Go See Kong: Skull Island

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The giant monster movie revival is in full swing, and this Spring’s latest entry is a doozie. If you’ve seen one of the other three(!) King Kong reboots, you may think you know what to expect from Skull Island. Forget that. Skull Island delivers a nominally fresh take on the giant ape that is as much a love letter to the kaiju genre as it is a big-budget action blowout. If you have even a passing interest in big hairy apes battling big lizards and rogue military elements, go see this movie.

Although Skull Island does touch on many of the common beats of past Kong entries, it only does so as homage rather than as re-tread, ultimately delivering a new story that feels as fresh as it does familiar. Sure, you’ve got the plucky cast of imperialist adventurers seeking fame and fortune in an unknown and alien land. Sure, you have a white, female protagonist who somehow soothes the heart of the savage beast. Sure, you have Kong beating down monstrous opponents. But so many of these familiar concepts are delivered in unexpected ways. The enemies are different. There is no sappy death of Kong due to love-induced cardiac arrest. And the monsters, of which there are plenty (and a healthy variety too, from ossified dinosaurs to sneaky spiders), are as interesting as they were in the original Kong film.

Thematically, the film draws as much from Moby Dick as it does Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (the inspiration of the movie’s clear visual forebear, Apocalypse Now). Although the slick visuals are delivered in a suitably retro setting of just after the end of the Vietnam War, and with often breathtaking panache, the story truly follows a far more Melville-inspired arc. The chief antagonist of the film is not a capitalist extorter hungry for fame and fortune, but Samuel L. Jackson’s jaded and cynical army colonel, Preston Packard, hellbent on vengeance with Kong in his monomaniacal search for victory and absolution. Like Ahab, the clear archetype for the character, Packard projects all his loss and failure upon some mythical beast and sets up the true climax of the film in his quest for victory. It’s a great arc for a Kong film, and one that spares us the commonly trod ground of Kong’s extraction from the island.

Thankfully, Kong leverages plenty of visual heft to match its thematic weight. A common point of failure among CGI-driven monster films is a lack of tangible force and bulk to the creatures portrayed on screen; compared to the classic suitmation Toho films or Willis OBrien’s timeless stop-motion work on the original Kong, the titans in films like Monsters: Dark Continent or Cloverfield just lack the tactile presence necessary to command filmgoer attention. Skull Island, though not perfect, gives us a monster that looks and feels real, one that bleeds and sweats and gets hungry. Little details, like Kong’s angry grimace and body scars, establish the giant ape as the king of his own film and lend the pitched battles against both Packard’s soldiers and the nasty beasts on the titular island a real sense of urgency. I haven’t been this impressed by an on-screen creature since I saw Jurassic Park as a little kid.

Ultimately, it’s that focus on Kong himself that makes Skull Island such a fun movie. Unlike 2014’s Godzilla, to which Skull Island is narratively linked (both films are set in Legendary’s MonsterVerse), Skull Island is unafraid to give screen time to its gargantuan hero. Although the film leverages some real star power, including the devastatingly suave Tom Hiddleston and the vivacious Brie Larson, it is Kong who drives the film forward as he defends his territory from invaders, both human and megafauna. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts knew exactly what fans of the genre wanted, and he gave it to them in spades.

Monster films tend to work best when they balance serious social commentaries against campy cheese, and Vogt-Roberts’s portrayal of Kong accomplishes both. While Kong does embody a rejection of imperialism, the big ape also revels in his own kitsch silliness as he swings a propeller attached to a chain like a gargantuan flail and batters rival monsters with trees wielded like clubs. In fact, there’s a scene depicting a fight against a giant octopus that is a clear allusion to the 1962 classic King Kong vs. Godzilla. Throw in some impressive pyrotechnics, the aforementioned jaw-dropping visuals (seriously, this is the best-looking monster film ever made), and an excellent soundtrack featuring classic rock favorites like “Paranoid” and “White Rabbit,” and you’ve got yourself a hell of a good time.

That said, as with any film whose premise involves giant monsters, don’t go in expecting a flawless experience. The narrative, though engaging, features a fairly limp script; you probably won’t find yourself dropping Samuel L. Jackson one-liners after the film. Nor will you find yourself blown away by the cast’s performances. John Goodman and John C. Reilly both deliver quality efforts for what they’ve been given, but with the film’s focus on Kong, there just isn’t much room for the human cast to steal the show. A gas-mask bedecked Hiddleston won’t be winning an Oscar for slicing through pterodactyls swarming through poison gas with a Japanese katana, but at least he looked like he had fun with it.

And really, that’s what Kong: Skull Island gives the audience. Fun. It’s a delight to watch Kong smash helicopters while his massive frame is accented by a beautiful setting sun. It’s a joy to see Kong rip an octopus apart with his bare hands. It’s wonderful to see Hiddleston and Larson running for their lives while Kong fights a giant, skull-adorned monstrosity to the death. If you have any attachment to kaiju films at all, you’re going to love Skull Island, and if you catch the classic literature references and see that Kong is a mirror asking us who the real monsters are, well you’re all the better for it.

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  • Scrimm

    Really hope Godzilla kills this motherfucker. I know it won’t happen of course, but I hope.

    • Grvm Spectre ov Derth

      Maybe they can kill each other, and from the ashes will shall emerge from our bunkers and rule Earth with an iron fist!

    • Rain Poncho W.

      I honestly expect that film to end up as a team-up against King Ghidorah.

      • Scrimm

        Pretty much hinted that something like that will be the case.

      • Doom Scientist

        We also get Rodan and Mothra at some point.

        • Rain Poncho W.

          Yep. I kinda wish Legendary would keep going with the original monsters though. I’ve gotten plenty of Rodan, Mothra, and Ghidorah from Toho over the years.

          • Scrimm

            I want Ebirah!

          • Rain Poncho W.

            I would love that. Seriously. Horror of the Deep is one of my favorite Godzilla films.

          • Scrimm

            My favorite of the old ones I’ve seen. interesting history behind it too.

          • Rain Poncho W.

            Yep. It would have been neat to see one of the gargantuas in it instead of Godzilla since the film was originally written for the more humanoid Kong.

      • Señor Jefe El Rossover

        Hhhnnnng

  • nbm02ss

    I so appreciated that they changed the narrative from the traditional Kong movie. It was a breath of fresh air.

    That said, if the plan is for Kong vs. Godzilla, Kong doesn’t look nearly big enough in this movie.

    • Rain Poncho W.

      They don’t dwell on it too much, but John C. Reilly’s character does note that Kong is still growing in the film, so I guess they’re going to have him get huge in the 30 years between films.

      • nbm02ss

        Ohhh, that’s true, I guess they did mention in the film that he’s still practically an adolescent.

        • RepostedAvengedSevenfoldFan2

          I’m only thirteen, but I know for sure that I’m going to get tattoos.
          My mom keeps telling me that it’s a bad idea, but she’s against anything I do, to be honest, because I’m not the bright, blonde flower she wanted. I’m a dead, black rose, which will tatooed be on my ankle 😉

          – devilsheart, 2 years ago

      • nbm02ss
        • Rain Poncho W.

          Almost all of them, actually. haha

    • Depechemodeisgangsta

      I still haven’t seen Kong (will try to catch it asap) but i do know they have plans for Kong VS Godzilla, have they announced who is directing that movie??

      • Rain Poncho W.

        Not yet.

        • Depechemodeisgangsta

          Last year i tried to find any place to see Godzilla Resurgence, since from what i read it had amazing reviews, unfortunately they didn’t played it down here, hopefully it comes out on Netflix or Amazon.

          • Rain Poncho W.

            I was able to catch it and loved it!

    • sweetooth0

      I think they mentioned off hand during one of the expositional dumps that he’s “still growing”.

  • Doom Scientist

    1976 King Kong or GTFO.

    • Rain Poncho W.

      Really? I’ll take this and the original (and Kong vs. Godzilla) over the 70s one. I’d comment regarding Jackson’s reboot, but that movie still hasn’t ended.

      • Doom Scientist

        I’m kidding. it’s just that i was 9 when the 1976 Kong came out.

        • Rain Poncho W.

          Gotcha! I haven’t seen that one in years. Same with Son of Kong. Need to watch them again.

          • Doom Scientist

            I haven’t seen Son Of Kong since I was a kid and I’ve never seen King Kong Lives from 1986.

    • Hans Copronym

      1998 Godzilla or it didn’t happen

      • Doom Scientist

        I sprained my ankle on the way to see that movie so I have a special hatred for it.

        • Hans Copronym

          I almost didn’t see it because I told the lady at the counter my actual age.

          • Count_Breznak

            “Im this many fingers”

          • BobLoblaw

            I love you.

      • CyberneticOrganism

        You may like this: http://tinyurl.com/m9b6uje

  • Cletus

    I really want to see this. My 7 year old does too but it looks a little intense for her. Any thoughts, Toilet?

    • Rain Poncho W.

      It’s more violent than I would have expected. I think a 7-year-old would have a hard time making it through the initial encounter between Kong and the military. It more or less shows Kong eating a soldier.

    • RepostedAvengedSevenfoldFan2

      Should I show my 4 year old niece this? Her favorite show is COPS, so knowing her, she will probably just ask “When will the police will get the bad guys?”. I do love toddlers.

      – MindWaveStudios421, 3 years ago

      • CyberneticOrganism

        Yes, COPS is the perfect show for a 4 year old.

    • Depechemodeisgangsta

      I asked my friend about that, since he has kids, and he said No way Kong is too intense, kids have to be at least 12 and up.

  • Joaquin Stick

    Haven’t been to a theater in a few weeks and I’m falling behind. Gotta go this weekend and catch up on this one (priority), Logan, Get Out, and of course, Boss Baby.

    • Rain Poncho W.

      Get Out was good too.

    • I got stuck in a coffee shop last week behind a guy telling his friend that he hated Glengarry Glen Ross because it was too slow BUT he’s totally gonna check out Boss Baby because the adverts use a line from that movie. Not sure why I’m telling you this. I just had to share this somewhere otherwise it was gonna cause a brain embolism.

      • Hans Copronym

        Always Be Sharing.

        • Óðinn

          Always Be Sharting.

      • CyberneticOrganism
          • CyberneticOrganism
          • Depechemodeisgangsta

            Hey man, they got to appeal to the parents also.

          • I guess. Honestly not sure how many parents are gonna see this and think to themselves, “Finally! David Mamet’s work combined with a grating cartoon about a child that is improbably a boss of some kind.”

          • RJA

            I will obviously see it – have 2 kids 9 and 6 so I have no choice. I think it could be ok – it certainly will be no Wreck it Ralph that’s for sure!

            And I can eat some popcorn and maybe take a nap if the movie fails so win/win in my book. The little things become quite little as you grow older!

          • Howard Dean

            Napping in movie theaters >>>>>>>>>

            I can’t remember the last time I made it all the way through a movie in theaters. CHRONIC EXHAUSTION MASTER RACE

          • Rain Poncho W.

            Never fallen asleep in a theater, but this year I’ve made a habit of dosing on the couch while my wife watches netflix.

          • Howard Dean

            I’m a habitual theater sleeper, and always have been. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I haven’t fallen asleep in a theater (granted, I’ve never been a big theater goer, so the sample size is smaller than average, probably). Even when I was a kid I would fall asleep in theaters, as crazy as that sounds. It’s almost Pavlovian at this point.

          • Howard Dean

            Also: Couch dosing >>>>>>>

          • RJA

            They keep making the theater seats more comfy- what am I supposed to do?!

          • Howard Dean

            Wait, this shit is real?!

            Now I understand all of the suicide gifs.

          • Doom Scientist

            I hope this movie tanks worse than Heaven’s Gate.

    • CyberneticOrganism
      • BobLoblaw

        Thats how i felt when my dumbass six year old said he wanted to see it.

    • Depechemodeisgangsta

      Logan and Get out, were very good IMO.
      I think i will pass on Boss Baby, the reviews coming in are bad, i think i need to watch Zootopia on netflix, and i’ll probably take my sister kid to watch Beauty and Beast, she wants to go see it.

      • Joaquin Stick

        I can’t tell if people know I am kidding, so I’ll just go on record now and say it was a joke.

        • Joaquin Stick

          Zootopia is a good though!

    • Dumpster Lung

      If John Wick 2 is still in theaters, then that’s my priority. Then Logan next, then this and Get Out. I was waiting on someone else to go see JW2 with me. Said I’d wait til they could to go see it, but I kinda wish I had gone already lol

      • Joaquin Stick

        JW2 is incredible. Might be on it’s way out of theaters at this point.

        • Dumpster Lung

          Yeah, figures. Was going to see it almost right when it came out, but timing ended up not working out, then haven’t seen the friend I was planning on seeing it with since lol.

  • Waynecro

    Excellent review, Dubya!

  • Señor Jefe El Rossover

    Hopefully, I can get to the theater soon. I very much want to see this

    • Rain Poncho W.

      A few months ago you worried that John C. Reilly’s character would be too corny for the film, but it actually ends up working out, imo.

      • Señor Jefe El Rossover

        That’s a relief to hear.

  • DoYouThinkHeSaurus

    “Hold onto your butts!”

  • sweetooth0

    It was great! Best giant monster flick since Pacific Rim. WAAAAAAAYY better than that boring shitty Godzilla remake.

    • Rain Poncho W.

      I liked G14, but I think I liked Kong more!

      • sweetooth0

        The constant cheating you out of Godzilla action until the last 10 minutes of the movie was brutal. Because I care so much about bland solider looking for his family number 1121234290384. The movie should’ve been called soldiers run from Mutos, and Godzilla makes a cameo.

        • Rain Poncho W.

          I understand this argument!

          • sweetooth0

            At least Godzilla himself looked cool, and now that we got that shit out of the way, hopefully Kong vs Godzilla goes for non-stop Monster action. I literally do not care about any human characters beyond seeing them get squashed or killed in someway as collateral damage.

          • Doom Scientist

            See Shin Godzilla(Godzilla Resurgence): no bullshit, straight to the action.

          • sweetooth0

            I did, it was pretty good! The board room stuff got a little tedious, but that’s what the FF button is for!

          • Doom Scientist

            At least it was part of the main story and not some bullshit tacked on subplot. Pretty much everything was focused on Godzilla.

          • sweetooth0

            agreed!

  • Primordial Chaos

    I will watch “Kong” and speaking about monsters, what about this trailer? the book was good and the two old movies not so bad after all, this remake could be a remedy for the horror genre:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FnCdOQsX5kc

    • Doom Scientist

      I thought the book was decent and Tim Curry was the only good thing about the previous movie. Watching this trailer doesn’t give me much hope.

      • Pentagram Sam

        THIS BETTER HAVE THE GODDAMN DEADLIGHTS, THE LEPER ON NEIBOLT, THE FUCKIN TURTLE, AND THE RITUAL OF CHUD.

        NO SEWER GANG BANG THO.

        • Doom Scientist

          I’m pretty sure we’re not getting the gang bang part.

  • Max

    I had no intention of seeing this film but now may well on the basis of this review.

    Any chance, W, of reviewing The Cure for Wellness? It’s not yet in cinemas in my neck of the woods and I’d be interested in your take…

    • Doom Scientist

      I’m curious about that movie too.

    • IT SUCKS BALLS DON’T DO IT. The trailer looked so, so good for what is a bog standard ghost story with one or two cool scenes.

      • Rain Poncho W.

        Really? That’s unfortunate. I wanted to see it.

      • Max

        Whoa, thanks! I’ll just stick to seeing Get Out when that arrives.

    • CT-12

      In general, I agree with Joe. Don’t know if I’d go so far as to say that it “sucks balls”, but it’s nothing amazing by any extent. Movie’s pretty long and could have cut out a lot of scenes, and you sort of have an idea of what everything’s leading to from the beginning. There’s definitely some gnarly scenes worth seeing in the movie though, particularly a certain “smelly” scene haha. Probably better to watch it with a friend on DVD. Overall, I’d give it a C.

      • Max

        Cheers, I think I’ll give it a miss altogether in that case. It was one of those films that struck me as being of the panoramic variety that you have to see on the big screen to take it all in; but if you’re only recommending it on DVD, then that’s a thumbs-down entirely.

  • Simon PhoenixKing Rising

    I remember first seeing the 1998 Zilla and wanting to gouge my eyes out afterwards.

    Then when I saw Pacific Rim my love for these kaiju films reignited. What a great time we live in.

    I say bring on motherfucking Ghidorah.

  • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

    Class review W. This is the second review I’ve read of this that makes it sound like my cup of tea and I shall have to try and see it before it leaves cinemas. The other, funnily enough, was on a political site, which noted the while the politics were muddled, the monster action ruled and that was the important thing.

    • Rain Poncho W.

      The Jacobin review? I kinda thought the political discussion there was unnecessary and that the reviewer could have stood to watch more giant monster movies, but it seems he and I liked it for a lot of the same reasons.

      • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

        Yup, that was the one. I’m not keen on specifically politicised film criticism myself, to me it often simply unconstructively leads away from the pure magic of cinema, which to me should always be at the forefront.

        • Rain Poncho W.

          Right. It felt pretty shoehorned in.

  • Dumpster Lung

    Sold. I’ll be seeing this for sure.