In a brilliant piece of marketing, Kong: Skull Island strategically aligned itself in the same vein as the Vietnam War film Apocalypse Now. Those looking for a blockbuster take on Francis Ford Coppola’s iconic film should temper their expectations. While Apocalypse’s influences can be felt from a stylistic standpoint, the South Pacific sun looms as large as the ape at the film’s core, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has very little interest in making a grand political statement. Kong: Skull Island’s only goal is to remind us who the true king of the monsters is, and in that regard it succeeds.
Whether he is using a boat motor like a set of brass knuckles, or making a giant octopus his impromptu lunch, there is no denying that this is the most badass version of King Kong we have seen yet. Unlike its predecessors, Kong: Skull Island rarely slows down to give its’ central character depth. Though many on island speak of Kong’s compassion, Vogt-Roberts only highlights a few choice scenes that show the creature’s humanity and complexity. The majority of the film is a beat down of epic proportions as Kong does whatever it takes to protect his home from those who now threaten it.
The most obvious threats are the outsiders who have been pulled together by Bill Randa (John Goodman), part of an organization called Monarch that has a vested interest in the abnormal. Randa and his colleague Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), a geologist whose theories about a Hollow Earth may not be as ludicrous as others in the scientific community believe, convince a local senator, Willis (Richard Jenkins), to allow them to take a military escort to a mysterious island in the South Pacific for a mapping expedition.
Going undetected for years, thanks in part to the perpetual storm clouds that surround it, Skull Island is no ordinary island. Within moments of arriving, the excursion led by Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), which also includes former British spy turned freelance tracker, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), and a war photo journalist, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), quickly learn that Kong does not care for visitors; especially those bombing his land in the name of science.
While Colonel Packard immediately makes it his personal mission to avenge the soldiers that have fallen at the hands of Kong, it is clear to everyone else that there are even more dangers to worry about on Skull Island than its ape protector.
Continuing the trend of blockbuster reboots of cult monster franchises, a resurgence that started with 2014’s Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island is an entertaining ride that never takes itself too seriously. The film is filled with strong visual effects and the action sequences are quite thrilling. However, the true highlight of the film is John C. Reilly’s turn as Hank Marlow, a World War II fighter pilot who crashed landed on the island 28 years earlier. Reilly brings just the right level of humour and heart to the film. It can be argued that Marlow is a more well-rounded character than Conrad and Weaver combined.
Reilly’s great work also highlights one of the central flaws with the film; there are simply too many characters in the film. Many of the supporting characters are underdeveloped, or serve no other purpose than to be food for whatever giant freak of nature happens to inhabit a given area at the time. This also impacts the chemistry between Hiddleston and Larson’s characters, as we hardly get to know much about them outside of the fact that they can look like cover models in even the harshest of jungle terrains.
While the post-credit sequence hints at an epic monster franchise crossover film down the line, Kong: Skull Island is more than worthy of standing on its own legs. It is an entertaining blockbuster that is worth going ape over.