(Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed in this article. The opinions I share are my own).
WARNING! SPOILERS WITHIN! WARNING!
King Kong isn’t one of those cinematic characters Hollywood tends to remake, sequelize and/or spin-off every chance they get. We’ve previously had about five American made Kong flicks—King Kong (1933), Son Of Kong (1933), King Kong (1976), King Kong Lives (1986), and King Kong (2005)—so it’s kind of a big deal when Hollywood does crank out a new Kong flick. But even after Peter Jackson’s version in 2005 I didn’t really expect Kong to get resurrected. My number one favorite is the ’76 movie, with Jackson’s coming in a close second. I used to like the ’33 version when I was a kid, but it doesn’t hold up for me nowadays. I can’t remember too much about the ’86 movie other than I thought it was stupid, though I’d love to revisit it and see how it looks to me now. The best part of any Kong movie, other than Kong himself, has always been the part of the movie on Skull Island. The worst part of any Kong movie is when we have to watch the poor ape get gunned down at the end. Kong isn’t the bad guy, which makes that finale hard to watch in any movie, but it was especially hard for me to see in Jackson’s film because in the era of computer generated imagery we can now make a pretty realistic looking giant gorilla and watching that realistic looking giant gorilla get shot to death atop the Empire State Building and sliding slowly off actually watered my eyes. Something that never happened to me in any of the other flicks, not even in the ’76 version, because, hey, in that version it was a man in a monkey suit. Albeit an excellent looking one, but it still lacked that authenticity that Jackson’s CGI counterpart just so happened to have.
I was surprised and not surprised when I heard rumors years ago that another Kong flick might be coming at us again. If it was another remake I didn’t care to see it, but as time went by and more and more details started to come out it seemed they wanted to do something that was 100% set on Skull Island! Great! Perfect! Excellent! Now that I might actually want to see, because the Skull Island is basically a full on monster movie and I’m all for full on monster movies. The eventual final product became Kong: Skull Island, but I don’t think this movie would have happened had it not been for that new Godzilla movie Hollywood made in 2014. Why do I say that? Well, Toho once made a movie called, King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962), and it seems there were heretofore unknown plans afoot to carry on the American Godzilla franchise including pitting our new G against a new Kong. I’m pretty sure that was the real impetus to make a new Kong movie. And that movie is actually happening, but not until 2020, by then we’ll have had another Godzilla movie, a direct sequel to the 2014 remake, before he takes on this new Kong of ours.
Okay, for starters, since he’s being pitted against Godzilla we already know he doesn’t die at the end, so that’s one big deviation from Kong ’33, ’76 and ’05. He’s still in the role of “misunderstood good guy,” but more so here, because on this Skull Island the natives didn’t build that huge wall to keep him out. They did it to keep out other things. There are two apex predators on this island, Kong and the “skull crawlers,” as they’re affectionately called by one of the characters. Skull crawlers are basically freakish looking lizards with no back legs. They’re responsible for making Kong the last of his species, but he can handle them when they’re small. An adult skull crawler is nearly the size of Kong, and they live in the many tunnels that honeycomb the island underneath; they come up from the vents to feed and make life hell for any “surface dweller.”
Kong and the skull crawlers aren’t the only things that populate the island, but unlike the previous movies this isn’t really a lost world, at least not in the sense that there are dinosaurs around, because there aren’t any. There are, however, gigantic spiders, octopi, ox, weird prehistoric-ish birds with funky beaks that look like the business end of a chainsaw, and giant ants, but we never see the ants. A character just mentions them as they’re in the jungle taking a momentary break and they hear bird sounds, apparently Skull island’s giant ants mimic sounds—“…there’s one. Sounds like a bird, but it’s a fucking ant.” There’s a great extra on the disc titled, Monarch Files 2.0, that’ll give you insight into what this Skull Island is really like. Evolution run amok would be the best way to describe it.
The time period has more in common with the ’76 remake for it takes place in the early 70s at the tail end of the Vietnam War. Kong: Skull Island felt like Platoon (1986), just without the backdrop of the Vietnam War. It’s like the filmmakers wanted to make a ‘Nam movie but without ‘Nam, using the million-ways-you-can-die-horribly-on-Skull-Island as their pseudo ‘Nam backdrop instead. Since a big chunk of the characters are soldiers it actually works, and they display the same kind of traumatization, maybe more so since these are “monsters” attacking them rather than other humans, they’d get if they were in the war itself.
John Goodman’s character, William Randa, is the guy who kicks this shindig off. He’s part of this organization called Monarch. They believe a very Lovecraftian theory that “monsters” used to rule the earth and some day they’re going to surface and claim it back. Randa had his own encounter at sea with something monstrous (this may have been Godzilla). He’s been searching for this mythical Skull Island ever since and now that he’s found it he wants to go there, find the monsters, kill them, and bring back proof so he can show society some bad monster mojo is on the rise. He’s going under the guise of wanting to geologically map it before the Russians discover and claim it. He also wants a military escort, because he and his geologist, Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), are the only ones who know what they’re going to find.
Enter Sam Jackson’s character, Preston Packard, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army and with the war ending he’s not looking forward to heading back home. He struck me as the kind of guy who’s more at home in war than out of it, and he actually thanks the guy who calls him with this escort mission. His men, however, are not thrilled.
Randa and Brooks recruit one more person, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), ex-British Special Air Service Captain turned hunter tracker. Brie Larson is anti-war photographer, Mason Weaver, who got a lead on this expedition and got herself on board because it sounded fishy.
Kong himself is different than Jackson’s 2005 version. He doesn’t move about on all fours like a normal ape. He stands and moves upright like a modern day human. Shrink him down and he’d probably be considered more Neanderthal than anything else. And even though we have the presence of a hot chick in the cast there’s no beauty and beast theme where Kong snatches her and the rest of the movie is about everyone trying to get her back. However, she has four, short but key moments in the movie with Kong, just to show you he’s really not the bad guy. And one of those moments involves keeping her safe from a skull crawler that wants to eat her.
There’s one final, intrinsic character in the movie. Hank Marlow played by John C. Reilly. In a 1944 flashback, during World War II, he and a Japanese pilot are shot down over the island and plan to kill each other when Kong appears. Both of them stay marooned on this island till 1973. His Japanese friend was eaten by a skull crawler, but he managed to survive with the natives. No offense to everyone else in the movie, but Reilly steals the show!
Kong is not kept off screen much at all. This is a full on monster show from start to end. He makes a cameo in the ’44 flashback, then shows up permanently in the movie at the 29-minute mark. Troubles for everyone begins when Packard and his men bring everyone to the island in their choppers. They don’t even get a chance to land when Kong attacks and either scatters the survivors miles apart or kills them outright. A couple get stepped on, and I swear he ate one dude! After snatching a copter out of the sky we see everything from inside with the men, and as he holds the copter over his head, growling and raging, this poor soldier hanging on for dear life slips and the movie cuts before we see Kong actually eat him. Yikes! That helicopter attack was payback, I’m sure, for all those other movies where Kong gets gunned down.
Our actual bad guy ends up being Packard. After most of his men are killed in that copter attack he vows revenge at the expense of reaching the extraction point and living to see another day. His remaining men (four, I think) are with him until the final act when Packard manages to devise a plan that gets Kong set ablaze and incapacitated long enough for him to prepare explosives that will kill him. That’s when Conrad, Marlow and Weaver set off to save the ape and get his men to understand blowing it would be morally wrong. Spoiler — Sam Jackson buys the farm in that scene when Kong wakes up and swashes him like a bug a nanosecond before he detonates the explosives. Also John Goodman ends up getting eaten by a skull crawler.
The giant spider encounter albeit brief was my favorite. It’s a massive beast with daddy long legs legs that are almost tipped like spears. You wouldn’t know this thing was lumbering around until one of them legs impales you and one of them legs does impale a soldier in the worst way. From afar it may look like a spider, but up close its freakier looking. I get the impression it hunts by detecting prey down near the ground and then shoots out these tendrils with suckers on them to hoist the prey up to it’s mouth. Despite that one casualty they take the spider down by chopping at its legs. Once the body is on the ground Sam “I’ve had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane” Jackson puts a healthy amount of lead into its face.
The CGI was excellent, and the plot moves along at a good clip; the gore was minimal though. As it probably should be for a Kong flick. Other than that impalement the only other “gore moment” is when a scientist is snatched off this boat by these flock of freakish birds and taken off into the sunset, but taken apart in mid-flight. We only see his arm severed against the sunset.
There’s a more-than-welcome homage to a scene in King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962) where Kong battles a giant octopus. Kong battles one too while he’s cleaning a wound and ends up using it for food. I haven’t listened to the commentary yet so can only speculate about the homage.
Stay for the after credits scene where Brooks and surviving biologist, San Lin (Jing Tian), brief Mason and James about the other monsters they suspect are going to make themselves known, and we get teases of Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah in the form of cave paintings in a slide show, then a fade to black where Godzilla’s roar ends the movie.
I loved this film and if you’re a monster movie and/or Kong lover you will too!
Own ‘Kong: Skull Island’ on Ultra HD Blu-ray™, Blu-ray 3D Combo Pack, Blu-ray™ Combo pack, DVD And Digital On July 18th From Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 2.40:1 high definition widescreen—English Dolby Atmos, 7.1 English Dolby TrueHD, 5.1 French (Canada) Dolby Digital, 5.1 Spanish Dolby Digital, 5.1 Portuguese Dolby Digital, 5.1 English Dolby Digital 5.1—English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish subs
Extras included . . .
- Director’s Commentary
- Creating a King: Realizing an Icon (11:38)
- Creating a King: Summoning a God (12:47)
- Monarch Files 2.0 (7:57)
- Tom Hiddleston: The Intrepid Traveler (6:53)
- Through the Lens: Brie Larson’s Photography (2:18)
- On Location: Vietnam (5:37)
- Deleted Scenes (3:45)
Don’t know how extensive Warner Brother’s ‘MonsterVerse‘ is going to be, but this Skull Island certainly feels like it could end up being the American version of Toho’s Monster Island, if this franchise decides to follow suit and set up an isolated locale where all the world’s monsters can be quarantined.
Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, the official title for Godzilla 2, hits theaters in 2019, and Godzilla Vs. Kong will assault theaters in 2020!