Warner Bros. | Promotional

King Kong and Godzilla are among the most famous movie monsters. While Godzilla has been featured in recent Japanese productions and his eponymous film “Godzilla” released in 2014, the last time Kong was featured in his own film was over a decade ago.

Even then, the 2005 release of “King Kong” was similiar to its 1976 and 1933 predecessors. Like death and taxes, seeing Kong fall from the Empire State Building became another inevitability. Kong has only appeared in a handful of other unremarkable movies, like “King Kong Lives” and “King Kong Escapes,” making him an underutilized character for such a
cultural icon.

At first, it seemed “Kong: Skull Island” would continue the trend of being a beaten-to-death remake. But “Skull Island” resists the temptation of recreating the original Kong story. Warner Bros. instead completely rebooted the Kong universe, building its own world of monsters.

When scientists Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) discover an unexplored island named Skull Island, they hire former British military pilot James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) to be a tracker for their exploration party. Along for the journey are Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and the rest of his helicopter squadron, fresh off of a tour in the Vietnam War, as well as pacifist photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).

As they reach Skull Island, the party scatters after encountering Kong’s fury. During their adventures, the explorers come to realize that Kong isn’t the only danger living on Skull Island.

One way “Skull Island” breaks tradition is that it takes place entirely on the island and doesn’t retreat to New York City like other Kong films.

Throughout the film, Skull Island is portrayed as terrifying yet beautiful, much like Vietnam, the place Packard just left. Surrounded by magnificent sunsets and auroras, the island is marred by monsters like giant spiders and “skullcrawlers,” a mix between a giant lizard and a dinosaur.

A consistent phrase throughout the film is the “world doesn’t belong to us.” The location of Skull Island emphasizes this. The film is filled with long shots of peaceful lakes, dense jungles and sweeping plains, which juxtapose strongly the sense of peril and dread from the monsters lurking in them. With so much intrigue, the world in “Skull Island” is much more enthralling than that of other Kong films.

As for Kong himself, his introduction is immediate and intense. His first appearance is very close to the start of the expedition on Skull Island, rampaging against the trespassers. While he never has any dialogue, Kong acts as one of the most interesting characters in the film. As opposed to being an attraction flaunted as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” Kong is given a different role in “Skull Island.”

As Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), a somewhat eccentric lieutenant who has been stranded on the island since World War II explains, Kong is the guardian of Skull Island. Considered by the locals to be a sort of god. There’s a character arc for Kong and it’s not the typical obsession he has for the female lead.

Unfortunately, Kong is one of the only interesting characters in “Skull Island.” It’s understandable that in a monster movie, most of the side characters are only fodder for the monsters to deal with.

The only side character in “Skull Island” who adds something is Marlow, as his eccentricity steals any scene he’s in. There’s even some disappointment with the main characters. Hiddleston plays Conrad with an engrossing sense of bravery, but he only has one characteristic: he beats monsters up. It’s not boring up until it becomes ridiculous to see him with unrealistic, jedi-esque fighting ability.

Another way the film breaks away from Kong film stereotypes is through sidestepping the damsel-in-distress aspect. Instead of being the female lead Kong forms an obsession for, Weaver is a foil for the gung-ho Packard.

While Packard wants to bomb all the monsters on the island and carries a Captain Ahab-level obsession with taking out Kong, Weaver finds beauty in Skull Island, taking time to photograph fantastic shots of the island while fighting alongside Conrad. She forms a connection with Kong, but it’s not romantic like in previous Kong films. But just like Conrad, there’s not much depth to Weaver after seeing her for more than a few minutes.

The most interesting human character is Packard. After destroying his helicopters, Kong is the Moby Dick to Packard’s Captain Ahab. In one of the most well-shot scenes in “Skull Island,” Packard and Kong lock eyes through the flames and wreckage of helicopters while Packard clenches his fists. It’s immediately apparent that they hate each other. The conflict provides the viewer a good amount of intrigue throughout the film as Packard goes to nearly suicidal lengths to kill the giant gorilla, even endangering the lives of his fellow explorers.

Like any other Kong film, the action sequences featuring monsters are some of the most compelling and make up for disappointments in the film. One scene stuck out to me as showing something that happens naturally and candidly, building the world of Skull Island. After sustaining cuts from the helicopters, Kong goes to wash himself where he comes face to face with a giant octopus. It’s a quick and easy battle for Kong (and he adorably slurps up the octopus’ tentacles afterwards), but it’s almost like watching a nature documentary, something we shouldn’t interfere with.

“Kong: Skull Island” is an example of a reboot done well. It takes elements from previous Kong films and tells its own story in its own world. There’s only one way to describe it: fun. The unpredictability of the film sets “Skull Island” apart.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *