There’s something that never grows old about seeing an apex predator do its thing in the world of puny humans. Kong: Skull Island offers many of the usual tropes inherent in monster movies, but also delivers more than enough new twists and turns on the King Kong genre to make this new offering entertaining and more than a little fun.
As a long-time lover of monster movies, I’ve seen them all (or at least it seems like it) — the good, the bad and yes, the ugly. I’ve enjoyed them to varying degrees but am well aware that rebooted monster movies can leave people a little less than satisfied. Fortunately, I came away from Kong: Skull Island feeling refreshed and rejuvenated in term of Kong affection. The big guy demonstrated the usual amounts of raw animal power tinged with a bit of feel-good softness.
The movie opens toward the tail-end of World War II when an American fighter pilot and his Japanese counterpart shoot each other down on a remote Pacific Island. After a brief skirmish between the two, they come eyeball-to-eyeball with our hero. Kong eyes them warily and we are transported forward to 1973 and the end of things in Vietnam.
The cast is stellar with Tom Hiddleston as former SAS captain James Conrad, Samuel L. Jackson as Lt. Colonel Packard, John Goodman (Bill Randa), Brie Larson (Mason Weaver), and John C. Reilly as Hank Marlow, the American fighter pilot we first met during World War II, leading the way.
The premise is simple — fledgling satellite technology has found an uncharted island surrounded by a permanent nasty storm system that Randa, who works for an organization called Monarch, wants to explore. Randa has ulterior motives, but doesn’t divulge them as he wrangles up a trip to the island with a military escort, led by Jackson’s Packard.
Packard doesn’t like the way Vietnam is ending and relishes the chance for one more mission just one day before he and his men are to rotate home. With all the players on-board a transport ship, the mission to the island gets underway. While the storm rages around the island, you know they’ll make it through and come upon a lush, tropical paradise that offers beauty hiding a terrifying secret – monsters are real. This is where things start to get fun.
The choppers sail along until one of Packard’s soldier’s utters one of my favorite lines of the movie, “Is that a monkey?” Why, yes it is, son, and in the aftermath of the pitched battle that ensues, our intrepid expedition loses some men, gets split into two groups and learns that the island isn’t the paradise it seems. The “monkey” isn’t alone. In fact, he’s got a lot of interesting and deadly playmates roaming around this island.
When I saw John C. Reilly cast in this movie, I had a little trouble imagining him as part of this world, but I’ve got to say that I thought his character was a fun little revelation for the film. He and his Japanese enemy from the war became friends and you see the pain in his eyes when he reveal the loss of his companion, even though he’s been befriended by the island’s native tribe. It’s hard for me not to like anything Hiddleston or Jackson appear in, but I was pleasantly surprised at Packard’s combination of just being a tad off due to the isolation while also offering sage wisdom about the island. And yeah, he’s funny, too. Reilly delivered some depth and soul in his fun portrayal of the character.
The movie spreads out to tell the story of our two groups trying to reconnect with each other and get to a rendezvous point on the north side of the island. Along the road, they have to deal with all manner of creature and threats, including lizardlike creatures that are the real terror on the island and, apparently, were responsible for the death of Kong’s parents years ago. Kong shows up regularly to establish his power and dominion over the island and its inhabitants, while also giving us little glimpses into a softer, gentler side, including the anticipated tender moment with Larson. No Fay Wray from the Empire State Building here, just “a moment” between the two. I thought it was well done and not overblown in a sentimental way. Packard has a meltdown of sorts, more people die, we get a plane cobbled into a boat and other fun little twists.
All this leads us to the climactic scene where Kong, seemingly down and out (and literally shackled) when pitted against the biggest lizard on the farm, rises to the task and uses a creative method to defeat his foe, demonstrating an intelligence that’s been hinted at throughout. In the end, Kong saves the day, enjoys epic battles and spies some of the humans make it off the island at last. And we get to go along for the ride.
It’s a King Kong movie and certainly offers plenty of what monster movie buffs will enjoy. Fortunately, there’s more to it than that thanks to the personalities that come forward through the run of the movie. I found this movie to be good fun, as did my 27-year-old daughter, which shocked me to no end. I think there’s plenty to like in this latest incarnation of Kong and while there’s a lot you’ll see coming, there’s also more than a few moments you’ll jump a little when something deadly comes out of nowhere. Kong: Skull Island is a fun movie with a lot to like and I found that refreshing.
Oh, and stay for a post-credit scene. We get a little longer look into Monarch and a little tease that we may be seeing some of our old monster movie friends in the near future. For a monster movie fan, it was a tingle-inducing treat at the end.
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