A diverse team of explorers is brought together to venture deep into an uncharted island in the Pacific – as beautiful as it is treacherous – unaware that they’re crossing into the domain of the mythic Kong.
In 1973, 40 years prior to Godzilla’s re-emergence in San Francisco, another beast made his presence known to the world, a beast known as Kong. After years of scientific pursuit for some kind of proof, a government official named William “Bill” Randa (John Goodman) and a geologist named Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) have finally received funding for a discovery expedition towards uncharted territory by man to an island known as “Skull Island”. There, they hope years of research will lead to the discovery of a monster unknown to man.
Joining them on the trip is former British SAS Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), U.S. Army Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), biologist San Lin (Jing Tian), and several U.S. soldiers part of a helicopter squadron known as “Sky Devils” (Toby Kebbell, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann) led by Packard, all of whom aren’t fully aware of just what kind of scientific exploration they’ve signed up for.
Kong: Skull Island serves as a reboot to the King Kong franchise, and is the second film within Legendary Pictures’ growing MonsterVerse. To that end, Kong is much more entertaining and fast paced story than Godzilla, as it sacrifices character development in favor of more action and adventure, all while keeping the focus squarely on Kong and the land which he rules. The studio obviously took notes on the critical reception of the first monster film, and overall delivered a much enjoyable film from beginning to end.
The film wastes little to no time on getting to Skull Island. Brief introductions are given to the main characters that tell us who they are, and what they’re getting out of this exploration. While some may view this as a negative, I happen to appreciate the filmmaker’s awareness that Kong is the second King Kong film in a little over ten years, and we all remember how long it took for ape to show up. Audiences are familiar with how Kong looks, which makes a build-up to the creature’s reveal meaningless. More importantly though, we’re in the theater to see Kong.
That’s not to say we don’t get invested into some of these characters along the way. Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson are strong, charismatic leads. Although the writing doesn’t give these great actors much to work from, their performances more than make up for that. The same could be said for every single cast member. Jason Mitchell, Toby Kebbell, Shea Whigham, and Thomas Mann are all fine as U.S. soldiers at the end of their Vietnam tour. The best thing about their characters is how great their onscreen chemistry is, and the strength of their brotherhood as soldier. The film often showcases these brief moments of brotherhood that make you sympathize and root for them to break out from under their crazy leader (played by Samuel L. Jackson). Speaking of him, possibly the biggest waste of potential is both Jackson and John Goodman. These two are consistently good in every role they play, including in this film. However, there isn’t much to their characters, especially Jackson’s. Not a major negative considering the filmmakers intentions, but still very much noticeable.
The biggest surprise however is John C. Reilly, as the scene-stealing lieutenant Hank Marlow. The film opens with his character getting stranded on the island, and when we meet up with him half way through the film we learn so much. The trailers made it seem like Reilly would be just a comedic relief, but the story treats him like someone who’s lost everything and created a home with the natives. How the film ends with him reuniting with his wife and son is one of the best heartfelt moments I’ve recently seen in a blockbuster.
Where the film’s true strengths lie are in the action, cinematography, and sound. The music selection in is great and fitting for the era, but the score from Henry Jackman is what I took away from my second viewing. As far as a blockbusters are concerned, Kong offers no shortage of action, from the beast ripping through helicopters almost like they’re paper airplanes, to a final showdown with the Alpha Skullcrawler. The camera movement is impressive, as director Jordan Vogt-Roberts knows when to utilize slow motion shots and when to move the camera 360 degrees to get these incredible angles of Kong in action. The cinematography in this film is just magnificent to see. Set in the 70’s post-Vietnam war, the filmmakers actually flew the cast to Vietnam to shoot a large portion of the film. If anything, Kong: Skull Island is a visual treat.
Overall, I had plenty of fun watching this film, so much that I saw it twice opening weekend. The IMAX experience is a strong recommendation, but XD viewing is also a good option. Performances are terrific across the board, especially the motion capture of Kong which provided the creature with some real emotion. While many, if not all of the characters, aren’t developed efficiently, I still came out of the film caring more about Kong than ever before. If you go into the film wanting to have a good time, you’ll get exactly that.
Kong: Skull Island gets a 7.8 out of 10