By: Mark Farmer, Entertainment Writer
Kong: Skull Island hits theaters this week, starring Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, and John Goodman as they trek to Skull Island in hopes of uncovering whatever creatures live amongst the terrain.
King Kong has had a wide and varied history since its 1933 debut, spawning numerous sequels, remakes, and spin-offs. The first film to star the massive gorilla monster was a critical and commercial success; The sequel it spawned (which released later that same year) released to both abysmal reviews and an abysmal box office gross. This set the standard for King Kong’s Hollywood career, with many critically-lauded remakes, followed by critically panned sequels.
Separate from these American films, however, are their Japanese counterparts, known as “kaijū” movies (Japanese for “strange beast”). These are the monster movies mostly associated with franchises such as Godzilla, known for being over-the-top in action, lacking in story, and overall being a fun ride without much purpose. In the 1960s, the Japanese film production company known for their kaijū films, Toho, licensed out the King Kong character for use in their famous Godzilla franchise- First seen in 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla. This massive box office success propelled King Kong to new heights of popularity in both the United States and Japan, under a wholly different characterization.
Now, just a decade after Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake (based on the original 1933 film), comes Kong: Skull Island, the second entry into Legendary’s MonsterVerse, featuring on both Godzilla and King Kong. These films are based much more heavily on the Toho franchises rather than their American counterparts. Unfortunately, this rather confusing mix of movies is likely to cause confusion for audiences- Unlike Peter Jackson’s more realistic adaptation from 2005, Kong: Skull Island is nothing but an over-the-top action flick. That said, it absolutely nails every aspect of what makes a crazy over-the-top action flick good.
This movie is absolutely insane in almost every single scene. Kong: Skull Island doesn’t just rehash action movie tropes- It slams them into your face at every possible turn. You’ve got the two “crazy” pioneers of this expedition (Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman), who are willing to stop at nothing in order to get a closer look at the massive creature on the island. You’ve got the action-hero guy and gal who are mostly reasonable but probably split up from the group more often than they should (Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson). You’ve got the rag-tag group of soldiers who are, literally, one day away from retirement. You’ve even got mute, ancient natives who secretly inhabit the island. Sprinkle on a heavy dose of ammunitions and explosives, and you’ve got Kong: Skull Island.
I think this is kind of important to know going into the movie. While I truly loved Peter Jackson’s King Kong, this is nothing like it- The story is completely different from the original film and its remakes. Audiences may be expecting something different when they walk into this flick, but make no mistake- This is no remake. Kong: Skull Island reboots the franchise and bases it off of its Japanese roots rather than its American ones.
Of course, this movie is heavily Americanized- Writer Max Borenstein said his main inspiration for this film was none other than Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, and its influence is heavily apparent. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” and other classic-Vietnam-War-movie songs dot the film throughout its two-hour runtime. Deep-orange sunsets back Kong as helicopters whirr around him, with soldiers sprinting through the jungle to keep out of his path. Yes- Every Vietnam-war-movie trope is in Kong: Skull Island, too.
While the wild and laugh-out-loud-incomprehensible action is this movie’s major selling point (and, believe me, it delivers), Kong: Skull Island offers up other positive aspects as well- Mainly its visuals. As silly as the concept may seem, the faux-Vietnam setting provides a great backdrop for Kong and the cast of characters to battle within. Many scenes offer up shots that look absolutely stellar, such as a fuzzy out-of-focus Kong swatting at helicopters among the hazy glow of the sun.
Overall, this movie can pretty easily be summed up in one word: “Cool.” I can definitely see my 8th-grade self walking out of this theater and thinking, “That was cool.” The action is there, the dialog is just bleeding with quips (Samuel L. Jackson even says “Hold on to your butts”), and the visuals craft a number of really memorable sequences. Kong: Skull Island is nothing like other American King Kong movies, however- Those entering the theater thinking this will likely have a wildly different experience. Nonetheless, Kong: Skull Island is easy to recommend for anyone looking to waste a quick night watching some good monster-movie action. It’s just plain cool.