The titular ape does not show up until about forty minutes into Merian C. Cooper’s classic King Kong (1933); the subsequent 1976 and 2005 remakes by, respectively, John Guillermin and Peter Jackson, followed suit, holding off on the big reveal. Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island plays no such coy games. Kong shows up in the first scene and only takes a few breaks. If you’re looking for monsters fighting monsters and humans getting squashed and/or eaten, look no further. If it were possible to exploit creatures that do not exist in nature, this would be an exploitation film. It’s pretty fun.
With Skull Island, director Vogt-Roberts and writers Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly take the Aliens approach to the world of King Kong, sending a squad of soldiers and a few scientist types onto the monsters’ turf, providing ample fodder. The action here takes place in 1973, and the aforementioned squad are a hard-bitten band of on-their-way-home Vietnam vets lead by Samuel L. Jackson’s Lt. Col. Preston Packard, a career military many who has taken the failure of the Vietnam Conflict personally. The troops are joined by John Goodman’s renegade government agency chief, Tom Hiddleston’s haunted search-and-rescue expert, Brie Larson’s pacifist photographer, a pair of scientists played by Jing Tian and Corey Hawkins, and a couple of Landsat employees played John Ortiz and Marc Evan Jackson (yes!). One would be forgiven for not remembering the names of any of these characters as they are far from the film’s raison d’etre. The character that makes the greatest impact is John C. Reilly’s Marlow, a WWII fighter pilot stranded on the island. Reilly, expectedly, brings humor and real pathos to the part, making his comic relief character the emotional heart of the film.
But the point of Kong: Skull Island is spectacle, and spectacle is delivered in spades. The action really works here, be it Kong vs. Man, Man vs. Giant Spider/Lizard, or Kong vs. Giant Lizard. Vogt-Roberts and the writers will occasionally play at seriousness but never very seriously, the movie is pretty honest about what it is trying to be and it works, providing surprisingly visceral thrills for the film’s PG-13 rating. This movie works, it does not transcend, it does not leave the viewer with much to think about, but it really works.
Kong: Skull Island
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Writer: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly
Cinematographer: Larry Fong
Editor: Richard Pearson
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, John Ortiz