Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Running Time: 118 mins
Kong: Skull Island is an American film following a team of explorers and soldiers on a perilous quest into the uncharted Skull Island, where the giant ape named Kong rules as king over all monsters and all beings.
Let’s first clear up exactly what this film is. Warner Bros. and Legendary are in the process of building a ‘monsterverse’, and Skull Island is the second film in that series after 2014’s Godzilla. Also, this isn’t the same classic King Kong story, but rather a new adaptation with different characters and a different time period. All cleared up now?
After the crushing disappointment that was Godzilla, I have to say that Kong: Skull Island is a tremendous surprise. Not only a hugely entertaining monster movie, but a well-directed, well-written and well-acted film full of ideas from start to finish. Its action set-pieces are utterly spectacular, the CGI is fantastic, and there’s even a story that’s genuinely interesting throughout, something that I definitely didn’t expect going in.
But by far the greatest achievement of this film is the presence of Kong himself. As plain as most of the film was, the biggest issue with Godzilla was that there just wasn’t enough Godzilla. Fortunately, Skull Island rectifies that exact problem, and makes Kong as big a character in the film as any of the humans, appearing on screen at regular intervals, and actually playing a genuine role in the story.
And that story is probably the thing that surprised me most of all. Again, Godzilla was a slow, empty and formulaic monster movie that really bored me. Kong: Skull Island, on the other hand, is a fast-paced and absolutely jam-packed action movie that actually gets better and better as it moves along.
Of course, there’s a part of me that’s a little sad that we’re not getting the classic story of King Kong that made both the 1933 and 2005 films so beautiful. However, Skull Island does do a fantastic job at bringing the character to a different time period and making a new, riveting story.
Above all, the film’s ingenious parallels with the Vietnam War make for fascinating viewing. Bringing a different dynamic to the relationship between the humans and Kong, the way that Skull Island looks at the story through the lens of the anti-Vietnam War sentiment of the 1970s adds an impressive layer of depth to the story, keeping Kong an interesting and emotionally resonant character despite removing his love with Ann Darrow.
What’s more is that some of the film’s characters have some very layered and interesting backstories. In particular, Samuel L. Jackson’s character, a stubborn, war-mongering colonel taken from the Vietnam War he loved fighting in, is hugely interesting to watch. At times mimicking the role of film director Carl Denham from the original, at others adding a far darker and more serious edge to the story of the invasion of Skull Island, he’s absolutely fascinating to follow from start to finish.
There are a whole host of other characters that bring some impressive depth to the story, depth that I certainly didn’t expect after the two-dimensional heroes of Godzilla, and make the film’s large ensemble cast work amazingly well.
One more positive from the film is undoubtedly the action. As I said, this is a very exciting monster movie that’s full of action throughout. Above all, the opening and closing action sequences really stand out. Both because of the amazing visual parallels drawn with Vietnam War films like Apocalypse Now, Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, but also thanks to the stunning CGI that allows Kong to tower over the screen in comparison to the humans, but also puts a formidable and genuinely terrifying enemy on a very level playing field.
As far as blockbusters go, Skull Island is top-quality, but it still isn’t entirely perfect. For one, whilst it’s brimmed with ideas and interesting characters throughout, that does lead the film to becoming a little crowded at times. The lack of a main character amidst the huge ensemble cast means it’s definitely not as streamlined as I would have liked.
Also, the parallels with Vietnam, whilst unique and great to see in a movie like this, are a little overbearing at times. Particularly in the first act, there comes a point where the film really hits you over the head with how similar it is to Apocalypse Now, and although that does die down to a better level later on, it’s a little frustrating at times.
Simply put, Skull Island is an impressively brainy and innovative blockbuster, but it goes a little too far with everything it does. That’s far better than a completely empty film like Godzilla, but with an enormous main cast and a story that’s so jam-packed, I felt like things could have been carried out a little smoother than the finished product.
Still, I had a really good time with Kong: Skull Island. It’s a massively entertaining monster movie that places its title character right in the thick of the action, surrounded by more interesting human characters, excellent visuals, stunning action sequences, and a genuinely engrossing and intelligent original story, which is why I’m giving it a 7.8 overall.