Kong: Skull Island is everything it needs to be and no more. It’s a monster movie where monsters fight other monsters while the humans try desperately not to get trampled on or eaten. And that’s fine.
Jordan Vogt-Roberts monster movie is fresh off the Warner Bros. assembly line and manages to retain just a few dashes of personality to keep it interesting. Unlike its predecessor, Gareth Edward’s Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island wastes little time in getting to the reveal of Kong himself.
Set at the end of the Vietnam war, Monarch Institutes beseeches the U.S. government for funding to survey a newly discovered island; aptly named Skull Island.
The head of Monarch, Bill Randa, played by the ever reliable and always entertaining John Goodman begs the reluctant government agent for help. “As far as I’m concerned you guys are up there with those nuts searching for life on other planets.” Goodman just stares at the Senator, “Yeah but those guys are lunatics.”
One of the reasons Kong: Skull Island works as well as it does it because it doesn’t take itself too seriously while totally behaving as it if it does. This is a movie that travels in Hollow Earth Theory as well as time-honored Hollywood studio mega-budget cliches. The character actors are characters, and the marquee names are present so there are names to have above the title marquee.
Long story short a team from Monarch with a military escort led by Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) along with an ex-Special Ops officer James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and a Time Magazine photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) travel to Skull Island to map it out.
Well, Monarch says it just wants to survey it, but in reality, they just want to prove that the Earth is hollow and that monsters are living underneath it. So, the typical plot for a movie like this.
Lo and behold wouldn’t you know upon arriving and dropping depth charges on the island they encounter a giant gorilla (Kong)? Seriously this movie wastes no time in getting into the “giant ape smashes things” segment and I loved it for this destruction spree. Kong: Skull Island is ruthlessly efficient in its set up and pay off.
There’s just enough backstory to each character, so we know which archetype they are. Col. Packard is the crazed Colonel who hates that the war is over and hates that America quit and is looking for any enemy he can defeat. Conrad as a Special Ops Tracker is square-jawed and stoic and knows just enough that the money Monarch is offering him isn’t sufficient. And so on and so on.
But let’s be honest, in a monster movie top billing always goes to the monster. Kong himself actually gets a backstory. As told by a stranded WWII pilot Hank Marlow (John C. Riley), Kong is the last surviving member of a species that hunts giant skull-like lizards that live under the Earth. Kong is the Earth’s first and last line of defense from the terrors that lurk beneath the surface.
Blessedly the screenwriting committee in charge of this iteration of Kong have discarded the Beauty and the Beast angle. Kong and Mason do share a connection, but it’s less of a skeevy “You’re the first blonde the natives have ever sacrificed to me. I think I’ll keep you.” and more of an understandable “You’re like the one new person I’ve seen that hasn’t tried to make me bleed. Thank you. You’re cool. Gotta go save the world again.”
Speaking of the natives, they have no lines of dialogue because they don’t use language in the same way we do. They tend to be a silent people using head bows and looks as a means of communications. Which could just be a colonial form of silencing, but is still leagues ahead of the 1933 King Kong which is well and truly horrifically racist.
Kong: Skull Island may well be the least realistic movie playing in theaters right now. The cast is divided into two teams, one led by Hiddleston and Larson with their impeccable hair, and the other led by Goodman and Jackson which encounter all manner of slime and nightmarish creatures. There is a moment towards the end where Brie Larson is sitting on the boat as they leave the island, her skin with just a few smudges of dirt, her hair out of a Vidal Sassoon commercial, with a smile on her face; and it had me chuckling.
Who would’ve guessed that just a few scenes earlier she had been unconscious and drowning in the ocean, scooped out by Kong, clutched in his fist as a giant skull-headed lizard swallowed said fist in its mouth, only to have Kong rip out its tongue with said fist (the same fist with Larson in it)?
If any of this causes you to roll your eyes and harumph, then skip this movie. But if this makes your eyes shine with excitement and a gleeful smirk appear on your lips? Friend, do I have a movie for you. I enjoyed myself silly. Granted I had a head cold when I saw this, but it was exactly what I needed. Things went boom. The actors, because they are good at what they do, were fun to watch.
Kong: Skull Island is big, dumb fun. With an emphasis on big, dumb, and fun. It could be said that these actors are wasted in this material. I would argue material like this doesn’t require any kind of actor, the monsters are what we are here for. The actors are just here to look pretty and say funny, nonsensical lines, and to make sure their hair never looks mussed up. There’s a post credit scene but honestly, do you really not know what this movie is setting up?