King Kong as a series is over 80 years old, with 7 films made, and more to come in the future. A literal cinematic giant, one wonders how filmmakers have managed to keep the original story of Kong fresh for new audiences. Well in the case of Kong: Skull Island directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts answers that question by changing everything.
Set in 1973, Kong: Skull Island follows an expedition led by Bill Randa, a crackpot scientist, to the titular island. He is joined by Colonel Preston Packard and his squadron, as a military escort, ex-SAS Captain James Conrad and photojournalist Mason Weaver. However, as they carry out their research, they find that they have intruded into a realm of monsters.
Plotwise gone is the strange romance between Kong, the female lead and the male lead, gone is the trip back to America, and gone is the human exceptionalism that was in the other films. Kong is massive, all the creatures are huge, and the people are small insignificant and unimportant. It is somewhat refreshing to see a big actiony blockbuster with these Lovecraftian themes. However, this tone works to the film’s advantage; the characters are powerless so the audience is on the edge of their seat hoping that they are able to escape skull island. Because of that, it is truly a modern version of Kong, full of pastiche and bombast, but also wit and intelligence.
Visually the film is incredibly striking, and there is a great use of colour and atmospheric effects. The various bizarre creatures look fantastic, and the island is meticulously designed, giving it an ancient, mysterious quality. The cinematography, as well as the additional soundtrack, also seem to evoke 1970’s war films like Apocalypse Now, which director Jordan Vogt-Roberts admits to having drawn inspiration from. The use of oranges, reds and greens is a hark back to those old war movies, and you can see it in the deep shadows, lush forests and the fires of madness in Packard’s eyes.
The performances are great; Tom Hiddleston is wonderfully sardonic as Conrad, Brie Larson is full of hidden depth as Mason Weaver, John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow had me in tears and stitches on multiple occasions and Samuel L Jackson does some tremendous stuff as Packard trying desperately to avenge his men.
Despite the film being a visual treat, Kong is well aware of what it is; a B-movie hyped up on modern blockbuster budgets. As such the plot isn’t going to blow you away and the characters aren’t well thought out or developed. But the sheer amount of fun that the crew and cast seem to be having romping around tropical locales makes it more than worth it.
Having said that, though, what Kong: Skull Island has is a very blatant anti-war and environmental message. Blatant may be the wrong word, it doesn’t get preachy, but the themes of the movie are worn very proudly on the surface. The anti-war message is more apparent, due to the parallels between Vietnam movies. The environmental message is slightly more subtle, through its tone we see that humanity doesn’t understand the world it lives in, doesn’t connect and isn’t significant. The only goal that the main characters have is to get off the island, for they know they cannot take down Kong or the Skull Crawlers. It cautions us against going beyond out bounds, and seeks to warn about what would happen if we encroach too drastically on nature. Though the theme was overt, it didn’t detract from the film over all; rather it seemed to add to the tone.
Kong: Skull Island is a rip-roaring, chest pounding ride and it is one I thoroughly enjoyed. I would highly recommend seeing this one in cinemas; it is a hark back to monster movies of old, a genre of films that I feel is somewhat missing from modern films. Though with the Monsterverse movie series confirming more films like Kong and the newest reimagining of Godzilla on the way, I personally cannot wait to see more giants back on the big screen.