King Kong is arguably the most iconic on screen monster of all time. We all know the classic story of the giant monkey who in essence is filled with humanity. From 1933 to 2005, we’ve witnessed countless retellings of the legend. Yet the latest reimagining from Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts is experimenting with a new spin on the 8th wonder of the world. Kong Skull Island is by no means a deep and meaningful allegory for society. It is not a complex narrative that will be nominated for best screenplay at next year’s Academy Awards. But honestly, who cares? Not only is Kong Skull Island a breathtakingly stunning film in terms of its visual aesthetics, it is easily the most fun film of the year so far, and I loved every minute of it.
Set almost immediately after the end of the Vietnam War in 1973, Bill Randa (John Goodman) is given permission to carry out a mysterious expedition of an uncharted island, known as Skull Island. Hiring former SAS member James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and Lieutenant Colonel Packard (Samuel L Jackson) along with a squadron of soldiers, the group set out to map this mysterious location. However, once their investigation ignites with the dropping of bombs to map the island’s surface, the humans realise that they have let themselves in for the voyage of hell, facing numerous creatures, and the mighty King of the island, Kong.
In my opinion, this film is unquestionably spectacular. The film truly immerses audiences into the gorgeous environment of Skull Island. The luscious jungles and the humongous mountains generate an incredible sense awe and wonder, a true feeling of tangibility that I loved. The fact that during production the crew filmed on location undoubtedly served as a major positive in my eyes, constructing the film as a thing of beauty. So yes, the location and setting is certainly a high point of the film. Furthermore, the world building in terms of the context of the film is magnificent. The bold soundtrack of 70s music is incredibly memorable, and there are obvious nods to previous Vietnam films such as Apocalypse Now. In fact, the colour palette of the entirety of the film is bright, colourful and mesmerising, furthering the cinematic immersion into the on screen illusion.
Yet what solidified my admirability and appreciation of the visuals where the monsters that our protagonists are constantly pitted against. From giant water buffalos and ginormous spiders to Kong himself, there is a menacing tone that the island possesses which perfectly juxtaposes its initial glamour. The film excellently captures the magnificent sense of scale that our heroes experience, building upon that very successful element of 2014s Godzilla (of which this film shares a cinematic universe with). However, despite the major disappointment in Godzilla in that we hardly witnessed any of the titular characters actions; here we spend a wealth of screen time highlighting Kong mighty power in battle, as well as subtle character driven moments that are surprisingly complex and touching.
And when these action pieces occur, they provide sequences of pure joy and excitement that are filled with a surprising quantity of brutality and intensity. Without giving much away, as the trailers thankfully don’t spoil the film’s best moments, the first encounter with Kong that the group experiences in their helicopters is in contention for best scene of the year so far. The luscious cinematography and incredible visuals blend seamlessly to heighten the powerful impact of the action. The film is a non-stop thrill ride from start to finish (literally the first scene captures the omnipotence of Kong’s presence) with little room to breathe until we are onto the next set piece. Whilst some have viewed this structure as repetitive and somewhat lifeless, I was overjoyed with the display of the imaginative and inventive situations our heroes find themselves in, with the climatic battle demonstrating the film’s purely epic scope . So with all that being said, it seems obvious to me that the most crucial element to a Kong film, Kong himself, is projected brilliantly and successfully. However, this film does have a couple of noticeable flaws, yet none that detracted my enjoyment of the experience as a whole.
It’s a common negative that has been discussed by critics, yet I feel that the complaint has credibility, in that the characters are thin in terms of their development. Now I don’t have as much a problem with this as others do. I went to this film eager to watch monsters beat each other up in a glorious manner and my expectations were met and in fact exceeded in that regard. Despite this, the characters are in essence two dimensional. The performances are serviceable, with a couple of standouts, including Samuel L Jackson’s merciless character, as well as John C Reilly. Reilly plays a World War 2 soldier who has been stranded on Skull Island for 30 years. That in itself is an intriguing backstory, giving Reilly a complex character to work with. Unfortunately, the characters of James and Mason are pretty bland, yet luckily Tom Hiddleston does add hints of charisma and charm, whilst Academy Award Winner Brie Larson adds a sense of kindness and sympathy, allowing us to empathise with her in some of the films more touching moments. The comedy found within the film is also a mixed bag. There are a couple of genuinely intelligent one liners, yet sometimes the jokes feel extremely forced, leading to awkward silences where the film is obviously trying to squeeze some laughter out of the audience. All that being said, the positives far outweigh the negatives in my opinion.
It should also be said that in my eyes, this film is not for children. This is a surprisingly disturbing a gory film, with an incredibly graphic moment in a spider scene, which could potentially be incredibly distressing, upsetting and downright frightening for younger viewers. Whilst the violence is mostly fantasy based with giant monsters brawling it out with some computer generated blood, the more realistic depictions of violence along with a couple of graphic swear words may call for a more mature audience than one may initially expect.
So to sum up, as the second entry in Legendary’s Monsterverse, Kong Skull Island boldly adapts the iconic monster myth and reinvents it in a fun filled action packed adventurous manner. Despite some noticeable flaws with the human protagonists, the sheer ambition and purely glorious spectacle of the film, combined with some of the greatest action I have seen in a long time makes for a thoroughly entertaining experience. Kong himself is amazing, as well as the incredible setting and plethora of interesting creatures that inhabit Skull Island. The film is exhilarating, heart pounding and intense, certainly earning a recommendation to see this on the big screen.
Also, make sure you stay until the credits finish, as there is an end credit scene that teases one of my most anticipated films of the next few years.
I give Kong Skull Island 8.5 out of 10