Three years ago, Legendary Pictures revived the Godzilla franchise with their take on The Big G. The film did well enough that it lead Legendary to start up their own Kaiju Cinematic Universe, with Godzilla’s next outing being a big monster battle royale, with Kong joining the Godzilla series staples – but first, we have to unveil this series’ version of Kong.

Note to those who are waiting on reading this review before seeing the film: Stick around through the credits.

Cast and Crew

Tom Hiddleston as James Conrad
Samuel L. Jackson as Lt. Col. Preston Packard
Brie Larson as Mason Weaver
John C. Reilly as Hank Marlow
John Goodman as Dr. Bill Randa
Corey Hawkins as Dr. Houston Brooks
John Ortiz as Victor Nieves
Tian Jing as Dr. San Lin
Toby Kebbell as Jack Chapman
Terry Notary as Kong (performance capture)

Written by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly … (screenplay)
Story by John Gatins
Music by Henry Jackman

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts.

As of this writing, Kong: Skull Island is still in theaters.

The Premise

It is the 1970s. The Vietnam War is ending, and US troops are withdrawing from the country. Meanwhile, the Landsat program has uncovered a previously uncharted island in the South Pacific, an island that cryptozoologist Dr. Bill Randa of the MONARCH program has heard of through various legends from South Pacific island tribes located near that island. Randa persuades the US government to send him and two other researchers, Dr. Houston Brooks and Dr. San Lin along with the expedition – and to bring a military escort. The escort is lead by Lt. Col. Preston Packard, a bitter US Army officer with a chip on his shoulder over how the war turned out. Randa also hires mercenary James Conrad for his jungle survival expertise.

When the expedition arrives on the island and ends up flushing out Kong, it will take every resources at their disposal to get off the island alive – assuming Packard’s Ahab-esque desire to kill Kong to avenge his men doesn’t get them killed first.

High Points

Acknowledging that you have to suspend your disbelief in super-fauna like Kong when coming into this film, the world of Skull Island is well though out, ecologically. As opposed to the original film (and even Peter Jackson’s remake), it feels like there’s an actual ecosystem here that Kong and the other super-fauna that the team faces fit within.

Further, the performances in this film are very good. Reilly’s character could have become obnoxious comic relief, but his character fits with someone who has been living on this island, isolated from the rest of the world, approaching 30 years. Similarly, Samuel L. Jackson’s performance as Packard really does a great job of keeping a lid on his desire for revenge, until there’s no possible way to hide it, at which point he wonderfully just pops the lid off that box and lets it roll out.

Low Points

Tian Jing has no on-screen presence in this film. I don’t mean that in the sense that she has no on-screen charisma, or she doesn’t really act over the course of the film – she sells the pants-crappingly dangerous super-fauna incredibly well. It’s that she has very few lines. By comparison, Corey Hawkins has a bunch of lines explaining why Dr. Brooks ended up meeting Dr. Randa and joining MONARCH, and it’s a really interesting story to hear tell. Jing has nothing like that. Considering this film is co-produced with Tencent, I’m assuming that the Chinese release will give her additional scenes explaining how she ended up joining the organization, but unless they get included in the US Blu-Ray/DVD release, we’re not going to get those scenes.

Scores

Originality: While this is a King Kong film – it’s a very different Kong film than the ones which came before, but one with a specific purpose – setting up Kong’s match (or team-up) with Godzilla. 4/6

Effects: The film’s effects are much more in the fore than in Legendary’s Godzilla, with the monsters being on camera much more often, and much more visibly – this doesn’t take away from how scary they are – quite to the contrary. A few of the composite shots really break immersion – I watched this film in 2D, and I don’t know if these shots were meant to be seen in 3D, or if the compositing didn’t quite work, but they definitely were jarring. 5/6

Story: The story is pretty basic – focusing on the core concept of the first part of King Kong – being stranded on Skull island and having to escape. However, that’s really all the story needs, and it takes some interesting detours that make the work better in a lot of respects (The natives aren’t sacrificing people to Kong – he’s their protector from other, nastier critters, Kong isn’t attracted to pretty young blond white women – he is a protector of the island’s humans in general and protects the expedition members that aren’t trying to fight him, etc.). 4/6

Acting: We have a really strong cast in this film that takes their roles seriously, and the film benefits for this tremendously. 5/6

Production: The set designs in the film are great, and the score is really enjoyable. Additionally, the film uses music of the time well, without falling into the “Forrest Gump” problem of “Hey, psst, psst, get it, we’re in the 1970s.” The costume and hair design also does a really great job of evoking the film’s period (especially Brie Larson’s hair). 4/6

Emotional Response: Some of the deaths in the film really caused me to flinch, and the monsters in the movie are also especially creepy. In particular, there’s a critter called in the promotional materials the Mama Longlegs that kinda freaked me out. With it not helping that it kills one of the soldiers in a manner that seems deliberately evocative of a particular death scene from Cannibal Holocaust. 5/6

Overall: This was a really fun film, and I’m looking forward to Godzilla: King of the Monsters in a few years. 5/6

In Total, Kong: Skull Island gets 32 out of 46.

Notes on the Stinger

The rumors are true – we’re getting not just Kong, but Mothra, Ghidorah, and Rodan in the next Godzilla film!