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[Review] ‘Kong: Skull Island’ is the King’s Most Wildly Entertaining Outing to Date

The same year Universal Studios introduced us to The Invisible Man, another iconic movie monster made his very first appearance on the silver screen. I’m of course referring to King Kong, a giant ape who won over millions of hearts after being plucked from his home and gunned down in New York City. The classic 1933 film was remade in 1976 and then again in 2005; 84 years after he was first unleashed, Kong is back once more in a brand new adventure that delivers off the charts entertainment.

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Kong: Skull Island begins right at the tail end of the Vietnam War, in 1973. Led by scientist Bill Randa (John Goodman), a team of explorers and fresh-out-of-Vietnam soldiers make a treacherous trip to an uncharted island in the Pacific that was only recently discovered by satellites. It’s called Skull Island, and it’s home to the mighty ape known as Kong. The massive beast isn’t so happy about their disruptive arrival, nor are the various other monsters that inhabit the island.

It’s no secret by now that Kong: Skull Island is the second film in Legendary’s mash-up monsterverse that began with a reboot of Godzilla and will eventually lead to the sure-to-be epic Godzilla vs. Kong. Released in 2014, the Gareth Edwards-directed universe-starter had one major problem that was noted by most who saw it: the Big G had precious little screen-time, and the monster action most of us desired was relegated to a few standout scenes. I bring this up because, in many ways, Kong: Skull Island feels like a direct response to that criticism. This time around, the titular beast takes center stage for an all-out monster melee that plays out like a child’s fantasy toy battles brought to mega-budget life.

Jordan Vogt-Roberts, you could say, is the child in this equation, and he has so much fun pitting humans against monsters and monsters against monsters that I can’t imagine any monster-lover spending the 2-hours of Kong: Skull Island‘s runtime with anything short of a massive smile etched across their face; it’s a smile that’s still present on mine, hours after my own trip to Skull Island. There’s rarely a scene in Vogt-Roberts’ first Hollywood film where something cool and often downright jaw-dropping isn’t happening; even at 2-hours, it’s so lean and mean that there’s literally not a single dull moment throughout. Vogt-Roberts wastes no time getting to the good stuff, and the good stuff keeps coming until the credits roll across the screen – actually, the fun continues even beyond the credits, so be sure to stick around for a special treat.

The King Kong films have always been at the forefront of special effects advancements – the original film featured state-of-the-art stop-motion animation (among other cutting edge techniques) and Peter Jackson’s 2005 epic was brought to life with Academy Award-winning visual effects – and Kong: Skull Island continues that grand tradition. Industrial Light & Magic’s work is nothing short of awe-inspiring; Kong looks bigger, better and realer than ever before, and the various other monsters that call Skull Island home are just as impressively brought to the screen. From a giant spider that uses it legs as deadly daggers to an entire family of “Skull Crawlers,” the creatures in this one are some of the coolest I’ve seen in recent years.

Cool. That’s a word that kept echoing through my head from beginning to end, watching Kong: Skull Island at my local theater. Everything about the film is just plain cool, and there’s really no better word to describe the action-adventure experience as a whole. It’s a ’70s-style Vietnam war film crossed with a giant monster movie, and it just exudes cool from the jaw-dropping visuals right down to the period-authentic soundtrack. Iconic tracks from Black Sabbath, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Jefferson Airplane fill out the soundtrack, which is (here comes that word again) one of the coolest in recent years. The movie complements the soundtrack perfectly; it’s pure rock ‘n roll, and goddamn is it fun to both watch and listen to.

Speaking of which, it’s impossible to watch Kong: Skull Island and not recall the sounds and visuals of Apocalypse Now – Vogt-Roberts directly evokes the film’s spirit in various ways – but there’s also an Aliens feel to the whole thing that comes courtesy of the fun cast of characters who have been tasked with battling otherworldly monsters. The two standouts in the character department are Samuel L. Jackson as Preston Packard, an army colonel with a personal vendetta against Kong, and John C. Reilly as comedic relief Hank Marlow, who was marooned on Skull Island many years prior. Other characters like Brie Larson’s war photographer Mason Weaver and Tom Hiddleston’s expert tracker James Conrad admittedly get a bit lost in the shuffle, as they’re not as fully-realized as the ones Jackson and Reilly get to play, but the cast of characters altogether form an entertaining ensemble of human faces against the monster-filled backdrop.

And really, at the end of the day, this one is all about the monsters. I’d need to use both hands to count the number of truly epic monster sequences in Kong: Skull Island; from Kong literally ripping army copters out of the sky to a final battle that rivals the one that capped off Jurassic World, the visuals and set-pieces in Kong’s latest outing are executed with such childlike glee that they’ll make you feel like a kid again. As glimpsed in the trailer, there’s even a battle between Kong and a giant squid that will leave you breathless and have you grinning from ear-to-ear.

Kong: Skull Island is fun for the whole family, the kind of movie I would have absolutely loved as a kid, but it’s worth pointing out that it doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the violence. There are an extraordinary number of casualties in the film, both human and monster, and some of the deaths are surprisingly brutal for a PG-13 movie. One standout scene in particular plays out like a gruesome homage to Cannibal Holocaust; I sure didn’t see it coming, and it shocked the hell out of me. But mostly, the violence is of the Jurassic Park variety: it’s gruesome and cruel, but it’s more fun than it is horrifying. Mostly.

In a world where so many movies fail to deliver what you really want from them, Kong: Skull Island is the rare slice of genre cinema that leaves you so satisfied you couldn’t possibly ask for anything more. Throwing aside the saga’s trademark love story, Skull Island focuses on popcorn entertainment above all else, and you’d be hard-pressed to find another giant monster movie that better embodies everything you could ever desire from, well, a giant monster movie. Jordan Vogt-Roberts knows what you want. And since you bought a ticket, he gleefully gives you every bit of it.

Kong: Skull Island is monster movie perfection.



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COMMENTS

41 Comments
  • Saw it today. Agree in every level. HAIL TO THE KING!

  • Jeremie Jayzik

    I loved it sooo much. I hope we can revisit Skull Island or something else of the sorts in future Monsterverse movies.

  • Satanzilla

    Had a great time at the movie too, but the idea that this is the most entertaining Kong movie to date is ridiculous. Many of the movies have been just as much fun or even more so.

    The original and inmediate sequel were amazing films. Kaiju movies, let’s face it, are often a bit dull, but KKvsG is surprisingly fun. The 70s KK gets dumped on a lot but it is definitely enjoyable.

    If anything PJ’s 2005 Kong would have been the most entertaining KK film ever if only he had reigned in his tendency to go overboard for a laugh. He had the gravitas of the LotR to keep a lid on that for those films, but he seems to have had carte Blanche on KK and especially The Hobbit, and you just want to tell both films to calm down and tell the story in a somewhat less manic, goof ball fashion. That said, just watch the end of Kong 2005, the whole NYC sequence — it’s breathtaking. For that alone 2005 wins it, even with its bloated beginning and brontosaur pile ups.

    KSI is fantastic brain candy but is pretty light overall. Totally not adverse to that, had a great time and loved the final battle. But it’s just exhilarating fun, like cotton candy.

    • WaylanderPK

      Jacksons 2005 Kong was way too long and self indulgent. It takes a lot to bore me but Jacksons Kong had me looking at my watch waiting for it to end.

  • Duuuuuuuude. Never made the Cannibal Holocaust connection in the horrifying bamboo jungle of death scene! Also, did you notice when Sam Jackson told everyone to “Hold onto your butts” before entering the storm surround Skull Island?

    • John Squires

      Yup, definitely a little nod to Jurassic Park!

    • zombie84_41

      I loved those homages. IDK if thats what they were going for but if it was it was really rad.

  • Ocelot006 .

    I really don’t know why Hiddleston’s character was in this. He had one great intro scene in that bar and then he’s….man who knows which way to go and then has one more badass scene with a sword. Beyond that his character really could have not been there and the movie would barely have suffered. I don’t know if it’s a case of Vogt-Roberts having to be forced to have ‘handsome adventurer’ in the film and going out of his way to make him nothing more than a map or just a failure of trying to make a badass.

    • Satanzilla

      The same applies to several other characters as well. The movie is definitely enjoyable but it’s pure cotton candy.

      • Ocelot006 .

        But I certainly did enjoy a movie going out of it’s way to be pure cotton candy as it were. It never really pretended to be self-important. You got a little anti-war stuff but nothing crazy. It never pretend to be ‘dark! Serious! Grounded! Humorless!’ like Godzilla 2014.

    • zombie84_41

      The scene with the sword was fuckin insane. Honestly that scene made me forgive they didn’t do more with his character.

  • Flu-Like Symptoms

    Definitely not perfection, but was a good watch. I enjoyed the film never leaving Skull Island and coming to America. Also liked how they strayed away from Kong falling helplessly in love with a human female and stupidly getting killed because of it. Was nice to see America finally make a King Kong film where he doesn’t die at the end. This shouldn’t be much of a spoiler though since we all know he has to be alive for the showdown with Big G. I enjoyed this particular incarnation of Kong better than the 2005 version. He isn’t a big, misunderstood lug who just wants to be loved. He’s simply a big, brute badass who holds it down on Skull Island and couldn’t give two fucks what anyone thinks. He can defend the female lead without getting his nuts in a twist and losing all rational common sense and walk away without even knowing if she survived. Yea, I like this Kong.

    And what a treat it was not having to endure two hours of fucking Jack Black. Jesus Christ, I still wanna slap the shit out of whoever made that casting decision in ’05. Honestly, I could’ve done without Sam Jackson. John Goodman was excellent, and John C. Reilly wasn’t as annoying as the trailer made him out to be. Surprised to say if I had to trade one person out of this movie, it’d be Jackson. I understand the need for an antagonist, but I didn’t get any kind of enjoyment out of his character at all.

    • Weresmurf

      I love this comment so damn much. It embodies everything I thought about the movie, especially the Jack Blackisms. I found Jackson odd, to be honest, I got to the point where I normally love the guy but he actually started annoying me? To be honest, I might’ve gone the route of actually switching up him and Reileys roles? Get some real interesting performances going there…

    • Satanzilla

      Except that he is kind of a big, misunderstood lug who just wants to be loved.

      • Flu-Like Symptoms

        Nope.

        • Satanzilla

          He’s basically the same Kong he’s always been.

  • Wil McMullen

    Sounds like this movie is going to be a lot of fun to watch.

    • zombie84_41

      its so much fun beyond so much fun. You’ll be glued to the screen and not look away for a second. IDK how they managed to make such an amazing film but they did.

      • Wil McMullen

        I’m going to see it this evening. Between u and this review i am sold. I was a little aprehensive at first because i really didnt care for the other king kong remake.

  • TheTriggeredOne

    I was happy that they addressed the size issue for Kong and the upcoming Godzilla vs Kong movie….Kong is young and still growing. 45+ years should bring him right up to G size.

    • Christopher Nickerson

      My only problem was that it was such a throw away line that people may have missed it

      • Satanzilla

        Don’t worry, nobody cares anyway.

      • The only reason it was in there was to appease us dorks. Casual moviegoing audiences couldn’t care less about the continuity of the “Godzilla Cinematic Universe”. I was glad they threw it in there though, just to minimize the complaining in the comments for the Kong Vs. Godzilla reviews.

    • zombie84_41

      He’s going to be fucking huge, he was already the biggest kong. Now that he is growing this will be an insane battle. I hope they fight each other then realize they gotta fight other monsters that are worst then them keep the tone of Skull Island we’ll have some amazing films.

  • zombie84_41

    This movie fucking owns. And it was brutal for PG_13 which was amazing. Hope more PG-13 films can be like this. Everything was perfect. I must of said holy shit like 10 times. And the end post scene made me smile and say FUCKING YES so loud. And I left with the biggest smile on my face. Sucks we gotta wait 2yrs for G-zilla and 3yrs for g-zilla and kong. But hey its ok. time flies.

  • CR

    “Fun for the whole family…one scene reminded me of Cannibal Holocaust.” Thanks, genius.

    • Rohan

      To anyone wondering what the scene is before they see the movie

      SPOILER

      A dude gets impaled through his mouth by a leg of a ginormous spider, until the said spider is gunned down by the soldiers. Gruesome, but not as gruesome as some of the deaths in peter jacksons King Kong (I’m looking at you giant worm monster)

      • RKSDooM

        Giant worm monster still haunts my dreams…

    • Ocelot006 .

      Well in all fairness it is a bloodless homage to Cannibal Holocaust

    • Referencing Cannibal Holocaust doesn’t make it as gory as Cannibal Holocaust. Genius.

  • Golic

    It was garbage generic film making from beginning to end.

    • Nahuel Benvenuto

      pretty much all movies are that now, they are all copying the style of the mcu, and it looked exactly like that from the trailer

    • TheTriggeredOne

      What is a good modern movie in your opinion?

  • WOLF

    The Kong action was good. I liked that they didn’t hold back on violence.
    Some of the writing was just god awful. Larson… staring at the biggest mass grave in the world… states she knows this is a mass grave because she’s photographed many. Ummm unless you are Helen Keller, you would know that’s a mass grave. Hiddleston didn’t have much of a role. Larson had a slow mo lighter throw that was painfully dumb. And Hiddleston sword scene was an eye rolling moment. I would have cut both of those scenes out of the movie.
    Reilly was the only one I cared about, although Jackson was fine in his role. The rest do what characters do in these films… make dumb decisions that get you killed. This was definitely a different Kong movie. Less serious with a big soundtrack of 70s songs. I’d recommend it to anybody who wants a big dumb monster movie. I just think they could have dropped the dumb.

  • Halloween_Vic

    Just saw it today and yea it was pretty bad ass. I mean it was better then Gareths Godzilla and all around just action packed fun.

  • Ocelot006 .

    Well Godzilla is arguably the more popular character. Of course he made more money. I don’t think he made more money based on being the darker film.

  • The only thing I didn’t like was how much and how clearly they showed the monsters. I think using a little restraint leaves a little more to the imagination and gives us less time to find the flaws in the CG. Save the big action stuff for the end. Basically I wanted it to be more like that last Godzilla movie everyone picked apart. This movie totally reinforced how much I loved the new Godzilla.

  • John Connor

    This movie was fucking atrocious. Pure boredom. Like watching a wall. A dull wall. Actually watching a wall would be vastly superior because it would become like a calm time to reflect instead of staring at this piece of shit that is just nonsense moving around making sounds.

    • WaylanderPK

      I literally do not what movie you watched. Kong was great.

  • RKSDooM

    – SPOILERS –

    There are a couple of eye-rolling moments here and there, but I felt they were nicely balanced by the moments that defied expectations (like the way they set up the dude’s bomb belt, so you thought “great here’s another one of those ‘You always were an asshole, Gorman’ monster movie heroic sacrifices coming your way,” only for the monster to see it coming a mile away and render it a pointless).

    I also liked some of the (admittedly a trifle heavy handed) symbolism with the clenching of the fist that we see first Sam Jackson’s character, then Kong and then – I think? – Tom Hiddleston’s character all do (I’ve only seen it the once, in super bombastic IMAX 3D screamovision, so some of the details are a little hazy).

    I mean, a lot of it is just (super awesomely cool) fluff, but I thought it was enjoyable, well written fluff compared to, say, the TRANSFORMERS franchise, and going the direction of fun monster action was probably the right direction for Legendary after the mixed reaction to the slow burning GODZILLA film.

    What can I say? I enjoyed it. There are bits that emotionally resonated with me, bits that I felt played nicely against expectations and a lot of well staged and exciting monster action with a surprisingly endearing giant monkey. And two very pretty and charming lead actors who get to fart around in the woods with the always awesome John Goodman and Sam Jackson along for (most of) the ride. I guess that, compared to all that, a couple of eye-rollie bits didn’t really bug me that much, but YMMV.

    It’s funny, I really enjoyed SHIN GOJIRA for what it was, and I really enjoyed KONG: SKULL ISLAND for what it was, but somewhere between those two extremes is probably the super secret recipe for the perfect kaiju film.

  • Paul Emms

    Kong Literally does nothing for the entire middle section of the film, and fights one bastard at the end. How in any way is that a direct response to Godzilla?

    Giant squid battle to leave me breathless? Is this berk taking the piss? A Battle?
    Possibly lasts….10 seconds if that

    Stick this review in an air lock

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