Kong Really is King
King Kong has been around since the dawn of cinema, wowing audiences with his humanity and ferocious strength. Kong: Skull Island follows suit as another reboot of the iconic ape, but this time it’s different.
Kong: Skull Island is the second film in the newlywed universe of Godzilla and King Kong, with both mega monsters culminating on 2020’s Godzilla vs King Kong. The franchise was kicked off by Gareth Edward’s 2014 Godzilla reboot, which opened to very divisive opinions on the film with some calling it a masterpiece in blockbuster film-making and others a train wreck. After people complained about lack of monster fights and a overall too serious tone, the producers and screenwriters of Kong: Skull Island decided to go for something more akin to the crazy campy monster movies of the old days.
Under the helm of indie director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (Kings of Summer), the team had the task of doing justice to Kong, an icon of cinema who is revered for his brilliant visuals and stunning thematic presence on screen. Vogt-Roberts said that he went into a meeting and pitched to producers “Apocalypse Now meets King Kong”, which as a concept sounds very different from Kong up until now. Vogt-Roberts assembled an unmatched ensemble cast of actors ranging from major stars like Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman, to indie up-and-comers like Thomas Mann and the rising Brie Larson. The film takes place in 1973 right after the USA exited the Vietnam War. Under the guise of a simple geological mission to a uncharted island in the Pacific, a ensemble is stranded on the island (The Skull Island) after they encounter the ape himself.
Vogt-Roberts has really shown that Kings of Summer was no fluke; his directing for this film really resonates with the source material. Tied with Larry Fong’s eye-catching cinematography, Vogt-Roberts establishes a style influenced by many Vietnam War and survival films such as Apocalypse Now and Platoon. His attention to detail and natural talent for framing actors really makes the film dazzle. With the script going through multiple rewrites on set, Vogt-Roberts gave the film his own voice and sense of humor and weirdness that is often missed in big budget blockbusters these days.
The film itself is a visual masterpiece in every sense of the word, with no other blockbuster in years coming even close to its visual grandeur. Usually when a film has a 3D offering, the production doesn't really take that very seriously, resulting in marginal use of the power of 3D. It is safe to say that Kong breaks this stigma, offering magnificent monster violence that really utilizes the 3D technology. Kong himself has gotten a new look from the 1933 version and the 2005 version, making him look more humanoid in shape and all the more ferocious for it. Kong fights against all kinds of monsters within the film, each of them bringing their own look and style to it all, creating some great sequences. It’s clear that the director and the VFX department put a lot of effort into designing monsters that are not only deadly, but also elegant with subtle detailing all over.
The plot itself is fairly standard but holds up with the heavy inclusion of Kong and a smartly written script. The script offers not only legitimate themes to the film but also witty and smartly written dialogue that runs circles around typical monster movie tropes and cliches. The film doesn't take itself too seriously throughout; at times it feels like the best 70’s B-movie you have ever seen in your life, offering a well needed respite from Godzilla’s serious tone. Kong’s tone really meshes well with the fantastical island and the actors who are marooned on it. Just when you think that the plot is about to turn into one massive cliche, it does a u-turn and decides to tell you that that is not going to happen. This self-actualized behavior is perfect to keep the tone up and the thrills at a max at all times. With this addition to the newly minted “monsterverse” including Godzilla, the producers and directors have already created a universe that is ten times more interesting and epic than anything Marvel has done so far.
The acting within the film is very solid, with all members of the huge ensemble cast pulling their weight in their own ways, with a standout performance from John C. Riley, whose character was marooned on the island since the second world war. While all of these characters have a voice all to their own that they lend to the film, it is painfully obvious that some of these characters were fairly underdeveloped. A lot of the characters could have used slightly more development , some teetering on borderline generic. While this seems to be the main criticism of this film, it is hard to balance characterization with so many voices ringing throughout, and that doesn't even include the gigantic ape that is also on the island. That being said, there were enough voices to go around that this can be overlooked by the witty dialogue and well directed action.
Kong: Skull Island makes a wonderfully fun and weird addition to the great ape’s long lineage. It contributes its own spin on the overdone plot that not only defies its predecessors, but also embraces them with open arms. The film is worth seeing in theaters, but don’t go in expecting a straight faced plot or hyper developed characters. Go in to have fun and embrace the weird and fantastical.