The journey that King Kong has been on is amazing. He started off in the epic 1933 film of the same name, but would eventually descend into camp fun such as King Kong Lives. This is the film where King Kong is kept in a coma before a Lady Kong is found to wake him up using her blood. It’s weird. But after the overly long but well-made King Kong in 2005, we’ve started to take the big ape a bit more seriously again. But he needs more good films to keep this image up so can Kong: Skull Island continue this revival?
Bill Randa (John Goodman, Monsters Inc) is set to lead an expedition to an unchartered island alongside tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston, The Avengers), photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson, Room) as well as Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction) and his men. However, they soon discover that this island contains ancient creatures including a giant ape.
What’s nice about this new take on the King Kong mythos is that they don’t just base it all in the 1930s. What I also like is that instead of being boring and just bringing it into the modern day, the instead plant the story in the 1960s, just after the end of the Vietnam war. This means the film takes a lot of inspiration from films such as Apocalypse Now, so yes there are plenty of shots of helicopters attacking King Kong in the sunset with a brilliant song from the era playing. This isn’t just a cool stylistic choice though, the film does use the war as a metaphor.
After all, this film is about a group of people, including a lot of soldiers, going into a tropical climate thinking it’s an easy job before being confronted by the natives who are far much more fearsome than you’d expect. Just, in this case, the natives are a giant ape and the various other creatures that occupy the island.
And considering this is essentially a Vietnam monster movie, the film has to deliver with some harsh imagery and boy does it. This is a film that has an explicit reference to Cannibal Holocaust in it, it’s not afraid to be a bit bloody. Even though this is a 12A so it avoids chucking a lot of gore on screen, you will be shocked what they do get away with. One character has his limbs ripped off by pterodactyl things that make a similar scene in Jurassic World look tame while a very disgusting and bloody skull is also vomited up. After watching this, I had to check the age rating again because I’m surprised that this didn’t get a 12A or R rating for what it shows. However, thank God it does because this sort of imagery really hammers home how humans probably shouldn’t be visiting this island.
Of course, the star of the show is the big ape himself. Every scene in him is perfect. They introduce him in the perfect way, wiping out helicopters with ease as the group get onto the island for the first time. He is truly a sight to behold when you first get a proper look at him and you soon realise that he’s not someone you should be bringing back to New York for a jaunty stage show. But as the best King Kong films do, they soon make him into a character rather than just a giant monster. The film really does a good a job on making him a sympathetic character, impressive to say the least when he starts the film killing a lot of people. But it’s made very understandable and you soon see him as the hero and not the villain.
And Kong is given a brilliant adversary in Preston Packard, who’s probably the closest we get to a villain. He sees most of his platoon wiped out at the start of the film in the initial Kong attack and that drives him in a mad rage to kill the beast as revenge. It’s a good arc because not only is Jackson a great actor who can bring any role to life, but because it’s the meatiest material he has been given in a while. He’s someone who is obviously angry that the Vietnam war has ended without them winning and so needs something else to fill that hole in his life. Trying to a kill big ape seems to be a good way to do that. The way he slips into this madness and gets more and more desperate to kill Kong despite the increasing evidence that it’s not the best idea. It’s the best thing Jackson has done in years.
However, all the character has been put into King Kong and Preston because the real weakness of the film is that everyone else is paper thin. Tom Hiddleston’s Conrad is basically a rather cool guy and not much else, which is a problem when he’s basically the lead. It’s a similar story for Mason, whose whole character is that she is anti-war and not much other than that. The reason this happens is simple, the movie is a huge ensemble and the director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer) basically has the tough choice of making the movie a huge spectacle or spending more time on developing the characters. He’s chosen the spectacle and while that makes the movie enjoyable in one way, it stops the film from reaching that extra level.
But while a lot of the characters are paper-thin, Kong: Skull Island is still a very enjoyable movie to watch. It is a huge spectacle because Kong is incredibly well-designed and the action scenes are just awesome, combining some amazing shots with the huge monster destruction we crave from this sort of flick. Yeah, we can moan about the characters not being that interesting, other than Samuel L Jackson of course, but if we’re honest, this isn’t the sort of movie you want meaningful conversations from. You want a giant ape fighting other giant animals and you do get that. So why complain?