If there’s any type of movie that I am onboard for pretty much the moment they’re announced, it’s giant monster movies. Even when the films aren’t good, there’s a great sense of charm to them that makes them so much fun to watch, which is why I’m excited for the MonsterVerse that Warner Bros is doing. Their first film in this universe, Godzilla, I really enjoyed, especially the ending which had some great monster fighting, and now they’re continuing the universe with a rebooted version of King Kong with Kong: Skull Island.The film takes place in 1973, shortly after the end of the Vietnam War, with Monarch, the monster hunting organisation from Godzilla, getting funding from the government to explore the newly discovered Skull Island, with a military escort. Through the use of seismic charges to, supposedly, map out the geology of Skull Island, the team earns the wrath of Kong, a giant gorilla and the God of the island, with Kong attacking their helicopters, killing most of them, separating the team into two groups. The first group, which mainly comprises the military personnel, goes after Kong in revenge for the deaths caused by Kong, whilst the second group finds the natives of the island, along with an American pilot who crashed on the island during World War 2, who tells them about the real danger of the island, the Skullcrawlers, who killed off the other members of Kong’s species, with Kong defending the island from them. From there, it becomes a race against time to both get off the island and stop the military from killing Kong so they have a greater chance of survival against the Skullcrawlers. Now there isn’t really anything deep in the plot. Sure there is a bit of commentary on the Vietnam War and how villains can only come about because you create them in the first place, but that stuff is mainly in the first half of the film and isn’t really brought up after it. The film is mainly focused on delivering strong action scenes and setting up this new version of Kong and in that the film succeeds. There’s a great sense of fun throughout the film that makes it a great viewing experience. Everyone involved knows exactly what type of film they’re making, essentially a glorified b-movie, and just runs with it creating a good old fashioned fun popcorn film.
The performances meanwhile are what you’d expect from this cast in this type of film. Tom Hiddleston as Conrad is playing his role like he walked off the set of a 1930’s serial and is having a lot of fun with the badass nature of the character. Brie Larson is a lot of fun as Weaver, who is probably the most intelligent person on the island, with Larson and Hiddleston having good chemistry with each other. Samuel L Jackson gives a strong performance as Packard, giving the character a Captain Ahab vibe in his obsession to kill Kong. John Goodman is fun to watch as Randa, the head of Monarch, with you seeing the ulterior motives and respect for the monsters through his body language throughout the film. John C Reilly is a lot of fun as Marlow, showing how the character has gone insane through his decades on the island, the exuberance he feels over having the chance to go home and the sense of guilt he feels over the death of the other person he crashed on the island with. The rest of the performances are fairly generic. Shea Whigham, Toby Kebbell, Thomas Mann, Jason Mitchell and Eugene Cordero play your typical generic soldiers whilst Jing Tian and Corey Hawkins play generic scientists, all of them having some good moments but not really playing characters. Then we get onto Terry Notary as Kong (with some extra work done by Toby Kebbell). This is a great version of Kong, having a strong intimidating air, along with a strong protectionist streak and a sense of loss with this version of Kong clearly being the last of his kind. Whilst this version of Kong doesn’t have the personality of the 1933 or 2005 Kong’s, this is still a great version of Kong.
The technical side of the film is where it shines though. Jordan Vogt-Roberts proves why he was a good choice, even after only doing one other film before (the brilliant The Kings of Summer), especially with Larry Fong as his DP (who’s always done good work, even if the films he’s worked on haven’t been the best). The use of colour throughout the film, mainly the use of orange and green, helps put you in the mindset of the 70’s, creating a feel similar to that of Apocalypse Now (based on the clips of that I’ve seen, it’s one of my blindspot films for this year). This works best with the framing of Kong, aided by excellent effects work combined with Terry Notary’s performance, the shot of Kong against the sun being an instantly iconic shot. The effects for the other creatures on Skull Island are excellent as well, creating some of the most unique creatures seen in film in a while and helping to differentiate this version of Skull Island from the others, one that feels more dangerous as you never know what creatures you’ll see next (which even results in a tribute to, of all films, Cannibal Holocaust). The use of music is great as well, combining with the direction and cinematography to give this film a feel of Vietnam war films, along with adding to the tongue-in-cheek tone of the film.
Overall, Kong: Skull Island is just a glorified b-movie. The characters are fairly stock, with a few exceptions, the plot isn’t anything earth shattering and what it does have to say about the Vietnam War gets pretty quickly overshadowed but you have so much fun watching the film that you don’t really notice. This is definitely more of a show for the effects and, aided by strong direction, cinematography and music, the film more than delivers on this promise. The MonsterVerse still has some hurdles to climb, the world-building isn’t that interesting yet (at least not compared to something like Pacific Rim) and the best character they had with Bryan Cranston’s Joe Brody in Godzilla was killed off way too early, but we can expect to have a few fun kaiju films out of this cycle and Kong: Skull Island is a decent example of it.
My Rating: 3.5/5