Kong: Skull Island was made in the same way Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim was. As a love letter to they’re influences and bringing enthusiasm and justice to the genre that the filmmakers loved when they were children and wanted to make the best movie they could. This works because they clearly know what it is and builds itself around that and never divulges from it. It knows that it’s tongue is very firmly placed in it’s cheek.
Our opening scene is a beach in 1944 where two pilots crash land. One is an American, the other Japanese, they waist no time in trying to kill each-other. Their fight becomes a chase that ends on a cliff top where they meet a giant creature that makes them and their conflict seem so puny by comparison. Then a news montage takes us to 1973, America has lost the Vietnam war and two people are seeking funding for a expedition to Skull Island.
Usually in these movies the monsters are the stars and the thing that everyone wants to see. That’s still true here only they’ve put effort into the human characters, they have fun personalities and quips that make you like them. They’re not deep, extremely troubled and complex Shakespearean characters, far from it, but they are engaging. First up is John Goodman as Randa, the one that gets the whole operation going, Tom Hiddleston is James Conrad (a play on Joseph Conrad perhaps?) a tracker that is brought in to survive the wilderness of the island. Samuel L. Jackson is a war vet from Vietnam that is carrying a grudge that America “abandoned” the war. Brei Larson is a photojournalist who’s more than up for a dangerous, interesting trek, once again adding plenty of fun and personality to the mix. There are other soldiers and characters but to name them and describe them all would take-up too much space, but they are memorable and have fun, quippy moments.
When the characters get to Skull Island in helicopters no time is wasted in dropping bombs to get the layout of the land. This quickly gets the attention of the king, Kong. This is the Kong that fights Godzilla, not the original that was the size of a house, this one’s the size a skyscraper. He quickly makes quick work of the helicopters so now it’s a case of survival for the people to make it out of the island alive.
Of course it is not just Kong on the island. It is inhabited with very large, very dangerous creatures. I wont spoil it buy adding descriptions of any of them, but they are quite imaginative and wildly designed.
If this movie has anything to thank beyond the original King Kong movie or the Kaiju genre it is Apocalypse Now. The filmmakers clearly drew inspiration for much of the tone and imagery used in it. Being that it’s the same time-period helps, so it’s not out-of-place or influence for the sake of it.
Like Apocalypse Now this comes with a very pleasing colour pallet. Rich primary colours like reds, blues, greens and yellow’s saturate the screen with shading of true blacks that add contrast and add that threatening tone to the whole thing. Another of the similar creative choices is the use of rock music of the time. Adding a fun vibe to the movie.
Adding once again to the Apocalypse Now channeling is John C. Riley as the solider from the opening. He is like Dennis Hopper’s photographer character who has become very deranged with his time spent in the jungle among the natives. He’s spent years on the island so he knows how it works so he provides helpful information to both the characters and the audience and more than a few rather funny moments.
What makes giant monsters fighting truly engaging is conveying the scale of these massive creatures going at it. All the truly big creatures move a little slower than a human would, adding gravity to what they do, also all their actions are big actions, a punch, footstep and splash is a seismic event from our perspective. Then it all has to be conveyed in big, biblical painting-like images, which these are. This movie does it’s monsters justice.
If I would have had this movie as a kid it would have been played constantly. Seeing it as an adult, it takes me back to that state of being giddy in my chair and owe for creatures unlike any that have ever existed. This movie is not the reinvention, but the perfection of the genre.