After eighty-plus years, the fascination with giant apes and monsters in general is just as strong as it ever was and thus the reason for the latest release to chronicle the adventures of everyone’s favourite primate in Kong: Skull Island. Where Peter Jackson’s King Kong, the last movie to feature the character, was a fairly dramatic, yet entertaining retelling of the 1933 motion picture, this movie was to feature an entirely new and exciting story and would provide a little backdrop for the films to come in Legendary’s slate of monster movies.
The story finds a couple of men played by John Goodman and Corey Hawkins who are a part of the semi-secret government funded group called Monarch whose sole purpose is to investigate monsters. Until the discovery of Skull Island, they have been completely unsuccessful and it is possible that the island holds no mysteries, but Randa as played by Goodman is sure that it will and thus recruits Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson and others to join him on a mission find out if his theory holds water. While many films tend to hold out on the reveal of the monster, usually due to the fact that said monster is usually going to be doing a lot of killing, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts holds to no such formula and soon after arriving on the island and after they start dropping bombs to map the island through seismic activity, Kong attacks and wipes out almost the entire force. To say that computer generated characters have come a long way is putting it lightly as Kong looks utterly amazing and the action sequences involving the giant ape, simply breathtaking. Now on foot, what is left of the group is split up, some who meet up with John C. Reilly who was stranded thirtyish years earlier and who learn of the island’s history and the other group led by Jackson who is dead-set on killing Kong for the loss of his men.
There is a parallel that runs between Kong and Packard, the man played by Jackson throughout the film. Both are soldiers and protectors, only wanting the best for them and theirs and will do whatever it takes. What makes it interesting is the moment when it all goes wrong for Packard. After surviving Vietnam and all the horrors seen there, it is a monstrous ape that finally breaks him, that finally makes the man snap and leads to one of the most confrontational scenes in the film. It is not just Jackson that provides numerous character moments throughout the film that really shine. The rest of the cast including Goodman and Larson among others, are solid and manage to keep things engaging, despite the lack of depth some of them have. Where much of the film is a serious affair with the two groups simply trying to survive, it is Reilly that adds that little bit of levity needed to keep it from being a very dour adventure and is one of the only characters that has any real history given to him.
Over the years, the various depictions of Kong have wavered in size and strength, but all have made him a king and pictured him as such, just as Vogt-Roberts does here. This Kong is also the last of his kind, yet they also make sure to acknowledge the fact that he is still young and yet to grow even more, perhaps setting it up for that rumoured clash with Godzilla that has been making the rounds. The film also introduces the ‘hollow earth’ plotline, again infusing the picture and the audience with a sense of mystery because of it and thereby propagating possible exploitation by future films. The rest of the creatures that populate Skull Island are no less impressive, whether it is a simple water-bison type of creature or a giant killer spider that towers over the tree tops. One gets the feeling that what was shown was only scratching the surface of the monsters that might inhabit the island and if given the chance, there is no doubt that Skull Island can be mined for a lot of material if allowed.
Kong has a long history and for the most part, he has always been taken out of his element, so it was good to see the filmmakers try something a little different and in doing so, created one of the best pictures to feature the giant behemoth ever shown on the big screen. With a strong cast, some incredible cinematography from Larry Fong, not to mention some truly stunning visual effects, Kong: Skull Island proves that there is still a lot of mileage left in the adventure genre, giant creatures notwithstanding. With the after-credits providing a few clues, one naturally has to wonder what comes next?
4.5 out of 5