It’s gonna take a lot more guns than that.
It has been 12 years since Peter Jackson‘s vision of King Kong was presented to audiences. It nailed many of the human and emotional elements, but the CGI was overdone and some of it hasn’t aged well. While Jackson’s film was largely a remake, Kong: Skull Island is a full-blown reboot, reimagining many elements to help it fit into Warner Bros’ MonsterVerse, which kicked off with 2014’s Godzilla.
At the end of the Vietnam War, government agent Bill Randa (John Goodman) seeks funding for an expedition to the heretofore unexplored Skull Island, a place where “myth and science” meet. He’s outfitted with a military escort, led by Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), and also enlists the help of ex-SAS officer turned tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) to lead the team on the ground.
After mustering on a carrier vessel, the team is transported to the island via helicopter, ostensibly to map it using seismic charges. Using the ordinance quickly draws the attention of Kong, who decimates the helicopter squad, leaving the survivors scattered and ill equipped to negotiate an island full of dangers, both known and unknown.
With no way to communicate, their only chance of escape is to reach a predetermined rendezvous and catch a ride out of there. Not everyone has the same priorities, however, with Conrad looking to rally the survivors to make it out alive while Packard wants to kill Kong and anything else they may come across before considering withdrawal from Skull Island.
A quality “light-hearted action” film is a difficult task to pull off, necessitating intense action that doesn’t stray too far into the realm of cartoonish and moments of humour and levity that feel at least plausibly organic in the face of dire situations. Skull Island pretty much nails it. Despite some dark moments and a significant body count, the movie never bogs down into something that takes itself too seriously.
Visually, Kong is stunning. Filmed largely in Vietnam, the island assumes an otherworldly quality without the excessive use of CGI and green screen in the environment. Obviously, CGI is massively important in bringing Kong and several other unique creatures (like that giant yak thing) to life. The production team knew how vital it was, and they did a fantastic job from start to finish.
There’s a strong cast adding elements of adventure, menace and whimsy to a film that could’ve been content to be carried by its splendid presentation. Hiddleston is likeable as the lead, Jackson plays his Captain Ahab role to the hilt, and John C. Reilly pops in to provide comic relief alongside Corey Hawkins (Dr. Dre from Straight out of Compton).
While we already touched on the CGI, let’s give an additional nod to the design team. Reimaging Kong as a Godlike entity immediately makes Skull Island different from its predecessors, and the imagery of him taking down the helicopters was smartly done. The film’s other original creations also worked much better than the giant bugs that permeated Jackson’s version.
Skull Island‘s indigenous population has no obvious role to play, left to stand silently whenever on screen or mug for Brie Larson‘s character as she photographs them (her steadfast adherence to photographing everything even after it all goes to hell seemed a bit much). Other small gripes include Reilly’s manic tendencies, which teeter on overkill at times, and Shea Whigham‘s oddly detached performance (is he calm? Insane? Seasoned?).
THE BONUS FEATURES
There’s a decent collection of extras, including about four minutes of deleted scenes and a companion featurette that pretends to be made by the fictional Monarch Company from the film that dives a little deeper into the shared MonsterVerse.
Most of the other bonus materials focus on the making and design of Kong and the locations where the movie was shot.
Following a pair of tonally different theatrical trailers we weren’t sure what to expect from Kong: Skull Island, but it ended up being one of the more enjoyable action films we’ve seen in a while. It also served to pique our interest for the upcoming Godzilla: King of the Monsters.