Kong: Skull Island brings back a beloved movie monster. However, what should a person really expect when they head in to see a new movie about King Kong?
There are a lot of things going against a King Kong movie. For one thing, the story has been shown before – many times. In 1933, the original King Kong (buy it from Amazon) saw the giant ape captured and taken to New York City as a sideshow and then killed. In 1976, the exact same story is told with the same ending in a new King Kong (buy it from Amazon). In 2005, Peter Jackson remade King Kong (buy it from Amazon) again – with the same story and the same ending. Now, in 2017, it is time to do it all over again.
The best news is that Kong: Skull Island refused to play the same story over for the fourth time.
The setup introduces a company known as Monarch, led by senior official William Randa (John Goodman). People who watched the most recent Godzilla movie will maybe recognize that company from the movie, although nothing was discovered about them then. In this movie, their origins are finally revealed as President Harry Truman knew about the existence of monsters and created the organization to keep tabs on them. Over the years, future leaders didn’t believe in monsters and Monarch was about to be shut down.
Randa convinces Senator Al Willis (Richard Jenkins) to fund a mission to Skull Island with the agreement that, if they find nothing there, they will shut down Monarch. William, his geologist assistant Houston (Corey Hawkins) and a second young biologist named San (Jing Tian) piggyback an Army unit who is about to be transferred out of the Vietnam War to investigate the island.
This is the one area that the movie really kind of treads on familiar water. The team is on their way home after fighting in the Vietnam War – an effort that their Lieutenant Colonel, Preston Packard, called running away from the battle without losing. Packard is shown to be a little mentally disturbed, feeling that everything they did was for nothing in Vietnam. He is unhinged and chooses to send his men out on “one final mission” before going home.
That never goes well.
The movie also brings in two other principle characters in a tracker named James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), who agrees to help them on the island for cash, and an anti-war photojournalist named Mason (Brie Larson), who lies to get onboard when she discovers there might be more to the mission than anyone lets on.
The biggest problem with the movie is that all these characters – three members of Monarch plus a couple of other expedition officials, Packard and his soldiers, and Conrad and Mason – are about to head to an island with monsters and there are way too many of them to get any character time or development. With so many characters, and only four that you really get any development on, it is easy to just see all of them as canon fodder.
That is – in fact – what most of them are.
We get to know both Conrad and Mason well enough, although they are barely more than cardboard cutouts of characters. Packard is developed enough to be unlikeable. Randa is developed enough to be untrustworthy. Actually, the soldiers are the ones that we end up liking the most and they are the expendable ones mostly.
And then there is Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), the MVP of Kong: Skull Island. After the military comes in and drops bombs to help the geologists map out the island, Kong starts killing them to defend his home. Some of the survivors find Hank, who crashed on the island in World War II and has been there ever since. Honestly, Reilly steals every single scene he is in, is given the best lines in the movie, and is the only character I really hoped lived to the end. By the end, it is Hank that gives the movie its heart and elevates it from just another monster movie.
Now, that is not to say the monsters are not awesome.
As I mentioned, Kong: Skull Island is a completely different story than any previous King Kong movie. Yes, there are outsiders who come into Kong’s home with ulterior motives but this movie is not about taking Kong back to America to kill, it is about Kong protecting his land from both the human aggressors and the monsters that live on the island – there are a lot of monsters on this island.
Anyone who saw the trailer knows about the Skull Crushers, and those are the main bad beasts in this movie, but there are more monsters – and like any animal, they are not good or bad – they are just giant freaking animal-like creatures – except for the Skull Crushers. Those are evil creatures.
The CGI in the movie is great and the monsters are well-done. Actually, almost everything about this movie is well done, from the music score to the monster design to the design of the island itself. This is just a great, fun movie, with some criminally underdeveloped characters.
This is also the start of a new franchise with all the giant monsters. It actually all started in Godzilla (buy it from Amazon) but it really started moving here and a post-credit scene shows that there is more monsters coming, including the anticipated King Kong vs. Godzilla battle everyone loves.
If you just want a fun monster movie, Kong: Skull Island has everything you need and more. Don’t expect a lot of quality storytelling here and very little in the way of characters, but if you want to see monsters beating the hell out of each other, this movie is well worth the time.