2017’s Kong is a solid, lighthearted, and slightly zany take on one of Hollywood’s most iconic characters. It ditches the idea of bringing the King back to civilization and instead focuses its lens on the eponymous Skull Island and the Vietnam-era backdrop.
Kong: Skull Island is absolutely in love with its 1971 setting. The color palette is practically sepia, there are gratuitous shots of older tech like projectors, and the expected rock music of the time is pumped through the speakers as often as possible. The music and setting were a fantastic choice and contribute to the fun atmosphere.
The film feels like $190 million shlock, and I mean that as a compliment. The goofy tone is set from the opening shot as an American and Japanese plane circa-WW II crash in front of the audience (and our 3D glasses), followed by parachuting pilots that immediately resume their duel on land. It’s over the top, but let’s you know what you’re in for.
The perspective then bounces to John Goodman and Corey Hawkins’ characters attempting to secure exploration to the uncharted Skull Island. The why is not made very clear, but this exposition doesn’t last long before we’re off to meet the rest of the cast.
Tom Hiddleston plays the tough tracker for hire with a shadowy past, hanging out in a gloriously shot red-light district. Samuel Jackson is a Colonel struggling with the end of the war, grasping onto one last mission. His appearance grounded the film and finally provided some motivation to grab onto.
Brie Larson comes along as the photographer and her performance was the standout for me. When confronted with Kong, her remarkable reactions had me fully convinced there was a gigantic ape standing in front of her.
The rest of the film is the team attempting to survive an island full of monsters while interacting with the big guy. The action is plentiful and well done. There’s a nice variety of Kong vs humans, humans vs monsters, and of course Kong vs monsters. I laughed out loud several times when Kong broke out a few wrestling moves. His diving double axe-handle smash would have made Macho Man Randy Savage very proud.
A comedic character (I won’t spoil) appears in the middle and maintains the goofy tone amidst the violence. I was surprised by the type of comedy they included, but it still worked within the overall structure. This Kong wants to party.
The last half the film starts to come apart at the seams. While the set pieces are interesting, it feels like a few set-up sequences were left out. For example, after splitting from the team in the day, the next shot shows Hiddleston and Larson atop a hill at night, suddenly confronted by Kong. These moments could have been useful in helping the audience sympathize with King Furry Back, but instead came off jarring and empty.
There wasn’t as much character development for the big beast as previous films that showed him caring for his captured blondes. I think it’s best they didn’t directly ‘ape’ (ha!) this plot device, but it wasn’t replaced by much else.
The action ramps up towards the climax but often lacked explanation. It’s not necessary for a simple, fun, monster flick, but could have rounded out the experience.
If watching Kong battle it out with humans and monsters inside a Vietnam flick set to kickass rock music sounds fun, then I can fully recommend you check this out.
If you’d be annoyed by a sometimes clumsy plot, a shallower portrayal of the mighty King, and don’t care for monster wrestling, you might want to wait for streaming or skip it entirely.