With each monster movie reboot over the last few decades, Hollywood seems to have drifted further and further from what made the classics so memorable. They were fun! Sure, the original “Gojira” was just as much a political commentary as it was a monster mash, but it still delivered on the fun. What the subsequent follow-ups lacked in satire they made up for in sheer gleeful creativity. Does “KONG: Skull Island” have more in common with its monochrome ancestors of old or is it a closer relative of the newer, visually polished, bore-fests?
Although it is by no means perfect, “Skull Island” manages to borrow the best from both these worlds. The opening pre-credit scene is a great example of what to expect. A pair of opposing WWII pilots parachute to the beach as their planes crash nearby. A comedic gun duel erupts between them which is followed up by a spirited chase through the forest with the Japanese pilot brandishing his sword. The sequence borders on cartoonish in both its color saturation and humor but are undeniably fun. It’s this abandon of seriousness that permeates the rest of the film creating both the best and worst moments therein.
A montage of dates and famous imagery brings us up to the tail end of the Vietnam War. Two members of a secret government program (John Goodman & Corey Hawkins) put together a last ditch attempt to visit Skull Island on the government’s dime. Hiding their true intentions behind the veil of “geological research” they assemble a group of expendable experts. Though a bit long, this team building exercise feels very similar to what “Suicide Squad’ should have done. The team may seem rather large at first, but remember, the more people you have, the more who can be dispatched by a variety of creatures in a variety of nasty ways! Among the more notable redshirts are James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) an ex-SAS agent turned mercenary, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) an anti-war photographer, and Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) a bitter Army commander who despises leaving a fight unfinished.
Once this motley crew arrives on the island, things go spectacularly bad, and they are soon spread across unknown terrain, on foot, in a race against time. Along the way, they have various encounters with the beasts of Skull Island which are exhilarating and often surprisingly violent. It’s these encounters during which the film really shines. Sure, the dialog is often silly or pointless, and yes, in standard fashion there are far too many times people standing around striking ominous poses when they should be running. But who cares when these monster fights are so much fun? No one in their right mind would throw a razor sharp, antique, samurai sword to a near stranger in the middle of an attack, but there’s no denying it looks super cool in slow motion.
In many films, a bad script and logic gaps are their downfall, but in KONG: Skull Island, it really feels like part of the fun. It’s not even fair to call it a bad script because John C. Reilly’s lines are so consistently brilliant (as is his delivery) that it’s clear all the cheesy lines are intentional. The film also has an interesting plane of existence within the film world. Often it is emulating other films, or working very hard to establish the mise-en-scène of Vietnam era cinema. In addition to this, characters occasionally reference lines the actor(s) have used in other movies. The director even goes as far to throw in various Kong-canon easter eggs. (The wrecked 1934 ship named the Wanderer is from the novelization of the original King Kong film.)
The biggest flaw Kong has is occasionally going overboard, which is an odd thing to stay about a monster flick. This unrestraint rears it’s ugly head in odd things, though, such as the amount of screen time an old record player is given. It’s shown so much it feel as if it’s foreshadowing some event involving life-saving vinyl, however, it’s suddenly dropped and forgotten. The excessive lens flares don’t mix well with the 1970s aesthetic of the film and cause you to wonder if J.J. Abrams stopped by for guest directing. These are relatively minor points of contention in an otherwise enjoyable trip. If you’re a fan of classic monster flicks, or just like monkeys in general, “KONG: Skull Island” is certain worth the ride.
NOTE: It is IMPERATIVE that you stay through the credits on this one.