KONG: SKULL ISLAND Creates A New Kong And Goes Big On Monster Movie Mayhem
Say hello to the king

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The Vietnam War is over. The government launches a scientific exploration of Skull Island, a mysterious island surrounded by a perpetual storm system. The goal is to mine it for resources and declare a victory before the Russians can. Piggybacking on the mission is Monarch, a group trying to expose the more mysterious elements on the island.

When the crew, which includes scientists, soldiers, a former SAS agent and a self-described anti-war photographer, soon finds out that the island is hiding some huge things. Namely, King Kong and a whole bunch of other big, huge, terrifying monsters.

Kong: Skull Island feels economical at times. It wants you to know what you need to know as soon as you need it and as quickly as it can dole the information out. Once it does that, it can simply give you want you think you want: a whole lot of huge kaiju action; big monsters fighting big monsters.

There are some interesting dynamics at play to freshen things up. Samuel L. Jackson’s Packer is broken by the US losing the Vietnam War. He’s looking for a war of redemption, and he finds it on Skull Island. He leads his group of men on a mission of revenge. Meanwhile, Tom Hiddleston’s SAS agent Conrad and Brie Larson’s photographer Weaver locate John C Reilly’s WW2 vet, Hank Marlow. He crash landed on the island with a Japanese fighter pilot, and they were fighting before Kong intervened.

The two diverging paths paint different views of the island. Conrad and Weaver find that the island is just like any other place. It has its defenders and its citizens. It also has dangers that need to be stopped. There’s a good effort to paint this part of the island as a livable, humane place. This group soon figures out that acting like guests on the island is the best way to survival.

Meanwhile, Packer’s group encounters a whole host of dangerous things. The best way to survival for them is to fight everything in their path, no matter what.

These two paths create the thematic heart of Kong: Skull Island. This is an anti-war movie, one that warns that dropping bombs on people create enemies, even with the best intentions. When you go around and poke and prod at people, they’re going to want to defend their homes. The movie doesn’t try to be subtle about it, it wants to be as clear as possible: don’t go to places and start bombing them. It’s effective stuff, and by the end of the movie you’ll actively root to preserve Skull Island so that it’s pristine and free from our influence.

That’s all secondary to the star of the show: big monster action. There are a ton of awesome, gleeful moments where big monsters do big monster things. It’s a joy to watch Kong swat down helicopters. It’s a joy to watch a giant spider as tall as a bamboo forest pick off soldiers. It brought a great smile to my face to watch Kong take on a whole bunch of beasts, from giant octopus to giant lizards (no, not that lizard, not yet).

These are the moments that Kong: Skull Island sings. It’s having a blast playing with this huge action figures, and it comes true as the movie uses all this kaiju action to go for the coolest thing possible at every moment.

This Kong isn’t the King Kong you’ve seen in the 1933 movie, or even the latest 2005 Peter Jackson remake. He’s not as playful or full of wonder. He’s not going to play with a person before he eats him, or tap at the skull of a dead T-Rex, or even skate on an ice.

This Kong is a battle-hardened protector. He’s lost his family to the evil skull crushers, and he knows that if he lets up the rest of the island will be dead and gone pretty quick. Heavy lies the crown, and you can sense that in this Kong. He’s always on, he’s always looking for someone to protect and he’s never not watching. Even when he’s trying to relax a bit, a threat looms in the corner.

That’s a fine Kong. It’s a new Kong, but I do wish the movie offered him an opportunity to be his old self. I wish I could see him experience a moment of levity. He doesn’t, and maybe that’s the point. I felt for this Kong, as I do for all Kong iterations, but I did so in a different way. I just want him to be able to take a nap and relax, and not have to protect us. Toby Kebbel’s motion capture work is pretty extraordinary in that regard. He gets across that weary king pretty damn well.

In a King Kong movie, the one character you need to get right is Kong. Skull Island does this well enough, but I do wish we got to spend some more time with him. Just a couple more beats of seeing his day.

The rest of the movie, we’re spending it with these human characters. And, well, all of these actors are trying. The movie doesn’t give them enough to work with. The majority of them don’t have any sort of arcs. Jackson’s Packer and Reilly’s Marlow are the standouts, representing two extreme approaches of dealing with the island. They both have an id and a mission, and the two actors play them with enough gusto to make them memorable. Jason Mitchell is the other standout, giving his Mills some of the movie’s best comedic moments.

It feels like Kebbel’s human character, Jack Chapman, has the potential of being something in between the two divergent paths, but, well, it doesn’t.

Larson and Hiddleston are kind of wasted. Neither of their characters has much of an arc. Larson’s Weaver is an empathetic person who cuts through bullshit with a machete while Hiddleston is just playing a badass SAS agent. They’re both level headed and, while there’s tension at the beginning, they mostly see eye-to-eye and you know where they’re going. They do the best with what they have, but they don’t have much.

Kong: Skull Island does a couple things really, really well: it’s got some great big moments of kaiju spectacle and it successfully creates a new kind of Kong, one that could easily slot into a sequel where he faces off another king, Godzilla.

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