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Kong: Skull Island Review

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Ever since he tried to make Fray Wray his bride in 1933, King Kong has rightfully become a cinematic icon, and throughout the years there has been many an attempt to reboot the Eighth Wonder of the World on the big screen, the most recent being Peter Jackson’s incredibly faithful remake in 2005. Now, Warner Bros. are trying their hand at rebooting the world’s most famous giant ape with Kong: Skull Island, which also pulls double duty by further deepening the Monsterverse, the shared universe that began with Gareth Edward’s Godzilla reboot and will eventually lead to 2020’s Godzilla vs. Kong.


Whereas Jackson’s version of the classic story stayed incredibly faithful to the original, Kong: Skull Island takes the concept and spins a new, more action oriented narrative putting Monarch, the monster hunting organisation introduced in 2014’s Godzilla, front and centre. It’s 1973, at the tail end of the Vietnam war, and Monarch agent Bill Randa (John Goodman) is heading an expedition, which includes tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and dedicated military man Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) to a newly discovered island which he believes is home to various species of monstrous creatures that have been forgotten by humanity, a detail he is keeping secret form the rest of his crew. Once they breach the perpetual storm that surrounds the island, they soon meet its protector, the towering behemoth Kong, the only thing that stands between them and the carnivorous Skull Crawlers.

One of the biggest complaints (and funnily enough, one of it’s biggest praises) for the Godzilla reboot is that it kept the King of Monsters off screen for as long as it could. It was a risky move for a big tentpole block buster, and it personally worked for me, the anticipation of seeing Godzilla making the sight of him finally cracking MUTO skulls that much sweeter. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer) is trying a different tack here, wasting no time in putting the giant ape up on screen. Barring a brief appearance just before the opening credits, Kong is revealed in all his glory at the start of the second act, in a barnstorming sequence that shows exactly what this new Kong can do.   Once our human heroes set foot on Skull Island, it follows the typical action adventure route as the group splinters off and tries to survive their new, harsh environment. Thankfully, Vogt-Roberts injects a serious amount of humour and heart into proceedings that stops into from falling into a pit of cliches. It rocks along at a great pace (mainly thanks to an awesome era specific soundtrack), and refuses to take itself too seriously, asking the audience to embrace the craziness instead of explaining it. And the most fun is had with Skull Island if you just go ahead and embrace it. Sure, the story may be pretty paint by numbers at times, but you’ll give it a pass with the amount you’re having with the movie. It may be only March, but this feels like a lab engineered Summer blockbuster, every element designed to blow your mind.

The eye candy on display here is amazing. Kong himself is spectacular, moving with a speed and grace that belies his towering size. While his design may echo the 1933 version, he’s the biggest the character has ever been at 100 feet (a point is made to say he is still growing, so you can just imagine how big he’ll be in Godzilla vs. Kong), and you can feel every imposing inch of him in the hard hitting set pieces, especially when he is taking on the Skull Crawlers, themselves awesomely creepy designs. Not since Gipsy Danger dragged a ship down the streets of Hong Kong has the sight of two gigantic creatures beating the tar out of each other being this enjoyable.


Unfortnately, this movie can’t be all Kong all the time, and he has to take a breather from time to time. Thankfully, the ensemble cast are more than capable of taking up the slack. Larson and Hiddleston are perfect as the heroic leads, forced to step up and save the day, and Goodman is deliciously smarmy as the company man with his own agenda. Think Burke from Aliens, add in Goodman’s patented, barely concealed rage, and you’re halfway there. Samuel L. Jackson surprises with a character that’s much deeper than the one note bad asses that he seems to be exclusively playing now (and extra marks go to him for dropping in a fun Jurassic Park reference), and the soldiers under his command, including Shea Whigham, Jason Mitchell, and Toby Kebbell, do a lot with soldier archetypes they are given. But the real heart of this movie is John C. Reilly. As Hank, a castaway on Skull Island for the past 28 years, he steals every scene he’s in with his manic energy. The movie presents him as the comic relief, but then it hits you with his tragic backstory from out of nowhere, and he becomes so much more than a rip off of Treasure Island’s Ben Gunn.

It was always going to be tricky to update so drastically a classic character like King Kong, but Kong: Skull Island pulls it off with a fun action romp that won’t fail to plaster a huge smile on your face.







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The Movie Bit: Kong: Skull Island Review
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