Set at the tail end of the Vietnam War, Kong: Skull Island
stars John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane
) as Bill Randa, a nutty researcher who has used satellite photos to discover an uncharted island. Using competition from the Russians as leverage ("they've got a satellite passing over in three days, do you want them to get there first?"), Randa convinces the US government to fund an expedition to explore the island. Randa taps an Army helicopter unit led by Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson from The Hateful Eight
) to escort him and enlists the help of an experienced tracker named James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston from The Avengers
) as a guide, and sets off for the island with his assistant Houston Brooks (Straight Outta Compton
's Corey Hawkins) and documentary photographer Mason Weaver (Short Term 12
's Brie Larson) in tow.
Of course, nothing is that easy. The foreshadowing is thick as the island is surrounded by treacherous storms. Once the copters make their way through the thunder and lightning, the island is peaceful and beautiful, but that feeling is short lived, as they find themselves face-to-face with Kong, a giant ape who fiercely protects his territory. The survivors of the initial encounter with Kong have to make their way to their rendezvous point on the other side of the island. Along the way, they meet Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly from Carnage
), a WWII pilot who has been marooned on the island for thirty years. He sounds crazy, but also convincing, as he tells the group that Kong is not what they need to be afraid of on the island.
After the success of 2014's Godzilla
, Legendary Pictures scrambled to assemble a new kaiju universe, and of course, King Kong absolutely had to be a part of it. Kong: Skull Island
was directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer
) from a script that was written by Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler
), Max Borenstein (who also had his hand in Godzilla
), Derek Connolly (Jurassic World
), and John Gatins (Real Steel
). If that sounds like a lot of cooks in the kitchen, well, it is, especially when you consider that Kong: Skull Island
is a very simple, point-A-to-point-B story with little-to-no subplot. Sure, there may be subtle messages about the effect of war on soldiers and how the government profits off of conflict, but people aren't going to see Kong: Skull Island
for the moral, or even for the story.
One of the main complaints that people had with Godzilla
was the lack of on-screen monster time. There should be no complaints of that sort with Kong: Skull Island
. You can't have a movie about a place called Skull Island and have King Kong be the only monster on it. And he's not; there's everything from horse-sized insects to mysterious lizard-y things that look like a cross between Venom from Spiderman 3
and the Demogorgon from "Stranger Things." And they all fight. Kong fights people in helicopters. People fight giant spiders. Mysterious lizard-y things fight people. Kong fights mysterious lizard-y things. Get the idea?
Kong: Skull Island gets campy and corny at times, but that's what makes it so endearing. John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson, and John C. Reilly know exactly what kind of movie they signed up for, and by the time they're done, there is not one splinter of scenery left un-chewed. They really sell the human, non-monster parts of the film, realizing that they're just there to kill time between Kong fights. And they seem to be loving it.
Ok, so in case you couldn't tell from the promotional posters, Kong: Skull Island
owes a huge debt to Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam War classic Apocalypse Now
, from the epic helicopter raid scene (instead of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries," Packard's men play Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" as they're going in) to the journey upriver through hostile territory to face the ambiguous threat. Kong: Skull Island
should be looked at as a tribute rather than a rip-off, a self-aware imitation that still allows itself to be independent. I've seen puns on the internet about Kong: Skull Island
that go everywhere from "Viet Kong" to "Gorilla Warfare," but I prefer to use "Ape-pocalypse Now." I thought of that myself. I'm sure I'm not the only one, but I did.
Over the years, King Kong has been brought to life through stop-motion photography (1933), a man in a monkey costume (1976), and computer generated imagery (2005). The Kong in Kong: Skull Island
is, of course, CG as well, but he's a very different icon than that of Peter Jackson's indulgent 2005 epic. Whereas Jackson's Kong was very simian-like, this Kong is more humanoid in form and movement, walking and fighting in a more erect style. Jordan Vogt-Roberts used motion capture artist Terry Notary, who also mo-capped Rocket in Rise of the Planet of the Apes
and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
, to grab the movements (fun fact: Peter Jackson used mo-cap superstar Andy Serkis, who played Caesar in the Apes
movies, for his Kong), so Kong looks great and moves like a champ. And he's absolutely huge. If there's one knock on the visual effects, it's that they are often shown from a point that is too close to the action, causing a little bit of spatial confusion for the viewer during some of the faster fight scenes. But, if giant monster fighting is what you're after, Kong: Skull Island
delivers the stand-up-and-cheer goods.