Despite being one of the most recognizable characters in the history of cinema, King Kong sure doesn’t get that much screen time, though that’s hardly original for a movie monster—but even then Kong has still been in more bad movies than good.
So when it was announced that they would be doing a prequel/reboot for the big monkey, I couldn’t help but be confused. A decade ago, Peter Jackson—in his much polarizing update—brought the ape his proper glory. He raised the bar in terms of giant monster movies and gave us some of the most exhilarating adventure sequences of the whole millennium. But here we are, and Kong: Skull Island takes much of what Jackson introduced and gives its characters more depth, a faster pace, and a whole lot of gratuitous slo-mo.
While the tale of Kong is known for taking place in the Great Depression, Skull Island turns the clock forward a couple decades to the final days of the Vietnam War. It’s a time of killer music and psychologically damaged soldiers, and there is yet another “delusional” dreamer who has dreams of finding the mythical island that supposedly houses some of the most dangerous and other-worldly monsters.
John Goodman is said man, and he’s as close to Carl Denham as can be. He amasses a rag tag group of former soldiers–antsy for more action after “abandoning” the war–including Samuel L. Jackson, Thomas Mann, and Jason Mitchell. Also enlisted are the mysterious tracker, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and war-photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).
The entire cast works well together and despite the aftertaste of a summer blockbuster it still feels like a sufficiently crafted film that creates and expands upon its own lore in a delightfully fascinating way. With nods to the Godzilla film from 2014, it’s looking like the new “Monsterverse” is well underway.
Unlike Jackson’s King Kong, Jordan Vogt Robert’s doesn’t care about keeping the ape under wraps—he introduces us to him right away and then we only see him for snippets at a time proving less is often better than more. With some pretty stunning cinematography, the film is absolutely gorgeous and a step above most other blockbusters. There’s care taken into each shot, but the slow-motion and attempts to be “badass” often kill the mood and ultimately makes it feel more campy than adventurous.
Though there are some missteps here and there, Robert’s has given us a new King while also shaking up the nearly-century old tale. Even though it feels like a summer blockbuster with a winter coat on, enough attention to the right things—like characters, cinematography and world building—help elevate it above the rest. I wouldn’t predict that we’re in for a long and prosperous reign, but if this means we might get some lizard on monkey action; God Save the King.