Kong Skull Island is the second would be blockbuster of what looks to be a packed March. It has a stellar cast and some amazing effects work and is just all around a great time. It is a monster movie that doesn’t hide its monster. It doesn’t play coy or spend a lot of time with buildup; Kong Skull Island knows what viewers have come to see and it delivers immediately.
Kong Skull Island starts with John Goodman’s Randa begging for one chance to explore a newly discovered island in the Pacific as the US pulls its troops out of Vietnam. He gets his last ditch approval by playing into Cold War scares and has Col. Packard’s (Sam Jackson) helicopter unit assigned to escort them on their mission. Once there, they discover Kong and everything goes to hell.
Kong walks a fine line with its human characters, and I wouldn’t argue with you if you say it stumbles. It kind of uses that wretched Michael Bay shorthand to introduce its characters, something that usually signals that the viewer is in for a bad time. Here, though, that shorthand is not mistaken for actual character development. It only gives sketches of the more than dozen characters to go to the island because it simply doesn’t have time for more. Kong needs viewers to like the characters at least a little, so they care when all but a handful of them are summarily killed off right after they hit the island. But it can’t have the viewer care too much, because then seeing them all killed hurts. It also doesn’t want to tip its hand as to who will soon be getting a close up look at the bottom of a monster’s foot, at least in regards to the soldiers. With the civilian half of the expedition it is obvious. A few characters develop into something more than that initial sketch, including John C Reilly’s Marlow, Packard and a few of the rank and file soldiers, Shea Whigham’s Cole and Jason Mitchell’s Mills. Would be leads Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson have little to do other than be the voices of reason in an insane world.
The star of the movie, though, is Kong. Here he is reimagined as a skyscraper tall bigfoot. He stands upright and fights like a wrestler. While he has a sad backstory, he is not the soulful ape of Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake from a decade ago. Here is more a vast and unknowable god. The best parts of the movie are the parts where Kong is on screen.
The movie is a mishmash of tons of things. It makes some motions toward the classic King Kong story, but they are fleeting and reimagined. The island natives are peaceful and accommodating if not exactly friendly. They are certainly not trying women up to offer them as a sacrifice to Kong. Kong seems to like Larson’s character, but it is no weird tragic love story. It also has allusions to Heart of Darkness, or at least to Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, and Moby Dick. It makes for some muddled messaging, but the anti-war intent comes through clearly. Sometimes an enemy doesn’t exist until you go looking for it.
Visually it is stunning, with Skull Island beautifully realized. Director Vogt-Roberts has said that Princess Mononoke was among the inspirations for the creatures of the island and that comes through. To go with a genuinely wonderful island, there are at least a dozen beautiful, memorable shots. The movies stunning posters are representative of how the entire movie looks.
There are deficiencies in Kong Skull Island, but none that ever threatened to wipe the big silly grin from my face. It has the energy of a classic B-movie; it feels a lot like some of the better Godzilla movies. It is that kind of silliness made with the sort of lavish budget that those movies couldn’t even dream about. It is easily the most fun I’ve had at a movie in months.