Ever since his debut, the towering ape known as King Kong dominated the monster movie scene despite being one of the least creative giants to ever grace the big screen when compared to his truly monstrous contemporaries. Given today’s technology, it was only a matter of time before Kong returned to the big screen, which led to Kong: Skull Island.
The monster homeland of Skull Island has been uncharted for decades, until representatives of the covert organization Monarch set out an expedition to put the island on the map. Helping them are the expert tracker Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), the war photographer Weaver (Brie Larson), and a battalion of air cavalry men led by Lieutenant Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). On the island, they discover Kong and worse creatures whose emergence could mean the end of humanity.
Kong has been a pop culture mainstay for as long as anyone could remember, but it’s only now someone tried to inject new life into the story – a noble effort that both invigorated and shackled the giant primate’s latest outing.
If there’s anyone aside from Captain America and motherfuckers like Adolf Hitler who goes hand in hand with the 1930’s, it’s King Kong. As honored as the 30’s setting may be, it’s beyond stale at this point, which makes the choice to update the setting of the Kong mythos to the early ’70s and the end of the Vietnam War an inspired decision.
By evoking the tensions of the time period and paying tribute to classic ‘Nam movies, Kong: Skull Island opens the doors of the monster movie to new creative directions. Instead of being yet another movie about nameless dudes running away from a monstrous visual effect, Kong: Skull Island tells a story of survival where characters desperately try to get off the titular island.
Doing so showed how insignificant humankind was when compared to the giants, a theme that has been running since the rebooted Godzilla (2014). Kong: Skull Island organically carries on these themes to emphasize the stakes of the setting, and this adds surprising subtext to what is essentially a brainless monster mash.
There is almost never a boring moment in the movie, and it quickly gets to the action after the obligatory character introductions. Kong: Skull Island takes no breaks, and each succeeding sequence features new monsters or increased dangers. It seems like the movie was tailor-made in direct response to the criticism of the glorified cocktease that was Godzilla, and the fact that producers listened is an incredible miracle on its own.
If Kong: Skull Island were rated on looks and themes alone, it would be a solid blockbuster movie. But alas, it’s still a monster movie about a giant monkey fucking up gunships to the tune of ’70s rock bands.
Marvel Goes To War
It’s no secret that Kong: Skull Island is a set-up for the monster-verse where Kong and Godzilla will fight in the future, and the flaws that have become synonymous with the modern day shared cinematic universe pioneer, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, rear their ugly heads here.
As distinct as they may be, none of the cast in Kong: Skull Island could be described as “complex human beings.” Rather, they are a mix of flat characters and exposition mouthpieces, where majority of them serve as cannon fodder and/or monster chow. Granted, Kong: Skull Island is a monster movie at the end of the day – meaning that character development isn’t exactly a priority. But just like a Marvel movie, the cast is made up of talented actors whose skills are squandered in favor of the flattest possible roles imaginable.
Conrad and the nigh-insignificant Weaver merely exist to look hot in the jungle and ask the stranded World War 2-era pilot Marlow (John C. Reilly) expository questions, while Packard and the Monarch agent Randa (John Goodman) do their best to shine despite their one-note personalities. The worst part is that these characters have interesting backstories and motivations, none of which are fully developed. Though they’re still better and more entertaining than the cardboard cut-outs in Godzilla, they’re as disposable and interchangeable as any Marvel superhero origin story that came out after Iron Man (2008).
It could be argued that Kong: Skull Island is a monster movie first, and what audiences are really in for are the big fights. But even these spectacles are only decent at best, as bombastic as the opening slaughter was. There’s a reliance of slow-motion in Kong: Skull Island, and while it’s thankfully easy to follow the action, it gets to a point where the nth time Kong skull-fucks a Skullcrawler in slow-motion loses impact. That, and it’s a monster/war movie mash-up that needs an R-rating, not a fucking child-friendly PG-13.
A Monstrous New Universe
What makes Kong: Skull Island special and a good introduction into the newest shared universe is just how honest it is. Not only is it a heartfelt homage to two old genres, but what makes it better is the fact that it knows exactly what it is.
Compared to Godzilla, Kong’s latest outing has no pretenses and just gives audiences what they want – giant fucking monsters duking it out while the humans try to get out of dodge. Instead of meandering and needlessly philosophizing about humanity’s place in nature despite the obvious having already been stated five minutes ago, Kong: Skull Island jumps right into the carnage and doesn’t let up for a single second.
Kong: Skull Island may be as deep as a B-Monster movie and a pulpy comic book, but by god, is it one of the better made popcorn movies seen in recent memory. For the most part, the upcoming monster universe Kong: Skull Island heralds is one shared cinematic universe I’ll be looking forward to. Kong: Skull Island is a good way to burn two hours on a weekend, but don’t expect to remember it a few days after viewing, because the shared universe loving producers of Warner Brothers sure as shit didn’t.
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