Everybody wants a shared universe nowadays. Ever since Marvel showed that it was possible to unite multiple characters from different movies into a blockbuster adventure with 2012’s The Avengers, now we have the DC Extended Universe, the Universal Monsters Universe (which was supposed to start with 2014’s Dracula Untold, but will be rebooted with this year’s The Mummy), the Star Wars Universe, the Transformers Cinematic Universe, and so on and so forth.
Kong: Skull Island is the second entry in Legendary’s MonsterVerse, which started with 2014’s Godzilla directed by Gareth Edwards. This film is directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, and it stars Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman. I am not an expert on kaiju and giant monster movies, but I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed this flick for what it was aiming to be.
The story is set in 1973, right after the end of the Vietnam war. Government agent Bill Randa (John Goodman) hires James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), former SAS and skilled tracker, to guide an expedition to map out an island known as “Skull Island”. Randa also recruits the Sky Devils, a Vietnam War veteran helicopter squadron led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackon). The group is later joined by anti-war photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), who believes the expedition is a secret military operation. Once they get on the island, they are attacked by the titular giant ape and become stranded. With the help of Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), WWII soldier who has been on the island since 1944, they must find a way to survive the dangers of the island and escape from it.
The best thing the movie has going for it is its style: filmed mainly in Vietnam, the stunning cinematography and warm color palette are evocative of classic war films such as Apocalypse Now and Platoon. The same goes for the themes tackled here, for they deal with PTSD, the infinite search of the enemy, and even the USA’s non-acceptance of losing the war against the vietcongs. The character of Samuel L. Jackson embodies most of these themes: even though his helicopter unit attacked Kong and his island, he still blames the giant ape for being the killer of most of his man; he keeps saying that the US did not lose the war, but simply retreated; his sole purpose in life is to keep on fighting, even when there is no real enemy left to fight.
Sadly, most of the characters here are pretty shallow: Tom Hiddleston sleepwalks through most of the movie, Brie Larson only brings a pretty smile, the squadron is made of likeable but one-dimensional soldiers, and John C. Reilly and Samuel L. Jackson are the only ones with an “arc” through the movie. Reilly especially worked pretty well as the comic relief in the movie: while he felt out of place in the trailer, his quippy remarks and uplifting persona fit with the tone of the movie.
Unlike the overly-long and character-driven King Kong directed by Peter Jackson, this reboot is much more straightforward: Kong is shown in the first 25 minutes and he appears sporadically through the rest of the movie; the fast pacing and well-edited action scenes keep things moving, keeping you invested in every single scene.
The action itself was very fun, with a multitude of (surprisingly violent) encounters against giant spiders, tentacle monsters, flying creatures and gigantic skull crawlers. The cinematography is sharp, and there are a couple of POV shots that are reminiscent of multiple first-person shooters (the director himself is an avid gamer). There are also some graphic moments, most notably one of the soldiers getting impaled à-la Cannibal Holocaust.
The music, as you might expect, features plenty of era-friendly songs such as Bad Moon Rising and White Rabbit, but the soundtrack by Henry Jackman is very good as well, complementing and sometimes carrying some sequences of the movie.
Overall, Kong: Skull Island is a very fun and constantly entertaining action movie that blends its monster and war elements seamlessly. The story is bland, and the characters tend to be disposable, but the amount of fun that you get and the stylish execution make this one of the best blockbusters of the year.
Visual Effects: 8
Violence & Gore: 8.5
Sex & Nudity: 2
Drugs & Profanity: 6
Intensity & Horror: 6