By Thomas Simpson
It’s been 85 years since audiences first witnessed King Kong climb the Empire State Building. In that time there has been remakes, sequels and crossovers that have seen Kong do battle with legendary monsters. Kong: Skull Island is the 8th film in the franchise and takes us back to the giant ape’s home.
Here director Jordan Vogt-Roberts offers a fresh perspective as we get somewhat of an origin story that explains Kong’s purpose on this earth. He may not make it to New York this time around but that doesn’t mean he’s safe from man.
Set in 1973, the U.S. Government lead a motley crew including scientists and military personnel on a secret mission to Skull Island. Once on the island they start dropping bombs to determine if the ground is hollow. Kong isn’t impressed with the invasion and kills many of the army men in retaliation. Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) doesn’t take to kindly to the act of war and vows revenge on Kong. Unfortunately for the visitors, King is the least of their worries.
This is a monster film first and foremost heavily influenced by Vietnam war films such as Platoon and Apocalypse Now. The jungle landscape allows for stunning cinematography and keeps Kong in his natural environment without relying on the fish out of water trope. It also allows for wanton destruction without falling into the disaster porn traps that plague blockbuster action films.
The film is a lot of fun accompanied with a great cast that look like they’re having a ball. Jackson is the modern incarnation of Captain Ahab, with a thousand-yard stare that burns through the screen. He’s portrayed as a villain yet he’s not a bad guy, neither is Kong but he’s blind to that. While the script bears similarities to 2014’s Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island injects more humour into the story. John C. Reilly is in excellent form as Hank Marlow, a World War II pilot that’s been stranded on the island for almost 30 years. His character allows for some great exposition with his excellent one-liners providing many laughs.
At its heart though, this is a monster movie, and there’s no hesitation in putting Kong against his natural enemy, the Skullcrawlers. The fight sequences are brilliantly animated and wonderfully choreographed. Rather than turn into a CGI mess, the attention to detail is commendable including some inventive scenes including a makeshift brass knuckles Kong makes out of a ship anchor.
Like previous films, Kong forms a bond with the female lead. Here its Brie Larson’s pacifist photojournalist but the relationship isn’t hammered home. It’s subtle enough to show Kong’s caring side without dragging the film down with an unnecessary subplot. Despite his enemies, Kong has more allies than foes this time round.
The after credits stinger confirms a few easter eggs you may have picked up throughout the film. By now it’s probably a terribly kept secret and even the credits give away the surprise. Still, it’s worth staying for and provides some icing on the cake for what is a delightfully entertaining film.
Thomas is a writer and filmmaker based in Glasgow, U.K. Find him on Twitter: @Simmy41.