The Russell Review: Kong: Skull Island

Minor Spoilers Ahead: You’ve Been Warned!

Few movie monsters are as iconic as King Kong. Originally introduced in 1933, this gigantic ape has been a mainstay in Hollywood cinema, popping up in some sort of reboot or remake every couple of decades. There were the mostly unenthused 1976 and 1986 versions, the wonderful 2005 portrayal directed by Peter Jackson, and now the latest movie, Kong: Skull Island which takes the most drastically different approach. One of the most interesting changes is the setting. While essentially every King Kong movie so far has taken place in the ‘30s, Skull Island changes it up and places the story right after the end of the Vietnam War. Being someone who enjoys the style and music of this era, this instantly made me more excited for the film.

This movie has one of the largest ensemble casts I’ve seen in a long time, and some problems come with this. While some characters are intriguing and very well done, such as Tom Hiddleston’s Conrad and Brie Larson’s Weaver, others just seem there to raise the death toll, including most of the soldiers that accompany the scientists on their expedition. One character who comes to mind is Toby Kebbel’s Chapman, who just seemed to be there to break up the action at parts. There is one scene in particular where he watches on as Kong battles a giant squid, and it’s obvious that he’s just there to be the audience’s eyes into an action sequence.

Tom Hiddleston as Conrad, Brie Larson as Weaver, and John C. Reilly as Marlow in Kong: Skull Island. Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment

The action sequences in this movie, however, were always stellar. Kong fights with a ferocity and agility that has never been seen in cinema before. This is showcased extraordinarily when he takes on a handful of helicopters towards the earlier parts of the film, a scene which was shown extensively in the trailers. The real threats in the movie, dubbed Skullcrawlers by an always entertaining John C. Reilly, are very threatening and an even match for Kong, but I felt that their visual design left something to be desired. They were essentially just large lizards with skulls on their heads, which felt uninspired.

Skull Island hits some of the tropes throughout the film that are synonymous with King Kong. As usual, Kong is truly a sympathetic and compassionate beast that is just trying to protect his home and the creatures that inhabit it. There’s a military man who has a grudge against the beast. There’s a photographer who gets sucked into more than she could have imagined. There is Kong saving a beautiful blonde woman. There’s also the mysterious, fog-covered Skull Island itself, which becomes its own character in the movie. The Island feels more vibrant and full of exotic life than any past movie starring the Great Ape. There is a particular trope that the screenwriters turned on its head which I won’t spoil, but I was overjoyed and impressed when it happened.

Kong, himself, in Kong: Skull Island. Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment

It becomes clear that there is a bigger world at play here, as the scientists who came to the island are exploring the concept that this world never truly belonged to humans. They believe that there are greater beasts that live out there who want to reclaim the planet that is rightfully theirs. As this movie was produced by the same producers as 2014’s Godzilla, it seems that the studio is creating a movie slate of big monsters fighting for and against Earth.

For those who are patient, stick around after the credits. There is a scene at the end that blows the mythology of the movie wide open, leaving a very intriguing and exciting future ahead for King Kong. It seems that Hollywood isn’t done with the King yet.

Final Verdict

Kong: Skull Island is a truly fun, visually stunning action movie. While there is an excess of characters and some jokes that really don’t stick their landing, I feel that it is an overall enjoyable ride that doesn’t really stop to take a breath.

While I don’t feel that Skull Island will be for everybody, I do think that most action film fans and fans of the King himself will have a great time. Those looking for substance, character development, and real commentary may not enjoy it.