Let’s keep this fairly simple – if you like King Kong, you’ll like Skull Island. This is Kong in all his glory. He’s enormous. He’s wild. He’s vicious. He’s easy to root for, even as he’s eating soldiers and blowing up helicopters.
Set in 1973, Skull Island is about an expedition to said island in order to beat the Russians (yada yada yada). A team of scientists which includes John Goodman need a military escort to get them there. More specifically, they need a helicopter unit to get them past an ever-present storm system surrounding the island. Samuel L. Jackson commands this unit, and he’s lost his way since the very recent end of the Vietnam conflict. He’s a man with no war anymore (yada yada yada). Tom Hiddleston is a mercenary tracker ex-soldier hired to help them navigate the uncharted island’s terrain. He’s also a lost soul (yada yada yada). Brie Larson is a photographer who’s been embedded in Vietnam for years and now seeks a new angle and hopes this unknown island will provide it (yada yada yada).
Okay? Everyone kind of has motivation and sort of a backstory (but we don’t really care because we’re all here for the giant primate.)
So this team of soldiers and scientists invade Kong’s island and he doesn’t like it. He protects the island and its inhabitants at all costs. He’s the top of the food chain, but there’s another species vying for his title and our heroes have seriously disturbed the natural order of things. Plus, Jackson’s character does not like the fact that Kong killed most of his unit and he wants revenge against the king even as he loses his own grip on sanity.
I won’t spoil anything beyond that, but you can probably predict most of the movie and that’s okay.
What’s important is that Kong looks amazing. He’s got real heft and he absolutely seems like he’s interacting with the jungle environment engulfing him. When he’s causing huge waves, he looks wet, the water looks like its reacting to him, and everything appears natural. When he’s jumping from mountain to mountain or sending trees flying, there is debris, there is gravity, there is air, and it all looks right.
Kong’s not the only monster in this movie, as you probably expect, and they all look really, really good as well. You forget these are special effects when they brutally interact with each other. They move like real creatures. They have fur and scales and saliva and blood. They have cuts and scars and muscles and bare patches. It’s astounding.
My biggest complaint about Godzilla is that there wasn’t enough Godzilla! We don’t have that problem with Kong: Skull Island. There is plenty of Kong doing what he does best on his own turf. No travels to the big city in this one (thank goodness)!
Truthfully, the actors were fine, but they really didn’t have to do much. Astonishingly, these were all top-notch actors, and they played their characters well, but no one is winning any acting awards here because everyone knew Kong’s the real star. We get just enough of each actor’s character to make us care a little about them, but not enough to make us care more about them than Kong. That’s a tricky balancing act, but they pulled it off. I will say this, though: John C. Reilly almost surpassed Kong in likability. He’s a bigger part of the movie than the previews would have you believe, and he stole every scene in which he appeared. He brought much needed levity to the film, but never in such a way that openly mocked the subject material. All of these actors are charismatic on their own, but Reilly took it up a notch even against them.
Just remember, Kong is the star. (Again, this is where they made a mistake with Godzilla. They forgot who the star of that movie was.)
If you’re a Kong fan, I highly recommend you see Skull Island on the big screen. You will not be disappointed if you’re looking for Kong in all his glory. Be advised, though it’s PG-13, it was a tad more violent than I expected. People had appendages pulled off, got eaten alive, were burned alive, thrown into chopper blades, etc. There were some small children in our showing, and I guarantee you they will have nightmares tonight. I recommend you don’t take your kids if they are younger than 13.