King Kong started his reign in 1933, but it didn’t last long. He was eventually overshadowed by Godzilla and a crowd of B-movie pretenders for decades, to the point where even Peter Jackson’s attempt to revive him in 2005 couldn’t help. But with Kong: Skull Island, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has created an action-packed spectacle truly worthy of its giant, majestic star.
Because Kong is absolutely the star of Skull Island. Oh, there are other characters—maybe too many—but in Kong: Skull Island they all exist in support of the lead. Think of them like an orchestra. They each have their part to play: the leader, the martyr, the muscle, the brains, the bad guy, the storyteller, etc. Individually, they aren’t particularly interesting or complex, but when put all together, they work toward the singular goal of making Kong more interesting than he’s ever been before.
From the 1933 original all the way through Peter Jackson’s 2005 film, the story of Kong has always been about his humanity, hidden somewhere inside his beast-like nature. But in Kong: Skull Island, Kong actually gets a character arc. We learn his history and his intentions. We see him grow from a terrifying adversary to a heroic protector. Even his body language changes throughout the movie; his viciousness and animality are on display when he’s introduced, but by the end of the film he actually has a badass sort of swagger. This isn’t just a Kong you can sort of sympathize with—it’s a Kong you actually root for, that you want to see more of.
This is a good thing, since you see a lot of him—and the movie’s story is kept pretty simple to accommodate all the giant monster action. Basically, John Goodman’s character has found a mysterious, uncharted island. He gets a full military escort (led by Samuel L. Jackson), an experienced tracker (Tom Hiddleston), and a photographer (Brie Larson) to go along for the ride. Once they arrive, they quickly realize they absolutely should not have come (thanks to John C. Reilly’s shipwrecked sailor, another delightfully goofy Reilly performance) and they discover the secrets of the island and Kong himself as they desperately try to escape before they’re eaten by one of the island’s many, many giant monsters.
But again, their journey is secondary to the film’s magnificent giant monster battles: Kong fights helicopters, spiders, a squid, lizards, you name it. There’s usually a beautiful, movie poster-ready shot in the middle of each of these dizzyingly exciting action scenes, but they aren’t just there to look cool (although they do look cool). Vogt-Roberts, along with cinematographer Larry Fong, use the shots to forward the story, revealing new things about the characters, monsters, island and more. Skull Island is almost needlessly beautiful, showing inspiration from Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, John Woo, Terrence Malick, Zack Snyder, and more.
Unless you have an active hatred of giant monster movies, it’s hard for me to imagine that you’d find Kong: Skull Island anything but delightful. It’s not going to make you think, it’s not going to mess with your head, it’s not going to make you consider the nature of existence, but it’s an action movie that fires on all cylinders and you’re going to love the hell out of it.
Kong is back. All hail the king.