In the timeline of the Monarch Universe known now as the Monsterverse, Kong: Skull Island takes place at the very end of the Vietnam War. The director has made a conscious and extremely effective choice to give the movie a very Apocalypse Now vibe.
This makes the first reveal of Kong all the more impactful as you are already submersed in this wartime vibe—but a human war. We know what to expect. Then Kong stands up, against a red sky. It’s an iconic image: One that sticks with the viewer. There is a juxtaposition of the terrible yet familiar, with the terrible unfamiliar.
I’m going to say that so far this is the strongest script, strongest story with the strongest characters of the Monsterverse. Samuel L. Jackson’s story arc and character development is an archetype, sure, but it is a brilliant addition to this story. John Goodman is brilliant. It’s a good chance that his character was on a ship sunk by Godzilla before becoming obsessed with proving that monsters exist. There are a lot of different kinds of obsessions in this movie.
Tom Hiddleston is arguably the human star of the movie, yet…John C. Reilly’s (Corpsman Dei in Guardian’s of the Galaxy) character Hank Marlow full on steals the whole movie if you ask me. Shea Whigham plays Cole and his is another memorable performance. Cole just ain’t quite right and it’s perfect for this movie. Jason Mitchell plays Mills, a homegrown kid who is the perfect counterpart to Cole and the two characters play off one another throughout the majority of the movie to great effect. Mills, reacting as any normal young man sent to war would in such impossible circumstances and Cole reacting as someone who’s mind has skipped a little sideways to protect itself.
Honesty so many of the characters are important to the movie that I could spend 1000 words just writing about them. There is a thoughtfulness to the characters in this movie that is applied to even the smallest role. Everyone seems important.
This movie is terrible and beautiful, yet has a thread of humor running through it that keeps it from getting lost or too self-important. And there isn’t any of that corporatist, sexist BS that plagues the previous incarnations of King Kong either.
I’m going to be straight with you here, gentle reader: I’ve never been a fan of King Kong. The 2004 King Kong was too long and fell into the same victim blaming garbage that the original did. It also was very arrogant, viewing King Kong as just a prop to be used by people, to show how exploitative humans can be. Previous Kong movies portray a giant ape who forms a bond with the only human who treats him with kindness. Then when Kong rejects being ripped out of his home, chained, caged and paraded before the gawking masses; they blame the woman. Thus blaming the two innocents in the movie for the actions of rich, callous, greedy men who treat nature and other life forms, including other humans, as nothing more than their possessions to exploit as they please.
Kong: Skull Island is superior to all previous King Kong movies. I actually felt empathy for Kong in this movie. They made Kong out to be more than a helpless, somewhat passive victim. He has a story arc and character development of his own in this movie. He has a will of his own that is actively explored. Kong has a purpose of his own that is more than just inhabiting an unexplored island and waiting for some a-hole to find him and take him back to civilization to be the main attraction.
The War Era feel of this movie carries all the way through and is brilliant. It’s a giant monster movie that never forgets where it’s set. Never sacrifices continuity for cheap thrills or easy jump shots. There are scenes scattered throughout the movie that could just as easily be from a movie about the Vietnam War (sorry Police Action). It never forgets where it is.
Kong: Skull Island is an origin story. This movie tells a complete story with several other stories woven deftly into the main plot. It never feels as long as it is. It never drags. The pacing is fantastic. It is not a movie made to set up other movies, so it doesn’t have that unfinished feeling that other, lesser, movies can leave a viewer with. It doesn’t feel like it’s part of a story setting up the next one. It is complete and brilliant.
I love the character of Marlow. He really is the star of this movie.
You must believe me when I tell you that it slays me to say this but: Kong: Skull Island is a better movie than Godzilla 2014. It has a stronger story. It has a tighter plot. It has better and more diverse characters. Watch yourself when there is a white sun in a red sky on Skull Island.
Without hesitation I would recommend this movie. It is a good movie for any genre.
Yes people get eaten. Yes people get dismembered, yes monsters get blown up and other things. It’s a monster movie. It’s still an excellent movie.