Kong: Skull Island
Long Live the King

Marvel may get credit for kicking off the current cinematic universe trend, but giant monster movies did it first when the two biggest stars of the genre, King Kong and Godzilla, faced off in 1962.  So it makes sense with the current trend that the giant monster movie genre would join the party.  It is largely thanks to the success of 2014’s Godzilla, America’s second and much-improved attempt at a take on the Japanese icon, that we now have Kong: Skull Island, the adventure film that will officially kick off what is currently being called the “Monsterverse.”

After a brief prologue during World War II, the movie flashes forward to just after the end of the Vietnam War and quickly begins assembling its cast of characters.  John Goodman plays Bill Randa, the head of the organization Monarch—a major player in the Godzilla movie—and he wants to join a scientific mission to a recently discovered island in the Pacific known as Skull Island.  Knowing that the island is surrounded by a perpetual storm system, he recruits a group of soldiers who have just finished their tour in Vietnam for one last mission.  The mission is simple, fly to the island by helicopter, take some scientific readings, and then rendezvous on the other side.  But Randa keeps his true reason for the expedition to himself, knowing that if he told anyone, they would cancel the mission altogether.

Brie Larson as Mason Weaver in Kong: Skull IslandHis secret does not stay one for long, though, as almost as soon as the helicopters reach the island, they are met by the 100-foot-tall Kong.  Kong is the king of his island and he doesn’t take too kindly to these helicopters flying in and dropping bombs that shake the ground.  After a phenomenal action scene in which Kong fends off the helicopters like flies, the remains of the team find themselves in a hostile jungle which they must cross in three days in order to reach the exfiltration point in time.

Unlike in Peter Jackson’s 2005 version, the Kong in Kong: Skull Island is not simply an oversized gorilla.  Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts took inspiration from the classic 1933 version of King Kong in which Kong did not move or act like a gorilla, but was his own kind of beast.  In the new movie, Kong carries himself more like a human than a gorilla, walking, running, and fighting with a more erect posture than Jackson’s giant silverback gorilla.  This decision makes the latest version of Kong more his own beast and the movie is all the better for it.  He is also much taller than most versions of the character.  This decision was probably made mostly so it will be more of a fair fight when Kong inevitably faces off against Godzilla and other beasts from Toho lore in future movies (stay through the end credits for more on that), but the fantastic scale also adds an additional level of wonder to his scenes in this movie.

The scenes with Kong are by far the best parts of the film.  When Kong is not present, the human characters are somewhat bland and the movie really slows down when feeding us exposition.  The movie also stayed away from rehashing the typical Kong storyline as he never steals away with the blonde woman leaving the male adventurers to go on a rescue mission.  The movie’s lone female character is Brie Larson’s Mason Weaver and she is far from a damsel in distress, much like her namesake Sigourney Weaver rarely was in her movies.  Kong and Weaver do have a couple of nice moments together in order to maintain the classic Beauty and the Beast angle that the franchise has always pushed, but the movie does not take it beyond that.

The movie is a stunning visual achievement.  The shot of a silhouetted Kong standing in front of the giant orange sun on the poster looks even better in the actual film and there were a dozen other similar shots in the movie that had that special “wow” factor.  Something I greatly appreciated in this movie which we definitely did not get in 2014’s Godzilla is that most of the giant monster action took place in bright daylight, meaning that we could see the entire fight.  There was no obvious effort to avoid hiding flaws in the special effects with darkness and rain like other movies tend to do.  This is what makes Kong: Skull Island stand out among other recent movies of its ilk.  And there is really no need to hide its special effects, because they are spectacular.  There is some definite cheesiness in the visuals at times, especially when a human character is asked to do something heroic in slow-motion, but hey, this is a King Kong movie; a little cheesiness is to be expected.

Kong: Skull Island is an entertaining adventure film that definitely begs to be seen on the big screen.  If the Monsterverse continues to produce movies as entertaining as this and its predecessor, I will happily continue to seek them out.

Kong: Skull Island is rated PG-13 for “intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language.”  There are a couple of bloody moments, but for the most part the movie keeps its violence to PG-13 standards.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Kong: Skull Island.