Kong: Skull Island
3 out of 5
Since 1933, King Kong has been a part of American Cinema. Ever since he kidnapped Fay Wray and climbed to the top of the Empire State Building, he has found his way to the top of the box office on multiple occasions, with the most recent version being Peter Jackson’s in 2005. Now he’s back, but this time in his biggest, most intimidating form in “Kong: Skull Island.”
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, and starring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson — “Kong” is a worthy re-boot of the franchise and is a strong addition to the King Kong lore. More than that, however, this movie follows Hollywood’s latest “thing” (aside from re-boots and sequels) in creating a “universe” several characters occupy, so they can crossover into each other’s stories, and then have a couple of movies where they all appear together. Think “Avengers” and “Justice League.” Soon Universal will be doing the same with their re-boot of “The Mummy,” starring Tom Cruise — after which you can expect to see Dracula, Frankenstein and the rest at some point. Now Legendary Studios (“Godzilla” 2014) is following suit with their “MonsterVerse,” which features Godzilla and King Kong — but will also include Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah in the upcoming Godzilla sequel, “Godzilla: King of Monsters” due out in 2019. Which, of course, leads up to “Godzilla vs. Kong” in 2020. If all goes well, then we’ll be seeing more of King Kong on movie screens, and that’s okay by me.
This movie backs up the clock a bit from 2014’s “Godzilla,” and is set in 1973, long before Godzilla and the MUTO’s fight it out in San Francisco. Right from the start we are shown the Monarch logo, and learn that they are still working to prove the existence of monsters that they deem as a danger to human civilization. John Goodman, who plays Bill Randa, starts off the movie with a funny line about Washington D.C., and along with Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins, 24: Legacy) seeks a meeting with Senator Willis (Richard Jenkins) in order to procure funding and permission to travel to a previously undiscovered island surrounded by a perpetual storm. The Senator initially refuses, but when Brooks dangles the fact that the Russians will soon have access to the same satellite imagery showing the island, Senator Willis allows them passage. Halfway across the world, the Vietnam War is coming to an end, as President Nixon has just issued an order to pull out all American forces. On a base, we meet Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) who is bothered by the retreat and wonders what it was all for. His troops, on the other hand, are ecstatic and can’t wait to go home. As things are being shut down, however, Packard gets a call for one last mission to accompany the group wanting to explore the island. Seeing a chance at some sort of extension or redemption of his service — he accepts for himself and his soldiers.
Shortly thereafter, the entire group is on Army Hueys navigating their way through a violent storm to the island. Unlike “Godzilla” which made audiences wait well into the movie to see the big lizard, “Kong” wastes no time in revealing what you paid to see. As seismic charges are dropped all along the jungle floor to chart the geography of the land, the King appears — and he’s not happy. Without giving too much away — Kong proves why he’s King and the group is scattered across the island and those who make it must reunite and rendezvous with the team coming to pick them up in three days’ time — all while surviving giant spiders, massive beasts and the ruthless “Skullcrawlers.” Along the way, we meet Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), a pilot who crashed on the island in World War II, and has been living there ever since. He agrees to help them, and can’t wait to get home to see his wife and son — whom he has never met. Of course, Colonel Packard has other ideas, and is unwilling to leave without avenging the deaths of those he lost due to Kong’s attack.
It’s hard to imagine a monster movie that isn’t a retread to a degree. Just like the zombie genre, it’s hard to imagine a new way to tell the story. Humans find Monster, Monster destroys Humans and / or city, Monster isn’t really a bad guy — he’s just lost in our world, Monster fights other Monsters — saves Humans, Humans try to kill Monster anyway. That’s about sums up every monster movie I’ve ever seen. “Kong: Skull Island” isn’t much too far from that to be honest. What is different about this movie — at least to my eye — was the way it is told through the camera. Artistically, it is beautiful. A combination of slow motion, fast motion, fantastic special effects and creative camera angles, along with brilliant colors — bring the story to life. Like “Godzilla’s” Gareth Edwards did, Vogt-Roberts uses perspective a lot to show just how big the monsters are, and how little we are. With such big names attached to the movie — the only actor who really has much acting in the film is Jackson. Hiddleston and Larson’s characters bring little to the screen, and many scenes are saved by John C. Reilly — who has several funny and endearing moments. Again, you kind of know going in how this movie is going to play out — as you would with any film of this nature. But that’s not why you go. You go to see the big guy tear stuff up, kick other monster’s butts, and at the end of the day leave a path of destruction in his wake big enough to fill the screen — all while putting the puny humans in place — and that’s what “Kong: Skull Island” does. Now…I say bring on Godzilla and let these two go at it!