Review: Among the most ancient colossal monsters in Western cinemas, Kong is possibly one of the most formidable. Almost always plotted out as an antihero, the giant ape has swung across films and media from 1933, most notably in King Kong (1933) and Peter Jackson’s remake in 2005. Its recent incarnation in Kong: Skull Island, however, is the biggest of all; and it’s made that way for one reason: Legendary Entertainment’s MonsterVerse – a world full of monsters, a clash of kaiju, Destroy All Monster v2.0.
Once human’s technology has advanced in the brink of Vietnam War in 1976, a mysterious island is discovered near Pacific. The island – Skull Island – immediately attracts a Monarch researcher, Will Randa (John Goodman); and as soon as there’s a possibility to reach the island, he assembles an expedition team – consisting of post-Vietnam U.S. army led by Lt. Col. Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), a group of scientists with San Lin (Jing Tian) and Brooks (Corey Hawkins) upfront, a photographer, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and a mercenary, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston).
Helmers of Kong seem to have learned a lot from Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, in which the King of Kaiju remained hidden and only unraveled its prowess during the films’ third act. Kong isn’t built upon slow-paced foundation and “human drama”; it’s the monster’s film after all.
Once the human characters reach the titular island, a shocking, flying tree awaits; and it only means one thing: the rampage has begun. As soon as a chopper down, the giant ape has gone berserk with idyllic, tropical sunset – a spot-on to the Apocalypse Now-influenced poster – in the background. Kong isn’t a shy beast like Godzilla; it demands attention and it loves to be under the spotlight. And, for that trait, Kong: Skull Island becomes an instant joyride every time Kong appears on screen.
Surrounding Kong are those exotic creatures from the ‘lost world.’ From giant octopus, pterodactyl-like birds, bamboo-legged giant spiders, giant wooden insects, to a giant bison; all native dwellers of the Skull Island are on the run to leave us awe-stricken and frightened at the same time. Seeing them alone has given you an expression like Dr. Alan Grant witnessed dinosaurs for the first time in Jurassic Park. Thing is, not all of them are into warmest welcome. Some are simply feral; and when they are, the film is at top-flight.
Yet, the best flight happens when Kong’s arch-nemesis, some bipedal lizards called ‘Skullcrawlers’, are on screen. As an antithesis of Kong, those crawlers are fueled only with hunger and nihilistic behavior. They are most effective killers than most monsters in Kong: Skull Island. But it’s the final rampage that satisfies your hunger for ‘real kaiju fight’ – fast, vast and completely melee.
Once those monsters are off-screen, it’s difficult for Kong: Skull Island to provide similar tension and excitement with the human characters. The casts are big and diverse, but even Tom Hiddleston’s effective mercenary character or Brie Larson’s sympathetic photographer can steal attention from the monsters. “Real plot” and characters aren’t necessarily what’s on Kong’s screenplay (written by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly); those humans are simply providing some catalysts to why Kong appears and why it needs to be an antihero. It’s even hard to remember characters’ name or significance to the story.
Most human characters are dully written and given barely effective role, but not two veterans who basically reflect two different sides of Kong in human forms. Samuel L. Jackson’s vengeful Packard reflects Kong’s animalistic instinct and vengeance-laden motivation; he even makes serious eye contacts and vis-à-vis confrontation with the beast. At the softer side is John C. Reilly’s castaway character, Marlow, who reflects Kong’s longing for family or connection. Been away from humanity for a long time barely changed him, but, it’s his uplifting persona that ‘almost’ makes this film a story about his character.
In the end, however hard the human characters try to impress, it’s the god-beast that becomes the star in its own film. Under Jordan Vogt-Roberts (director of the lush Kings of Summer), every moment in Kong: Skull Island is a delightfully fun tour de kaiju island – beautifully adorned with one-perfect-shot materials by Larry Fong and loudly presented with the 70s rock hits.