Kong: Skull Island is a prequel of sorts, though probably not in the way you’re expecting. Then again, if you’ve kept up with, well, the internet, the secret’s been out for some time. Kong will face Godzilla in 2020, so Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island is the prequel to Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla. We’re about to get a franchise of monster fights that will hopefully provide more knock-down-drag-out awesomeness than other “versus” movies we’ve seen of late.
Even though Kong: Skull Island is a jumping-off point for a larger monster franchise, the movie works hard to deliver a fresh take on a legendary character. It’s Kong unlike you’ve seen him before. The scale of Kong, for one, is much larger, giving Vogt-Roberts the chance to show how truly out of place humans are in Kong’s world (rather than the other way around). The story also does its best to distance itself from the 1933 slave allegory, choosing instead to have Kong inhabiting an uncharted island in the South Pacific right after the Vietnam War ceasefire (so, technically, we could argue we’re trading one metaphor for another).
The movie’s strengths lie in its monsters. From the humans’ first showdown with Kong as he bats their helicopters out of the sky to the horrific creatures they encounter while wandering through the jungle, there’s almost a Jurassic Park feel to Kong: Skull Island. Just when you think a giant spider with bamboo legs and crab claws is the most murdery thing on the island, BAM, there’s a lizard-skeleton Skull Crawler devouring your friends. Part of you wants to root for the creatures because they’re huge, cool-looking, and it’s their home, and those dumbass humans are trespassing. The other part of you wants the humans to bomb the hell out of that island.
Where the movie struggles, unsurprisingly, is its human characters. For one, there are SO many of them. You’ve got scientists Bill Randa (John Goodman), Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), and San (Tian Jang). You’ve got the U.S. Army escort with like five or six guys with speaking roles, plus several guys who are basically red-shirt gorilla bait, all led by Lieutenant Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). You’ve got the war photographer Weaver (Brie Larson) and special ops tracker Captain Conrad (Tom Hiddleston). Then, you have Marlow (John C. Reilly), an airman from WWII who’s been stranded on the island since the ’40s. In other words, that’s six main characters (including Kong) and a dozen secondary/tertiary characters.
It’s not that the characters are poorly acted. I mean, Samuel L. Jackson gets to chew scenery as the guy who can’t let go of the Vietnam War, and John C. Reilly is an absurd, manic delight. But there’s just not enough time to get to know each and every one of these characters. It’s a two-hour film, not a TV series. Plus, the humans aren’t even remotely interesting when there’s an ENORMOUS BADASS GORILLA sasquatching his way around the jungle. I seriously think a lot of this movie’s whiplash tone and editing could’ve been fixed by cutting some characters and focusing more on what moviegoers came to see: motherf***ing Kong.
It’s a fun movie. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s entertaining and visually spectacular, which, hey, good enough. And if you love Apocalypse Now homages and ’70s soundtracks with the obligatory “Creedence Clearwater Revival sings about Vietnam,” then Kong: Skull Island is the movie for you! Also, there is a post-credits scene. It’s a Godzilla vs. Kong setup, but as I said earlier, that’s been known for several months now, so it’s not a big deal to stick around for it. What you should do, though, is catch up on Godzilla (2014) if you haven’t seen it.
Kong: Skull Island: B
Listen to my Kong: Skull Island review on “Pat & JT in the Morning” here (at 37:53).