If Kong: Skull Island is the next step in creating an expanded Marvel-esque universe for King Kong, Godzilla, and the rest of the Toho characters, then sign me up. Kong: Skull Island knows what it is doing. It doesn’t seek to be a gritty reboot, nor does it try to make itself overly serious — say a character study or a commentary on, I dunno, animal rights (not saying that’s a bad thing). It knows that the main draw to a King Kong movie is the thrill — that larger than life adventure, that chance of monster-on-monster action audiences of the original Toho features were fascinated by. This is a monster movie about a giant gorilla smashing things, punching dinosaurs, and using trees as baseball bats. It’s absurd as it is and it is in embracing this absurdity, this kind of self-acceptance, that makes Kong: Skull Island deliver.
The story of Kong: Skull Island is pretty straightforward. It’s 1973, America just lost the Vietnam War. John Goodman‘s Bill Randa, an agent of the secret government agency Monarch (a callback to 2014’s Godzilla) finds an uncharted island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He is then granted funding for an expedition and thus recruits a motley group composed of an expert tracker (Tom Hiddleston), an anti-war photographer (Brie Larson), and a full on military escort in the form of the “just-one-last-mission” Sky Devils helicopter squadron led by Samuel L. Jackson. Of course, things go awry once they discover the secrets the island holds.
It’s a fairly simple plot, there is nothing new to it per se, but then again that’s just the point. The simplicity here is intentional in order to create a film the puts Kong front and center. He is the king of not only the island but of the film as well. From the viewers’ first introduction to Kong, as he starts taking out the helicopters as they enter his domain, we get that Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and cinematographer Larry Fong are working hand-in-hand to convey the sheer “mythicality” of this beast. That primordial animality and ferocity one would be expected to be overwhelmed by upon first interaction with a hundred-foot ape trying to kill you. The human characters here just serve as devices to forward the plot, let us know more about the island, basically be our surrogates as we the viewers, get to understand Kong. Just like them, our initial fears, as it is compounded by our knowledge of the island and the far more terrifying creatures it holds, soon transform to sympathy and full-on support for the magnificent Kong.
As I mentioned, story here isn’t the main push. It’s ok, it does what it’s meant to do. What takes the cake in Skull Island is the action. In order to highlight Kong, we must see just what makes him king and in this aspect the movie is on full (no pun intended) beast mode. I couldn’t emphasize more how much of a literal thrill ride Kong: Skull Island is. If you’ve ever been in one of those 4D theaters in an amusement park, you know how those short films they show are meant to surprise you, practically make you leap off your seat? That’s just the kind of action Skull Island showcases. From Kong basically acting as slasher film fiend at the start of the film to him becoming the monster version of a WWE champion against other beasts, the action of the film will keep you on your toes.
Cinematography helps elevate the experience of Kong: Skull Island. Almost all set pieces of the film have scenes which you could easily screencap and turn into posters. You get the Apocalypse Now-inspired shots of Kong standing, back to a hazy fireball sun, in the middle of the jungle to vistas overlooking the northern lights. There is one beautiful scene in the middle of the film, shot amid green fog, where a gas mask-wearing Tom Hiddleston starts battling bone lizards with a samurai sword. This in a nutshell sums up what the film is about: ridiculous action shot through colorful awe-inspiring cinematography.
Kong: Skull Island is far from perfect, it’s uneven at times, and the characters are just there to help progress the story. Not that the stellar cast is wasted though, they play along, ham it up even with the at times cheesy script. John C. Reilly delivers laughs and Samuel L. Jackson makes you wonder if he’ll be spurting out bible verses on vengeance any time soon. It’s entertaining. Skull Island doesn’t aim to be perfect, it aims to be fun and that’s precisely what it is. So set your expectations. Just grab a bucket of popcorn, jam to the film’s rocking 70s soundtrack, and watch Kong swinging and duking it out. I’m pretty positive you’ll have a good time.