Ever since his 1933 debut, King Kong has had a somewhat odd place in cinema. From the first sequel “Son of Kong”, to the Japanese films, King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) and 1967's King Kong Escapes (the former to this day is still the most successful Godzilla film in the series while the latter was a fun film based off the Rankin-Bass King Kong cartoon), to the remakes (and one sequel) and terrible spoof films and cartoons, King Kong was stuck in an endless cycle. He was just a one note character with a brilliant debut and it seemed like (outside of some creative fun by Toho) that he was doomed to repeat the same story of being discovered on his home island, finding a blond woman, being captured ,and then running loose and being shot until he fell off whatever building he climbed on in the final moments of the film. It seemed that the iconic character would never break the cycle.
Kong: Skull Island starts in World War II in a battle in the sky rages between two planes, one American, and one Japanese. They shoot each other’s planes down and begin their fight on the ground. Just as it looks like the fight is over for the American soldier, Kong shows up and both soldiers stare at him in awe.
Cut to 1973 where Monarch, the mysterious agency introduced in 2014’s Godzilla and the 2014 comic Godzilla: Awakening, is broke since they’ve found no evidence of monsters over the years. In a last ditch effort, Monarch agents Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) convince their superior to give permission for one last expedition. Randa convinces his superior to have Monarch piggyback onto a Land Sat expedition that is mapping an island in the South Pacific. Accompanied by the military escort requested by Randa (led by Samuel L. Jackson), a war photographer (Brie Larson) and a tracker (Tom Hiddleston), they begin dropping bombs on the island which not only draws Kong to them but also unleashes the SkullCrawlers, the main enemy monsters in the film.
Visually, the film is stunning with it’s golden sunsets and vibrant green plants. The beautiful cinematography is by master cinematographer, Larry Fong, an artist I’ve personally been a fan of for a long time. The action sequences are top notch and it seems like King Kong has finlly been “let off the leash” as it were since he’s in the benefit of ILM’s CGI mastery. He’s a wild fighter and if if this film is any indication, Godzilla is in for a hell of a battle in 2020 (once Kong grows up a couple hundred feet-the Kong shown in this film is of juvenile age) when they face off in “Godzilla vs. Kong”. The score for the film is beautiful and really brings not only the excitement to the battles but the mystery to the island. There are homages to King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) and other films that have influenced director Jordan Vogt-Roberts in the film and they’re fun to spot.
That being said, I do have small nitpicks with the film. I feel that there were too many characters the don’t feel developed enough so when they get bumped off, you don’t feel any loss of connection. There are a couple of contradictions in the story as well that effect later scenes which left me a little puzzled. Again, these are small nitpicks and really don’t mean a lot in the grand scheme of a great film.
The original 1933 film left audiences in awe and was so influential that if not for its existence, special effects pioneer Eiji Tsuburaya might never have gone into special effects, and the Godzilla and Ultraman series would have never existed.
Welcome back to the true King Kong. The world has missed you.
DO make sure you stick around for the post credits sequence! You're in for a pretty cool surprise!