In an age of #Cinematic universes, it should be no surprise that classic monsters would get theirs. While Universal recasts its iconic horror legends like the Mummy and the Invisible Man, Legendary preps a bluntly titled 'Monsterverse' of Kaiju and King Kong in the follow-up to 2014's 'Godzilla'.
It's the 1970s, and as America reels from defeat in Vietnam, the Monarch organization gets backing to investigate a mysterious island in the South Pacific that has brought down planes and ships. Lead by a disgruntled Colonel, bitter about the outcome of the war, and a former British Special Service tracker, the group quickly find the island is teeming with monsters, including the godlike Kong.
'Skull Island' excels as a monster romp
Indie darling Jordan Vogt-Roberts (King of Summer) creates an incredibly tight and direct film that feels like the antithesis of Gareth Edwards' 'Godzilla'. Where the former favoured suspense, tension and a very limited use of the title character in the 'Jaws' tradition, Roberts goes full-fanboy as he dishes out the monster battles thick and fast. King Kong is seen fairly early on and we quickly cycle through the expected conflicts: the military, giant animals like octopi and arachnids and even demonic prehistoric mutations, the Skullcrawlers.
We move briskly from setpiece to setpiece, with measured editing and plenty of wide shots to full appreciate and get immersed in the different battles. However, Roberts is not afraid to get inventive, having the camera right inside crashing helicopters or on King Kong, allowing you to really feel like you're there in the heat of action. Couple that with incredible sound design that makes every hit feel big and powerful, and you get your money's worth for blockbuster action.
'Skull Island' gets to the point
Naturally, this mentality comes at a price: the plot is very streamlined, as is the backstory to Kong and most of the rather stock cast. There is some nice thematic elements with Vietnam and the destructive mindset of war, but it feels mostly like a glorified excuse to justify the action. Were it not for the quality cast, all of whom do as well as expected, 'Kong: Skull Island' would probably feel a lot less satisfying and tedious.
Indeed, the strongly 70s-influenced of the aesthetic, with very strong ties to 'Apocalypse Now', feel more circumstantial and surface-level than many would hope, and a lot of the man vs nature/'Beauty and the Beast' qualities of the past 'King Kong' films feels far removed from this one. In fact, there's a strong 'Superman Returns' to 'Man of Steel' parallel between this and Peter Jackson's retelling from 2005: one favoured world building, almost anal amounts of detail and a slow pace, while the other is more interested in crowd pleasing battles and vistas.
The best way to describe 'Kong: Skull Island' is that this is the perfect 10 year old's movie. This is destined to be the talk of playgrounds and lunch breaks everywhere, kids debating if they liked this or that fight more. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this leads to kids making their own reenactments of fights on their phones and thus helping to create a new generation of filmmakers, much like past Kongs have. It's good old fashioned childhood wish fulfillment, and there's nothing wrong with that. #kong skull island