Okay, so let’s get this out of the way first: you clearly know what you’re getting into when you sit down to watch ‘Kong: Skull Island.’ If you come into the movie hoping to see the next big Oscar-worthy “thinker” movie or a slapstick rom-com, you are in the wrong place. Clearly. But if you’ve come to see good actors, a fairly sensible plotline, a tie-in to another film franchise, explosions, and lots of giant monster fighting? Then step into my office and let’s talk, friend.
‘Kong: Skull Island’ is a fairly marked departure from previous Kong films, in the sense that the human characters don’t desire to capture the large beast and bring him back to society to be put on display for the masses to ogle. In fact, as the movie opens, no one seems to be sure of what will even be found on Skull Island. As the Vietnam War winds down in the 1970s, scientist/entrepreneurs Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) manage to convince their US Army friends to lend them a squad of well-trained military pilots to “escort” their scientific team to Skull Island. Along the way, they pick up former RAF-turned-tracker-for-hire James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and Peace Corps photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) for insurance purposes, and off goes the group to the aforementioned Skull Island, a storm-isolated mystery land in the South Pacific Sea. Under the guidance of Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), the military pilots manage to get their helicopter convoy through the savage weather and into the island’s airspace – where the real menace is waiting for them. Kong isn’t the only beast they meet on this island, and it’s up to the group to not only survive – with the help of long-stranded Air Force pilot Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) – but to discern what the real threat on Skull Island truly is.
There are two things the movie apparently spared no expense on: acting talent and visual effects. Focusing on the latter, the film is, quite simply, gorgeous. Skull Island is presented as a “land of the lost” type of environment, with fantastic beasts around every corner. The plot is surprisingly coherent as well, which speaks volumes for a film such as this – this is where, in my humble opinion, so many other “big-budget” movies fall short. My only real complaint here is that the movie tries to pack in so many different kinds of oh-wow-look-at-that monsters that each pretty much each “fantastic beast” comes around exactly once in the film, and then is never seen again. Listen, I’m glad to have seen a 30-foot-tall camouflaged spider hanging out in the jungle (it’s not bad enough that it’s huge, but it has to blend into its surroundings as well? That’s something that will haunt my nightmares forever, thanks for that), but my rudimentary understanding of the proliferation of species tells me that there’s probably not *just* the one spider hanging out on the island, y’know? At least give me a spider buddy on screen, if not a pack. It’s that same way throughout the entire film for almost all of the creepy-crawlies we meet, just one of each and then on to the next monster; I do understand why the film’s creative team chose this path, but it does take me a bit out of the story element while watching the tale unravel.
I don’t usually pay attention to the names of the Casting Directors for many movies (I do apologize for that, CSA folks), but I do have to give credit where credit is due for ‘Kong: Skull Island,’ and Sarah Finn absolutely knocked it out of the park when she lined up the acting talent for this film. Hiddleston proves himself more than capable of leading a film with his work here, and I am proud to admit that never once during my viewing did I think, “There goes Loki bouncing off into the forest!” It’s excellent character work that feels completely separate from his “other” pop-culture films, so I give the man much credit for that. Larson spends much of the film in Hiddleston’s vicinity, but I must applaud director Jordan Vogt-Roberts for not forcing a “love story” on us; I have nothing against romance in a film when it makes sense in the scope of plot and setting, but let’s be honest here: running through the jungle for your life while trying to evade giant monsters on an island thousands of miles from the comfort of your own home is not most people’s “ideal date setting” on their eHarmony profiles. Roberts also effectively uses Larson as the “female human connection” to Kong without the situation feeling forced into being made similar to the previous Kong films – another bonus for ‘Skull Island,’ to be sure.
I love Goodman as an actor, and he performs admirably here as the businessman with oddly-mysterious ties to the island. It’s no major spoiler to inform you that he’s a part of Monarch, the “giant-terrestrial-being”-chasing company we first met in 2014’s ‘Godzilla’ film – and if you didn’t know by now that the two franchises were crossing over, now you do… and no spoilers here, but if you stay in your seat until the end of the film’s credits, then you’ll really know. Reilly adds a great comedic touch without his insertion being forced; he’s a great Yin to the militant Yang of Jackson, who isn’t evil, but certainly has his battle-hardened moments on screen. Genre fans will see other familiar “bit character” faces sprinkled throughout the film, including Toby Kebbell as one of the Army pilots; even though the Fantastic Four are not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Kebbell rounds out the Marvel Movies Greatest Hits Group here, as we have one movie that features Doctor Doom, Nick Fury, Loki, a ranking officer of the Nova Corps, and the impending Captain Marvel herself. Excelsior!
I think the greatest compliment I can give ‘Kong: Skull Island’ is this true story: my friends want to hang out and see a movie this weekend, and I left it up to them to pick which one we go see, because I’ve seen pretty much every film in theaters currently. The group consensus is that we’ll be going to see ‘Logan,’ which makes sense: a big X-Men universe film with well-established “box office power,” who wouldn’t want to choose that? Well, the more I think about it in advance of the group outing, the more I wished we were going to see ‘Kong;’ not that I disliked ‘Logan,’ far from it, but for me personally, ‘Skull Island’ feels like it’s going to have greater “rewatchability,” if that makes sense. From this pop-culture fanatic, that’s high praise indeed.
Tony Schaab wonders who would win in an epic, Gladiator-style fight between the Grumpy Cat and the “This is Fine” Dog – an animal-heavy meme battle for the ages! A lover of most things sci-fi and horror, Tony is an author by day and a DJ by night. Come hang out with Tony on Twitter to hear him spew semi-funny nonsense and get your opportunity to finally put him in his place.