Kong: Skull Island, directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (You’re the Worst, Kings of Summer, and Successful Alcoholics) is the latest—and dare I say greatest—movie featuring the most famous gorilla to grace the silver screen: King Kong. However, Legendary Entertainment and Kong: Skull Island’s writers, Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein, are not retelling the age old King Kong story that has been told since 1933. No, they’ve opted to take a new approach on the story by utterly changing all narrative elements of King Kong. And boy am I diggin’ it.
The story of Kong: Skull Island vastly differs from the classic “steal the monkey off to New York, then shoot him off the Empire State Building” tale. Instead, the events of Kong: Skull Island take place at the tail end of the Vietnam War, following Bill Randa (John Goodman), a man who believes in a monstrous presence on the mysterious Skull Island. And in order to prove that belief, he gathers a team of specialists to help him gain access to said island and see what there is to see (expecting that maybe, just maybe, a humungous gorilla is there).
However, saying that the film is only about this one guy leading a team of specialists would be a great disservice to this very character driven movie. Every character in Skull Island has a personal motivation taking them through the journey, and what’s even more fascinating is watching those characters conflict with one another when those ideals clash. James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) is in this trip for the money as the team’s survivalist, but ultimately he comes to care about the safety of crew. Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) is an anti-Vietnam War photographer who joins the mission only as a means to return home, but eventually she starts to care for the preservation of Skull Island and its inhabitants (natives and Kong alike). Then you have Lieutenant Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), who, after the war officially ends, feels like a soldier without a cause and is looking for any excuse to keep fighting. And don’t even get me started on the hilarious John C. Reilly as Hank Marlow, the WWII vet who has been stranded on the island for decades. His addition to the story makes for some really funny dialogue as a man “outside of time,” and it adds a level of humanity that comes with being a soldier who just wants to go home. With such a vast array of characters, it’s easy to guess that some interesting conflict and compromise ensues when they all discuss the real end goal in leaving Skull Island. And frankly, it’s something that I find really interesting from a storytelling perspective.
That all being said, the real shame about Kong: Skull Island’s characters is that where some of them are truly interesting people, the rest of the nameless cast members feel like they’re just there to be—how do I put this?—“Kong-fodder.” They’re expendable soldiers and scientists whose characters don’t develop much beyond monster food. It’s funny though. Even if I didn’t care about those no-name characters, I did find myself often counting the great inconsistency with the number of people who were still alive at any given time. That’s just me nitpicking, but still it’s a small thing that really keeps me from focusing on the story of Skull Island. Oh, but while we’re talking about people dying, looking back at those important characters, I will say that some of them meet their fates too soon. It’s really unfortunate because many of the deaths felt like they had no basis for happening (being incredibly out of the blue), or they just felt as if they wasted characters with a lot of potential. That’s how I felt at least.
But who cares, you know? Let’s get off of those pesky humans, and talk about the real star of Kong: Skull Island, Kong. Whoa. This ape is terrifying. In fact, most of the giant creatures in this film are absolutely intimidating (if not, very well designed). I mean, these beasts are larger than anything in existence and probably cannot exist on this Earth, but regardless of that notion, I found myself believing in and being scared of them and their abilities—and really that’s kudos to Skull Island‘s prime CGI work as well as the organic and purposeful creature designs.
Now it would not be a stretch of the imagination to guess that there are some rad action sequences involving these giant monsters. I mean, you can’t just drop a skyscraper-sized ape into a film and not have it punch something. It was bound to happen, and boy does it look good. The footage of Kong smacking down helicopters or going absolutely bareknuckle brawling with Skullcrawlers looks so nice because the camera captures a lot of that action in the frame. The action is fast but the cuts are not, so overall you can watch these epic scenes and get the sense that things are happening at a proper pace. It’s awesome!
Ultimately though, I think the real achievement of Kong: Skull Island is that it’s a film that made Kong frightening. A lot of people are pointing out that Legendary Entertainment only made Kong as big and bad as he is now for the purpose of his upcoming box office shattering brawl with Godzilla—which granted, is a valid point. But really I challenge that idea. If you look at Skull Island in comparison to the previous Kong films, this 2017 instalment managed to change the famous giant ape from a creature smitten by blond damsels in distress to a true force of nature. Kong is a beast the size of a mountain. He’s a beast who can and will destroy anything when it trespasses on his turf. He’s a monster, plain and simple, who can take out 16+ trained attack helicopters in a matter of seconds while only sustaining a minor arm injury. And if the thought of such a thing and its capabilities existing doesn’t scare you, you certainly have more nerves than me.
Though not a perfect film, I still think that anyone who sees Kong: Skull Island will have an amazing time watching. I’m gonna give Kong: Skull Island, directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts an…
8/10 – Great
If you’re a fan of interesting ensemble casts, giant gorillas fighting other giant creatures, and fantastic 70s music, I think you’ll really enjoy Kong: Skull Island. Also, if you go and see this movie in theaters, stick around after the credits roll. I won’t give anything away, but there is an end credit scene that is sure to drive any movie monster fan wild. Otherwise, be sure to comment below with your thoughts on the film—I’d love to hear them. If you’re looking for more reviews by TAWTICS, feel free to head on over to our Reviews page. And as always, thanks for reading.