One of the most classic American films of all time, King Kong has been adapted many times since 1933 when the original came out. After the stop motion, black and white original came a disappointing reimagining in 1976, set in the 70s as well. Remade for a third time in 2005 by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, Kong 2005 brought the giant gorilla back to his 1933 roots in an epic drama that is still vastly underrated. Outside of straight remakes, the pinnacle American monster has fought the pinnacle Japanese monster in the Toho 1962 film King Kong vs. Godzilla. Unfortunately, studio rights kept the two monsters from brawling it out again, as Kong was owned by Universal. Flash forward to 2014, and Warner Brothers/ Legendary produced the second American reboot of Godzilla to general financial and critical success.
When Legendary moved its home to Universal, there was instant speculation that this would lend way to produce a new Kong movie within a shared universe of Godzilla 2014. Lo and behold, two years later to this day this has been confirmed, as Kong: Skull Island is the second entry is Legendary’s kaiju-verse. In that regard, Kong: Skull Island can be viewed as a prequel to Godzilla, as it is set in the 1970s right at the end of the Vietnam War. Stripped away from the classic Kong story of Carl Denham seeking out to get a location shoot for a monster movie on an uncharted island, the new plot is about an expedition led by Monarch, the secretive organization in Godzilla, and an expedition to find a brand-new ecosystem on Skull Island, which is only legend. It turns out to be proven a real place through satellite scans, so Monarch scientists and a military escort set out to chart the last unnamed place on Earth. They soon find all that one would expect to find on Skull Island, most of all Kong. Bigger than ever before, Kong is also deadlier than ever before.
The narrative is rather simple, and does not expand beyond the cast of characters having to escape Skull Island in a time constraint. Kong: Skull Island boasts an impressive cast, with Tom Hiddleston, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, Brie Larson, and Samuel L. Jackson all leading the show. The charm of Kong: Skull Island is dual. On the one hand, all the monsters look terrific. Building upon the monster ecosystem established in Godzilla, the monsters go far beyond traditional dinosaurs seen in past King Kong movies. Some of the fauna is a wooden made giant insect, a terrifying giant scorpion, and even a giant octopus, which is a clear reference to the octopus in the 1962 King Kong vs. Godzilla. Kong’s main rivals are scull crawlers, bipedal reptilian giants who have terrified the human inhabitants of Skull Island for thousands of years. The design on the skull crawlers is reminiscent of other Godzilla monsters from Toho films, and hopefully is a predecessor to upcoming monster designs.
The fights are not dim lit like in Godzilla, nor are they limited and rather are indulgent from the first fifteen minutes of the film to the very end. The motion capture on Kong is excellent, and brings him back to the bipedal colossus that he was in the original film rather than the life like gorilla from Jackson’s film. The aesthetics of Skull Island are very interesting as well. There is a sepia overtone on the entire film while they are on the island. Perhaps this is to keep in tone with the sepia of the original King Kong film. There always seems to be spores floating through the air, which has a cloudy sunlight feel the entire time. The night time skies are filled with bright stars and aurora borealis, making the island truly feel otherworldly.
Asides from the visual appeal of the island and the monsters, the human characters are so card board cut out it is satirical, and any plots involving the humans are laughable-yet in an entertaining sense. Samuel L. Jackson’s military colonel is perhaps the best representation of this, as it feels more as if Jackson is playing the Snakes on a Plane/ Pulp Fiction Samuel L. Jackson archetype that he created himself. Completely out of place, it makes each scene a fun ordeal that is not taken seriously yet very enjoyable to watch amidst the backdrop of the fantastical island. Truthfully, none of the human’s names can come to memory- they are that one dimensional. Yet this is probably for the best, as Godzilla’s key issues were focusing too much on humans and not enough on the fun monster brawl everyone wanted to see. In an age where movies like Batman v. Superman and Independence Day 2 utterly fail at a basic formula for a fun action movie, Kong: Skull Island succeeds at making a stylized, fast and entertaining monster movie that amply sets up the future shared universe for Godzilla 2 and further down the line Kong vs. Godzilla. This is no deep character study, but a much-needed light hearted fun romp after the depressing and punishing experience Logan was earlier in the month. Two great films on the opposite end of the spectrum, not to count the nostalgia filled Beauty and the Beast remake-it’s shaping up to be a great month for film!