Kong: Skull Island is the second film in the rising MonsterVerse produced by Legendary Pictures. The entire film takes place on Kong’s island home and is set at the end of the Vietnam war. As the war ends, Bill Randa (John Goodman) convinces the government to fund a mapping trip to the world’s last remaining uncharted territory. Joining him are a band of soldiers led by war-addicted Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and retired SAS officer James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston).
They all fly helicopters to Skull Island where they intend to drop bombs to map the island seismographically–you know where this is headed, right? Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts treats the audience by going straight into the action. The minute they reach the island, they get swatted out of the air by Kong. What ensues is bestial combat, jaw-dropping scares, and earth shaking sequences. There are absolutely no wasted moments.
The survivors find themselves separated and in shock. Things are kept brisk as we are introduced to the many perils contained within Skull Island. From giant spiders and phasmids to flying terrors and giant squids, it is full of surprises that the exploration team must plow through in order to survive.
The carnage is mixed with just the right amount of humor provided by John C. Reilly who plays Hank Marlow, a World War II vet who crashed on the island in 1944. Reilly’s comedy chops are no secret, but what’s great about his performance in this film is the sensitivity with which he plays it. It is reminiscent of his role in Magnolia mixed with the loose screw zaniness of his role in Talladega Nights.
Aside from Reilly, some of the best performances come from the supporting cast. We see a reunion of sorts between Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell who were previously on screen together as Dr. Dre and Eazy-E. Corey Hawkins plays Houston Brooks, an Ivy Leaguer recruited for his immense knowledge of seismology. Jason Mitchell plays Mills, a happy-go-lucky helicopter pilot that just wants to go back home. We’re also treated to great performances from Toby Kebbell and Shea Whigham who shine in their limited screen time. With such a huge ensemble cast, we really don’t get to spend too much time getting to know each of the characters. You might say that they are stereotypes and lack any depth, but this actually helps keep with the straightforward nature of the storytelling. You find yourself guessing which of them will survive, and which ones will be squashed.
The lack of character development was more than made up for by the intense action sequences. They are shot very close-in and they do not drag on too long. It goes without saying that they are leaps and bounds away from the choppy, stop-motion fight scenes of the King Kongs past. Here, we see behemoths unleashing their most brutal moves on each other, and you will find yourself at the edge of your seat cheering for Kong like you’re cheering for your favorite fighter. Each and every fight scene is fun and deeply satisfying.
Vogt-Roberts isn’t bashful about acknowledging his influences. There are not-so-subtle nods to Apocalypse Now and other war classics. He fills the film with war movie clichés and tropes, but it all works. Larry Fong (300, Batman V Superman, Super 8) really elevates the whole film with his cinematography. Every shot is gorgeous and thoughtful. He brought in that super stylized look that he’s known for and Vogt-Roberts flew with it (which makes you wonder how Batman V Superman could have turned out if it were in the hands of a different director–but that’s a different article for a different time). You can feel the tonality and texture in each of his shots, whether it be a sunset or close-up. All this is to say that the film looks great; every frame eye candy.
On top of being incredibly suspenseful, scary, and even at times horrific, Kong: Skull Island has strong thematic concerns. We all know that monsters are used as metaphors: Godzilla was a metaphor for the horror of Hiroshima, and Cloverfield was a metaphor for the attacks of 9/11. What struck me about Skull Island is that it reminds the audience that sometimes, humans are the real monster.
Kong: Skull Island is a wildly enjoyable spectacular. It is ridiculous in just the right way and has its feet firmly planted in the roots of the monster movie genre. Kong is still the misunderstood gentle giant that we all love.
Oh, and don't forget to stay for the post credit sequence.