King Kong is a well-known name, the 1933 film is a classic not only for the title character but for the techniques used to bring Kong and the other creatures to life. The character of Kong has been revisited before in cinema, with two films in particular from 1976 and 2005 that served as remakes. Kong: Skull Island is not a remake, it takes the character and island and moves in its own direction. The film is part of a new cinematic monster universe that already includes Godzilla, who we saw brought to life in Gareth Edwards 2014 film. The monster cinematic universe has been around for many years, but this is possibly the first time we are seeing it done on the Hollywood scale and not the B and C grade level that it has existed in.
The film takes place in the 70’s, war is running rampart with Vietnam and a group of scientists believe there is something happening on an unexplored island. With government approval, they head to the island with specialist and military to investigate, however they come across things they did not expect to find. The island is occupied by a creature called Kong, but he isn’t alone and the humans are about to discover a whole new level of life.
Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) from the Monarch organisation believe there are things out there that have not been explored, they manage to compile a team to explore an island in the South Pacific. The guise of this trip is geological research, but before long their team realize that is not the case. On their team is a guide Capt. James Conrad (Tom Hiddelston) who can track the island, war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) to document the trip and Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his helicopter team of specialists to get the crew to and from the island and act as protectors.
Kong: Skull Island has a lot going for it, it is a very different film than Godzilla (2014) however they both contain interesting commentaries on life. Kong the beast is actually the star of the film, we meet him very early on and his journey is just as intriguing as that of the human characters. Unlike in Godzilla (2014) where Gareth Edwards took the approach that less is more as it pertained to the monster, Kong is not hidden away. This is his island and he is protecting it from the intruders, but soon both Kong and the humans have another bigger problem to deal with, which will not be revealed here. Having these two films take that differing approach works, it throws out expectations on what this film is and what will happen.
This is an action-packed thrill ride, it doesn’t waste any time getting to the island and seeing what is there and what dangers they are going to face. Kong himself is an amazing sight to behold, he is huge and the CGI is incredible. He sees these people as a threat to his island so he isn’t going to sit back and do nothing, he is under attack. This in itself sets off another chain of events as the humans struggle with what they have seen and the destruction that has befallen them. Col. Packard sees Kong as a beast to be killed, he is a monster who will kill and he is out to seek revenge. The other crew have the curiosity about what is going on with this island, but also know they need to get away before anything else bad happens. There are some other interesting elements at play, such as the natives and their relationship with Kong as well as the other creatures who call the island home.
Part of what makes this a deeper film than just it being an action blockbuster is that is delves into thought provoking themes. There are huge creatures that exist, humans are incredibly small scale compared to them. These creatures are almost letting the other beings on the planet live there, and when things start to become unbalanced they act. This was also a central theme with Godzilla (2014), however with Kong: Skull Island it is examined in a unique way. Kong like his counterpart Godzilla is not a villain, they are living on this planet and are there to bring order to chaos. Perhaps because Kong is in this film a lot more, he becomes quite a dimensional character and it is shown that he does have emotions and he is an intelligent creature who is not evil.
For an action-packed film, the performances are quite enjoyable and the cast really meshed well with each other. John Goodman has been on a roll in recent years and this was a role perfect for him, the almost crazed washed up scientist who will do anything to prove he is not crazy. His counterpart played by Corey Hawkins was very solid, his motivations are different and that got conveyed well. Tom Hiddelston very rarely fails in a role, and once again he delivers on this front as the hero of the group. Conrad has the clear head and he can think on his feet, Hiddelston was very believable in the role and made it his own. Brie Larson is a recent Oscar winner and tackling a big Hollywood blockbuster after Room (2015) was an interesting choice, she was a perfect fit for the war photographer. She conveyed all the right emotions and gave more heart to a character that could have easily been a throw away. Samuel L. Jackson could have easily played Packard as a generic military leader, but with the character’s motivation he became something more. There was raw emotion behind the character, as a man who sees his men getting killed, it was a welcome surprise from the veteran actor.
Kong: Skull Island is a beautiful looking film; the cinematography is breath-taking and the editing certainly makes the film stand out above other blockbusters. This could have easily been a B-grade affair, however it really lifted itself up and away from that title. Not only is this an exciting film, filled with action, it contains a lot of emotion and welcome humour, as well as being amazing to look at and behold. The direction by Jordan Vogt-Roberts works well for the material, and the script is definitely above average. With both this film and Godzilla (2014) being exceptional pieces of cinema, the world looks bright for this newly crowned monster universe. Be sure to stay around post credits for a scene that helps tie the films together and leads the path for the next chapter.