Well, I guess it is time for the yearly take on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. This time, instead of war-torn Vietnam or sandstorm-blasted Dubai, we get an island full of giant monsters. Fair trade, if you ask me.
“Kong: Skull Island” is a reimagining/reboot of the original “King Kong,” with the 1930s traded for the closing days of the Vietnam War. It also serves as a semi-prequel to Legendary’s 2014 “Godzilla” reboot.
Starting off, it goes through the same notes as the original 1933 movie: a group of scientists and soldiers head to the uncharted Skull Island, get stranded there, and face wits with the local creatures along with the massive Kong himself. Even with the updated setting, everything feels predictable and safe. Then the real plot kicks in, and things get very interesting very quickly.
Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Colonel Packard, becomes obsessed with slaying Kong after his men suffer initial casualties at the beast’s hands. At the same time, the other survivors make uneasy alliances with one another and a stranded WW2 veteran, played by John C. Reilly, as they try to fight their way off the island. All the while, a breed of lizard-like creatures called “skullcrawlers” surface, battling both the humans and Kong as the latter two groups are forced to cooperate to survive.
The scenery for the movie is gorgeous, no doubt helped by the crew filming in lush portions of Vietnam and Hawaii. The imagery harkens back to the hazy, sun-drenched visions of the Vietnam War produced by ‘70s Hollywood. Even the soundtrack avoids the cliché of abusing popular songs like “Fortunate Son,” instead using a fitting selection of tracks from the era.
If there’s one thing the movie does not do well, it is subtly paying homage to its reference materials. A colonel who loses his mind to violence and war, a character called Conrad, and a trek into an exotic location that reveals the depths of human depravity? That checks off the obligatory Heart of Darkness references; how about “King Kong” references? The titular ape battling against monsters like dinosaurs, an introspective encounter with the female lead, and a fight with airborne vehicles? Yes, the movie is not exactly clever when it comes to references.
There are issues with the characters, while mostly enjoyable to watch, got mixed amounts of development. The names of most for the soldiers and scientists are easily forgotten, but can remember almost every line by John C. Reilly and Jackson clearly. There were some characters, like the biologist, that went underused when they could have better immersed the audience into the island’s strange ways.
“Kong: Skull Island” is a recommend watch for monster movie fans. The audience may not have been cheering like they did in “Godzilla,” but there were plenty of vocal reactions to the film. Laughter followed most jokes without fail, while quiet anticipation built up in the audience during the tense drama scenes.
The film has a post-credits scene that is relevant to the story, so make sure to stick around till the very end. “Kong: Skull Island” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and for brief strong language. Its runtime is two hours.