Kong: Skull Island Spoiler Free Review
This was a lot of fun, even if you’re not a fan of giant monster movies. If you’ve seen any of the other films (from 1933, 1976 or 2005, all titled “King Kong”) you were used to the same story being told over and over and over. Explorers go to the island, either to make a film or to tap a massive well of petroleum, find a giant ape after the natives sacrifice the one woman traveling with them to Kong- who is viewed as a deity- in a “wedding” ceremony. As the crew embarks on a mission to rescue her, most of the crew is killed either by giant versions of spiders, lizards, and insects or the occasional dinosaur or while trying to cross a chasm by walking over a fallen tree that Kong picks up and shakes until all but two of them fall off. One crew member (whoever the love interest of the woman Kong has “married”) goes after the girl, while the other retreats back through the jungle to get the rest of the crew so they can lure Kong back into a trap, capture him and bring him back to New York City where he’s be put on display and eventually run amok, search for and find his blonde bride, climb the tallest building (either the Empire State Building in the 1933 and 2005 films or the World Trade Center in 1976), only to be shot repeatedly by airplanes or helicopters, and fall to his death.
This movie did not follow that plot.
We start with a plane crashing on the island, and a young American man emerging from under a parachute dazed but unhurt. A moment later, a second plane crashes and a second man, this time Japanese follows the American’s lead of parachuting safely onto the island. The two of them continue the battle they ostensibly started in the sky, and fight on until interrupted by the sight of two massive paws slamming down on the cliff where they’re fighting, followed by the massive head of what we know to be Kong, but is something that neither of these men have ever seen. To me, this was a welcome change; we get to see the titular monster about five minutes in, as opposed to the 1933 film (46 minutes) or the 2005 version (70 minutes). The other welcome change is seeing that this version of Kong is much larger than previously seen, roughly 100 feet tall, as opposed to the 20-25 foot versions we’ve seen in previous iterations.
Next we see John Goodman’s Bill Randa and Corey Hawkins’ Houston Brooks looking for funding for their department known as Monarch, which seemed to be interested in things that the government decided was a waste of time, as senator Willis (played by Richard Jenkins) says to Randa, the only bigger waste of time is the search for alien life, to which Randa replies “Yeah but they’re crazy”. Randa doesn’t get much backstory but it is implied that he believes not only that giant monsters exist, but also in the “Hollow Earth Theory” which conveniently allows the monsters to hide from human civilization. In the end, despite his better judgment, Willis gives Randa and Brooks what they ask for after Brooks makes the argument that if they don’t investigate this uncharted, unexplored island, the Russians will. As this film takes place at the end of the Vietnam War and emotions are running high and Brooks uses this to get what they need, including a military escort. The military escort is led by Colonel Preston Packard, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Packard is upset about how the war ended and relishes the chance to take on one more mission, and Packard’s Ahab-like obsession really drives the plot along.
Randa and Brooks go about rounding up the rest of their crew, including someone who could guide them around the island; someone who knew how to get in and out of a jungle, and lead a group safely in and out. Enter Tom Hiddleston’s character, James Conrad. He is an ex- SAS agent who tells the two men recruiting him all the ways they’re going to die on the island, and he has, of course, no idea that they are embarking on a monster-hunting expedition. But they offer him a lot of money, and that’s what’s important to him at this point in his life.
We’re next introduced to Brie Larson’s Mason Weaver, an anti-war photographer who is greatly interested in the expedition to what seems to be the last undiscovered island. She wants to be the first to photograph the natives or maybe some unknown species of animal if there are any. Needless to say, she more than gets her wish.
This film pays homage to the source material in a variety of ways. First, Skull Island is undiscovered because of the perpetual storm that shrouds the island, keeping unwanted visitors away. Second, there are a couple of scenes that sharp-eyed fans will recognize not only from the 1933 and 2005 battle scenes involving Kong, but also one from 1962’s King Kong VS Godzilla, the remake of which is scheduled for 2020, as well as a sequence involving a giant spider. At the same time, many of the tropes from the previous films are discarded. For instance, the natives are not depicted as savages dancing around fires and doing elaborate marriage ceremonies in which they sacrifice women to the giant ape, which was refreshing to see. There was also no forced romantic subplot and a lot of filmmakers and writers and directors should follow this example- just because there is a woman on screen does not mean she needs to be romantically involved with the handsome male lead.
There are several massive battles that occur throughout the film, starting with the helicopter squadron led by Packard. They were dropping seismic charges under the pretense of mapping the island but in reality Randa is looking to flush out whatever monsters might be lurking in the jungle below the helicopters, but as is the case with these types of movies, he gets more than he bargained for and the people that are with him that know nothing about the true nature of the mission are in for a major surprise. Kong takes these invaders as a threat and treats them as such, scattering not only the helicopters but the occupants who survive as well as their gear all over a radius of a few miles. Packard decides to find his men, and Conrad leads a group towards the rendezvous point with the ship that brought them to the island in the first place, anchored just off the coast and safely away from the perpetual storm system.
Both groups encounter massive creatures along their journey, some more dangerous than others. Conrad’s group also makes contact with John C. Reilly’s character Hank Marlow, the American pilot who we meet in the opening minutes of the film. He tells a heartwrenching story, provides a bit of comic relief (but not in the typical style we’re used to seeing from Reilly) and provides a lot of the necessary exposition and knowledge of the island and the creatures that live here, as well as the natives and Conrad and his group listen to him as he’s been living there nearly thirty years.
There are two main conflicts that come to a head when the two groups meet up and encounter Kong, as well as the introduction of “the big one” that Reilly alludes to in an earlier scene. It is a battle unlike any we’ve seen Kong involved with so far and really shows Kong’s intelligence and even shows him making use of tools and weapons. This is something we’ve never seen Kong do in the past.
Overall, I give this film a 9.3/10. It isn’t perfect, and there are a few minor issues I have with it, but I won’t go into it because I don’t want to provide any real details that would affect your viewing of the film. I will say that we do learn how a 100 foot King Kong will be able to do battle with a 450 foot Godzilla in the film that is expected to arrive in theaters in 2020. I will also recommend staying until after the credits, because the end credit scene is incredible, and I cannot wait for the promise that this scene makes.