One of the many gripes I had with Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005) was the addlebrained casting decisions (Adrien Brody and Jack Black) and the hour-long length that it took to get going. Remember the original Kong (’33) introduced a few characters and bam the crew is on Skull Island and the chase began? Kong: Skull Island wastes no time setting up the key players, with three undercover Monarch (remember from Legendary’s Godzilla) monster-hunters John Goodman, Corey Hawkins and Tia Jing joining a Landsat mapping team escorted by Samuel L. Jackson’s ‘Nam-era Calvary heading to an unexplored cloud-shrouded island. Also joining the team are a British special forces tracker, played to the hilt by Tom Hiddleston, and a photojournalist (Brie Larson), shooting a M3 Leica. Once the team gets on the island, the film explodes with action, and much like the original RKO film is a non-stop chase. Bravo! The opening encounter with Kong is unforgettable and a masterful action sequence.
The film is set in 1973 and uses a now familiar plot device incorporating a music player. This time we see a portable phonograph and the music is good: CCR, Bowie, The Hollies, Jefferson Airplane, Iggy Pop, Black Sabbath, and other late-60’s early 70’s rock. There’s something to be said watching Kong fight giant monitor lizards to psychodelic rock. And man do the villainous “skull crawlers” deliver. I jumped a few times. Skull Island is populated with all sorts of MUTOs, ranging from bat-like flying saws, a giant cephalopod, and more. Dakaiju fans rejoice! The film also tips its hat to the original Kong and Toho’s King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), with some dynamic clash of the kaiju fight sequences. Unlike Kong (2005), we can actually see the action. Unlike Pacific Rim (2013), the film is shot (composed) in open daylight (except for a climatic villain vs Kong night sequence) and uses exquisite Vietnam and Thailand (?) locations.
John C. Reilly has a fun part as a WWII pilot left stranded on the island for 30 years. From early trailers, I was skeptical of his role and comedic relief, but it worked for me, and he oddly fits into this twisted world ruled by the King of Apes. Oh, and you haven’t lived a full cinematic life until you see Kong and Samuel L go at it —that’s all I will say.
I have no complaints! Perhaps there are a few too many characters, but some of them serve as lizard food, and one superfluous character (probably planted for the Chinese film market) is explained at the very end after the credits. Stick around until the epilogue.
Kong: Skull Island is the best giant monster movie in years and probably the finest Kong film for me since Toho’s 1962 romp. Lots of fun!