entertaining as a World War II veteran that’s been stranded on the island for almost three decades. These are all likable characters with the only killjoy being Samuel L. Jackson’s Packard.
Like so many other military figures in these movies, Packard wants to go out of his way to kill Kong, even though it’ll only cause more problems. His motivations for going after the damn dirty ape just feel forced, as if the screenwriters suddenly decided to work in a Moby-Dick subplot. In a film full of incredible, destructive monsters, did we really need a human antagonist? Luckily, those giant monsters more than compensate for Packard’s shortcomings.
The Skull Crawlers all have inventive designs, providing Kong with some formidable competition. If you weren’t eager to see King Kong fight Godzilla already, you will be after watching this flick. While the film does set us up for future entries, it doesn’t bombard us with a million cameos and references. Rather, the film saves its major Easter eggs for the post-credits scene, which is definitely one of the best of recent memory. Unlike Batman v Superman, Kong: Skull Island actually works as a standalone movie without turning into an extended preview. So at least Warner Bros. has one promising cinematic universe on their hands.