Since 1933, King Kong has been an iconic film monster. Outside of Godzilla, no other monster is as well known and as important as Kong especially to the progression of film. 1933’s version enlists Willis O’Brien to achieve the stop-action animation for the film which ultimately brought not just creativity to film but his stop-action animation inspired what we see in today’s cinema. 2005 brought a reboot of the original 1933 classic and while Jack Black leaves little to be desired in his performance, the film does a nice job of re-telling the story of the beast. We now fast forward to 2017, where once again, Kong is being brought back to the big screen. I’m happy to report that he is as ferocious and glorious as ever.
Kong: Skull Island, unlike the previous two films, creates a new vision and story for the character and disconnects itself from the premises of the 1933 and 2005 films. This version sets itself in 1973 during the final days of the Vietnam War. Bill Randa (John Goodman) is a senior official at Monarch who connects to the 2014’s Godzilla film as there are members of Monarch within that film as well. This is a subtle hint to an ultimate battle between these two legendary characters. Randa is attempting to secure government funding for an expedition to a previously unseen island named Skull Island that has been recently discovered with satellite technology. With a nod to today’s U.S relations, Randa receives the funding by telling the senator that if the U.S. didn’t go, the Russians surely would and have a head start in discovering what is on that island. Randa eventually enlists the assistance of a tracker (Tom Hiddleston), a photographer (Brie Larson), and the United States army to get him to that island.
Unlike 2014’s Godzilla where the creature is teased for the majority of the film, Kong: Skull Island reveals the monster in the first half hour as the team arrives on the island. The reveal of Kong is breathtaking as the King looks the best he has ever looked on film. It was a different yet effective choice to reveal Kong early on as many of the complaints with the Godzilla film included the lack of screen time the creature had.
While Kong is impressive, his counterparts on the islands are just as visually stunning. From giant spiders, tree insects, different variants of sea creatures and Kong’s main antagonist Skull Crawlers, all the creatures are given specific attention and detail in their design and add to the film’s action-packed final fight between Kong and the Skull Crawlers.
All the praise given to the monsters in the film, less can be given to the human counterparts of the film. As with 2014’s Godzilla, the humans are mostly given close to nothing to do. Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston have nice chemistry in the film but are mostly given nothing to do. John C. Reilly’s World War II soldier brings comedy to the film, something that may seem out of place for a film of this magnitude but he is quite enjoyable. Alongside Reilly, Samuel L. Jackson plays a Lieutenant Colonel who is not over the fact that the U.S lost the Vietnam war. Jackson’s character is intent on not losing another. No other characters in the film have motive and direction in the film like these two.
As written in my previous film reviews, I am a stickler for not over using slow-motion shots to add dramatics to a scene. It’s a lazy Michael Bay technique in filmmaking and boy does Kong: Skull Island suffer from that. It becomes extremely bothersome and annoying once it makes its point to extenuate the film by adding these slow motion shots that distract in the film more than anything else.
Aside from those issues, the second film in this monsterverse does a better job of showing off what the audience is there to see: Kong. The potential is there for a strong universe if they would begin to delve into the development of the humans in these films as they have the monsters. I, for one, am excited for the eventual clash of these two behemoths- the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object. Kong: Skull Island opens everywhere next Friday, March 10th.
Reel Talk gives Kong: Skull Island 3 reels