When a secret Government-funded research group get the go-ahead to check out an uncharted island in the Pacific, what starts out as a mapping mission turns into a battle for survival when they walk into an eye-opening battle between monsters and the island’s protector.
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, Terry Notary, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Shea Whigham
Run Time: 118 Minutes
Release Date: Out Now
With Legendary Pictures’ now-official MonsterVerse getting off to a so-so start with 2014’s Godzilla, it all once again falls to the giant ape himself to stop in and save the day. Rebooting the franchise and moving swiftly on from Peter Jackson’s 2005 attempt starring Jack Black, this time out we go back to the 1973 and start laying the origin groundwork for the aforementioned MonsterVerse. Monarch – that secret Government agency – were featured in Godzilla and this time they pop up to both tie in a universe and give a group of scientists and army vets who are one day from going home a reason to jump on a boat and a bumpy chopper ride to an uncharted island. Of course, there is more to the mission than simply research, something that soon comes to light for the accompanying soldiers when they fly straight into the waiting hands of the star himself, Kong.
Standing at over 100 feet tall, the largest he has been yet on screen and making him more of a reasonable future crossover opponent for the 300+ foot Godzilla, this version of Kong is what really makes this movie. From the initial pre-credits teasing introduction onto his full-on entrance and subsequent destruction, it is hard to take your eyes off the screen when the titular hero is present. Something Vogt-Roberts does well behind the camera, and Terry Notary on motion capture equally, is give Kong a personality and character that grabs you without a word being said. It is established that this is a younger Kong, the last of his family, and that adolescence comes through in some of his battles with the island’s other monster inhabitants.
Of course, Kong does not take kindly to the human visitors, and very quickly the pieces are put in place on the chess board that is this movie’s plot. Regrettably, the human characters, bar a few, are never really given a chance to show who they really are. Jackson’s Packard is the grizzled Army vet, determined to keep his Army days going. This is one of Jackson’s better performances, free of the shackles put on him in his more famous Marvel appearances, here he brings the intensity needed, especially during a rather dramatic face-off with Kong. Hiddleston’s Conrad is the hired tracker who finds himself in the role of hero and leader, a role which, it has to be said, doesn’t quite feel right for him. No question, Hiddleston is an extremely talented actor, however one cannot help but feel that there is another role he could have played in this movie and this wasn’t it. However, the star of the human show is undoubtedly John C. Reilly. His crazed Marlow, found to be living on the island since crash-landing nearly thirty years prior, acts as the tour guide for the visiting party. A friend of the largely-ignored island natives and very familiar with the island’s creatures, his presence adds levity to a movie which at times is crying out for some.
Outside of those three, it’s a struggle to say much more about the rest of the cast. Brie Larson is fine as photojournalist Mason Weaver, but she is not given a lot to do or say, save momentarily to fill the ‘Ann Darrow’ role that has been seen and done in previous Kong outings. She will, of course, find much more fame and sufficient screen time when her Marvel Studios commitments kick in with Captain Marvel, but here she feels woefully underused. She has a natural screen presence and is likable, but for whatever reason the decision was taken for her to be little more than a token female presence and the hackneyed damsel who Kong takes a shine to.
All in all, this is a far better effort than the Jackson version, if nothing else because Kong himself is done so well. I especially liked that we met the monster early on, both in the pre-release promos and the movie itself, there is no time being wasted building up to seeing Kong for the first time, and the scenes with him battling the island’s monsters are where the film is at it’s best. Not unlike Godzilla, the human aspect is the movie’s weakest point, whereas when the giant creatures take center stage, all is largely forgiven and you find yourself captivated and fully immersed in the world before you. And while that may bode well for what it still to come in the MonsterVerse – and a neat little post-credit sting opens the door to what will come – it is unlikely we are going to have movies where monsters purely battle for 120 minutes with no human involvement.
What is encouraging is that while the characters here feel like first drafts pushed to one side to focus on the giant ape, they come out of this a lot better than Godzilla’s human co-stars did in 2014. Simply put, Kong: Skull Island is the better movie. Optimistically, it shows that lessons have been learned and improvements made. Godzilla, back to you.