So once again we have survived.

Kong: Skull Island

KONG presents SKULL ISLAND is a goofy, pulpy monster movie that doesn’t live up to the hallowed cinematic legacy of KING KONG, but hey, it works as a more exploitative sequel. I think my expectations for this were more inflated than most because of how much I dug director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ first movie, THE KINGS OF SUMMER. That was an original comedy with wise, relatable insights into humanity, masculinity and growing up. I don’t think there’s any reason why a punching gorilla monster movie can’t have that kind of substance behind it too, but to me this feels less human and more like the work of one of these distanced, pop culture loving whippersnappers.

In an unusual but arguably tasteless move, Vogt-Roberts set the movie at the end of the Vietnam War, an international disaster that he treats like a cool movie reference. The talk about senseless loss of human lives feels less impassioned and emphasized than the orange APOCALYPSE NOW sunsets and helicopters and the soundtrack that largely comes straight off of the Songs That Movies Use As Shorthand For the Vietnam Era, Volume I 2-CD set.

But to be fair, “Down On the Street” by the Stooges and “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath are two heavily-featured songs that wouldn’t be on the Robert Zemeckis version of this. And believe it or not alot of it was filmed on location in the actual country of Vietnam, unlike any Vietnam War movie I know of. Vogt-Roberts and cinematographer Larry Fong (3oo, SUPER 8)’s bright orange, yellow and red skies make it stand out visually from any other giant monster movie.

Monster-believer John Goodman (C.H.U.D.) and young scientist Corey Hawkins (Dr. Dre from STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON) rush to put together a mission to explore the uncharted South Pacific island of Skull before the military pullout. Their squad balloons into an impressive ensemble of mostly one-dimensional characters including tracker-for-hire Tom Hiddleston (WAR HORSE), “anti-war photographer” Brie Larson (GREENBERG), happy-to-have-more-war-to-fight leader of the military escorts Samuel L. Jackson (THE SPIRIT) and a whole bunch of soldiers such as Jason Mitchell (Eazy E from STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON), Shea Whigham (BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS) and Toby Kebbell (FANTASTIC FOUR), who also provided some of the mo-cap for Kong’s face (having already played Koba in DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES).

Before long their helicopters are swatted out of the sky by Kong. There are so damn many characters and it’s kind of unclear which copters get totally destroyed, so I couldn’t keep track of who died. All I know is I didn’t notice any famous people missing.

The separated survivors make plans to escape while encountering other creatures on the island safari style. Some are vicious and some are just beautiful, like the huge water buffalo that looks like an anime forest god. Others I guess are in between, like the giant spider that CANNIBAL HOLOCAUSTs a guy by stepping right into his mouth. Kinda cool that a bug can just splatter a guy by accident like that. The tables have turned.

An odd touch: other than Mitchell, who keeps calling Kong a monkey, nobody seems to know how to describe Kong, and they repeatedly ask what he is. I guess this is an acknowledgment that they based Kong’s body and movements more on the original stop motion puppet than on real animals. But I wondered if this was like how most zombie movies or TV shows never use the word zombie. Does this take place in a world where no one has seen gorillas before? I kept wanting to tell them guys, what it is is a giant gorilla. That is one thing I could’ve contributed to this mission.

The best character by far is John C. Reilly (WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN) as a weirdo who has lived among the Natives (Skullese?) since crashing here during World War II – a dual reference to HELL IN THE PACIFIC and APOCALYPSE NOW. Reilly brings his trademark lovable knuckleheadedness to the proceedings and also carries a sword. He has a whole bunch of possibly improvised funny lines but is also the one character who successfully pulls off some heartstring-pulling business.

Well, maybe Whigham too. He’s an actor I always like and he gets a more substantial part than I expected, especially for a movie where even the stars feel like they didn’t have enough screen time to get very far. Jackson’s character is not as nuanced, but he’s fun to watch, chewing up the palm trees more than usual, and they let him repeat his most memorable line from JURASSIC PARK. That made me wonder if they ever considered trying to get Denzel to take the part so he’d be standing face to face with the title character and suddenly it would occur to everyone in the audience at the same time to yell “King Kong ain’t got shit on me!”

In my opinion this King Kong ain’t got shit on original King Kong or Peter Jackson King Kong in the soul or personality departments. It’s kind of a shock when the movie remembers he should carry a lady around – I guess that’s why they had to have an Academy Award winner on hand. I think Kong and Brie are just friends after she touches his nose, otherwise he would object, as I did, to Hiddleston’s character Conrad (OH MY GOD IS IT A REFERENCE TO JOSEPH CONRAD THE AUTHOR OF HEART OF DARKNESS WHICH WAS THE BASIS OF APOCALYPSE NOW HOLY SHIT I JUST GOT THAT THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING I THINK IT IS A REFERENCE TO THE MOVIE APOCALYPSE NOW YOU GUYS) suddenly embracing her in manly guardianship when they haven’t previously established that sort of relationship. Anyway, Kong fights a monster with her balled up in his hand, so the big suspense at the climax is about potential accidental squooshing.

I had fun with this movie and mostly because it delivers on the monstery shit. I think my favorite part is when Kong is chillin and kickin it VIP style in the water and is suddenly attacked by a giant squid that we had previously been aware of but forgotten about. There is some grappling and what not but soon Kong has torn off a tentacle and it’s still alive wiggling around as he slurps it up like a noodle. Like a giant OLDBOY. That was awesome. Your move, Godzilla.

The script is credited to Dan Gilroy (NIGHTCRAWLER), Max Borenstein (GODZILLA) and Derek Connolly (MONSTER TRUCKS, fucking STAR WARS EPISODE IX!?), story by John Gatins (NEED FOR SPEED)… it takes a village, you know? But I like the monster mythology this word army came up with. Kong is literally the king of the island because he protects it from attackers. Okay, maybe he’s the secretary of defense, I don’t know, but he takes his responsibilities very seriously. The other monsters as well as the humans respect him because he keeps the trains running on time, which on this island means he kills the skeletal lizard monsters that crawl out of the hollow earth. His policy disagreement with the foreign visitors is their unlicensed use of seismic bombs which will have the environmental consequences of waking a dangerous monster known as “the big one.” Basically it just creates an unnecessary pain in the ass for His Highness, and plus it’s personal to him because years ago the big one murdered his parents. In that sense he’s like Batman.

Everybody knows there’s an after credits scene that teases GODZILLA VS. KONG, coming in 2020. A couple weird things about that:

1. A copyright on the credits themselves gives away a list of trademarked monsters that will be referenced in the tag. Nobody thought of putting that after?

2. The scene creates expectations for these characters to return to fight Godzilla, but if it takes place on the timeline of the 2014 GODZILLA wouldn’t they all be 70+ years old? I hope so. It’s gonna be GRUMPY OLD MEN with giant monsters.

GODZILLA was definitely channeling Spielberg and this one Coppola. I got a hunch for the next one they will capture Kong and haul him to New York City again but instead of climbing up the Empire State Building it will be a gritty cop procedural in the style of THE FRENCH CONNECTION. But I sure hope not because really they need to do the Kong for the ’80s, the one that rips off the look and soundtrack of SCARFACE, with Skull Island standing in for Cuba and Kong comes here and builds an empire and can you imagine the pile of cocaine he would have?

Or if not that then MOTHRA as a DePalma style psychosexual thriller. Could be pretty good.

I’m not sure this monsterverse will get too much further if they don’t come up with a flat out great one soon, but so far I’m enjoying them. I look forward to Kong banging Godzilla’s head through the side of a skyscraper like Gino Felino throwing a pimp through a windshield.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Monday, March 27th, 2017 at 11:58 am and is filed under Monster, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

30 Responses to “Kong: Skull Island”

  1. These past two months have been chock full of good movies, and this was the least of them for me, but I agree, still a fun time that delivered on the monsters. I also thought it was stupid that they tell you every monster you’re about to see referenced in the stinger. Did they not see the credits of Guardians Of The Galaxy?

  2. I didn’t stick around through the credits; what happened in the post-credits scene?

    John C. Reilly was the highlight in this movie, I’m glad they let him be as funny as he wanted. Pretty solid monster mayhem, although not on the level of P. Jackson’s version.

  3. I enjoyed GODZILLA (2014) way more than I expected, so I am curious to check one out. Looks like ridiculous fun.

    If GODZILLA and KONG did fight in NYC Gino would broker a temporary truce between the mob and the police to join forces and help evacuate the city and combat the gigantic beasts.

  4. Gotta say, I really dug this one. I knew what I was in for so I did smoke a decent sized joint in the carpark beforehand. This may have increased the enjoyment levels, just putting it out there. But as I said to my mate while finding our seats, “….as long as Kong shouts heaps, pounds his chest, flexes and punches on with other big monster cunts, ill be happy”. Kong then proceeded to deliver on every one of those desires. Plus, Sam Jackson chewing scenery, multiple scene transitions using fire, and framing Kong like the God he is were all massive pluses.

  5. I had a great time with this one in the moment but figured it wouldn’t stick with me for too long, but then the next day I realized I liked it more than I thought I did. True, there’s nothing great in it, but there’s also nothing I hate about it, and that’s kind of magical for a groupthink franchise fuckaroo like this. I can see this being a DEEP BLUE SEA caliber rainy Sunday perpwtual rewatch. It’s got just the right quality and quantity of dumb.

    Also, kudos to the music coordinator for not putting “Fortunate Son” on the soundtrack, though at this point I’m gonna have to call a moratorium on all Creedence in any Vietnam-adjacent entertainment. Other than that good job fellas.

  6. This film was a very attractive piece of empty shit.

    Without Reilly it truly would’ve been worthless. Shame they didn’t let him cut loose more. Could’ve done with more Brule.

  7. HAAAAAAAAANS: (SPOILERS SORT OF BUT NOT REALLY)

    Nothing really happened, per se. Our two attractive leads were merely filled in via slideshow on what we Internet-savvy members of the audience already knew: that there is an extended universe of other trademarked monsters coming soon.

  8. Enjoyed this a lot. My first experience of Brie Larson as well.

  9. I am glad to hear that “Fortunate Son” is not in this particlular recreation of Vietnam War Or Whatever (TM). I remember playing BATTLEFIELD VIETNAM and at the menu that shit would just not stop playing. Also , in CALL OF DUTY. I mean, it is an overused song. And it is so sad, because it is a really great song, but the message of the song is kind of counter intuitive to the massmurder first person shooters it accompanies.

  10. Yeah, they went with “Run Through the Jungle” instead. Still pretty goddamn on the nose but not as played out.

    I was curious as to how that one guy managed to save his David Bowie record from the helicopter crash and then carry it through the monster-infested jungle without it getting broken. That’s some commitment right there.

  11. I enjoyed this for what it was – monsters fucking with each other and swatting humans like bugs. I liked how they went straight in for the Kong action-reveal when they flew into the island, no fucking around there, no build up, thank god no love story between Tom Fiddlesticks man-of-the-moment and damsel-accessory.

    A large part of why I enjoyed it was because I took my lady friend to a gold class screening Saturday afternoon, she had a glass of champagne then passed out due to the anti-psychotic drugs she’s on, slept through the entire thing, and I didn’t have to listen to her complain how stupid it was. Which I knew, but appreciated the hell out of in the midst of difficult circumstances.

    So thank you Kong.

    On the flipside, this Kong ain’t got shit on GODZILLA 2014. Gareth Edwards was striving for excellence there, and that movie has some beautiful set-pieces and feels epic. I doubt the 2020 smackdown will be anything like it, if they go the way of this one.

  12. Back in college, I wrote a sketch for our comedy show that was basically like a K-TEL commercial for a set of records called ‘Nam Rock. The joke was that it was mostly CCR, but it definitely was exactly ” Songs That Movies Use As Shorthand For the Vietnam Era, Volume I 2-CD set.”

    And I was amazed that the joke was basically setting up the tone of this film for like 20 minutes. I couldn’t believe it.

    That being said, I really dug this flick.

    “They sound like birds… but it’s a fucking ant!”

  13. I also really liked this, agree with the tenor of all the previous comments.

    One big thing for me was that the giant monster fights were actually pretty good. Unlike the most recent Godzilla movie — which would show us Godzilla throwing a punch through a smudged office window and then cut away to the human characters, and then would cut back and show the monster hitting back from underwater, and then immediately cut away again before we could see Godzilla retaliate — the Kong fights here were good and lengthy, we saw the hits land, we actually saw the fight for more than 1.5 seconds at a time. Just good, solid stuff.

  14. Personally I absolutely loved this movie, one my favorite movies I’ve seen in theaters over the last several years in fact.

    I think it worked so well for me because it’s strangely like it was made with me specifically in mind, I love Vietnam movies, FULL METAL JACKET, PLATOON, APOCALYPSE NOW etc, I love jungle adventure movies like JURASSIC PARK and of course KING KONG, so to combine the two, is maybe a little tasteless, but also an extremely fucking cool idea, I even have an odd fetish for shipwrecks and *SPOILER* where does the finale of the movie take place? Kong battling a monster among a bunch of shipwrecks, I love it.

    And even beyond the Vietnam stuff the 70s setting is very clever in general because people had a fascination with the unknown in the 70s, whether it was Bigfoot, the Bermuda triangle, what have you, so the idea of “what if they really did find some crazy shit in the 70s?” is also an extremely cool idea, it even makes logical sense because the 70s is as recent an island the size of Skull could conceivably remain totally undiscovered, as the movie explains that’s when satellite imaging first became a thing and there’s no way an island that size would only just now be discovered in the present day.

    So it’s just a particularly well thought out, more clever movie than what you usually get these days, compare it to the ROBOCOP reboot which was just tired, there’s nothing you could add to the original ROBOCOP, but here’s a franchise rebooter that actually manages to come up with a new spin on it that makes it feel worthy.

    I actually prefer it to the Peter Jackson KONG because it’s not as drawn out and it’s version of Kong looks cooler, I love the idea of Kong being more his own unique species than what he was in the Jackson movie, which was literally just a giant gorilla and as much as I also liked the 2014 GODZILLA this one’s better in my opinion because it’s not as teasing with the giant monster stuff and features much better characters, even if you think they’re a little one dimensional they’re still better than bland Aaron Taylor Johnson in GODZILLA, right?

    And finally, the cherry on top is John C. Reilly, I love him so much and he absolutely kills it in this movie, he manages to be funny, cool and even *SPOILER* caused me to tear up a bit at the end.

    Plus the back of his jacket doubles as both a Steve Brule reference and an AKIRA reference, how can you not love this movie?

  15. Oh and more thing, here’s a fun little nerdy theory for you, does anyone else think the shipwreck that served as the “temple of Kong” and John C. Reilly’s home was the boat that transported the original characters, ya know Carl Denham, Ann Darrow etc, to the island? And who in this universe more than likely just got killed? (they certainly didn’t bring Kong back to New York)

    John C. Reilly’s character even theorizes that it washed up “about ten years prior” to when he arrived, which would place it around the time of when the original movie and Jackson’s KONG were set.

    If so that was a neat little shout out.

  16. Ha, I missed the Steve Brule reference.

    I loved Reilly’s character, but I also feel there was a missed opportunity in not keeping his Japanese buddy alive. The bond that formed between the two on the island is a great piece of backstory for his character.

    I really enjoyed Kong and appreciated what 2014 Godzilla was going for even though it didn’t quite come together, but I’d say Shin Godzilla is rhe best recent monster movie. The emphasis placed on its satirical depiction of political bureaucracy may not work for some, but I thought it was great and the new version of Godzilla is an awesome creation. There’s one part that has to rank among the best monster destruction sequences out there.

  17. I was completely bored By this CGI shit show. The biggest problem I had with it, though, was the creature design. Other than Kong, I thought the creatures were pretty boring to look at. Especially the bone skull, underground thingamajigs. Had the design of those things been a little better, I might have enjoyed the last Act of the movie. But I just found them really lame. They kind of looked like the Spy v. Spy guys without their hats.

  18. instead of climbing up the Empire State Building it will be a gritty cop procedural in the style of THE FRENCH CONNECTION. But I sure hope not because really they need to do the Kong for the ’80s, the one that rips off the look and soundtrack of SCARFACE, with Skull Island standing in for Cuba and Kong comes here and builds an empire and can you imagine the pile of cocaine he would have?

    Or of not that then MOTHRA as a DePalma style psychosexual thriller. Could be pretty good.

    I’m not sure this monsterverse will get too much further if they don’t come up with a flat out great one soon, but so far I’m enjoying them. I look forward to Kong banging Godzilla’s head through the side of a skyscraper like Gino Felino throwing a pimp through a windshield.

    oh dear lord, my sides

    Vern, you complete me

    in a completely platonic, cinephile sense, ehem

  19. “Anybody seen Godzilla? Anybody know why Godzilla did King Ghidorah? I’m gonna keep comin’ back until someone REMEMBERS seein’ Godzilla.”

  20. People seem to think the Vietnam allegory is odd, but it’s really no different than Godzilla being a metaphor for the destruction of Japan in WWII. Sure, Skull Island is a little too on-the-nose with some of it, but that’s better than just rehashing the material like the past two remakes did.

  21. Charles –

    A monster movie about warring mob factions who call a truce to evacuate the city sounds legitimately amazing. Seriously. I’m nominally friends with one of the credited writers on this film and might pitch that idea to him.

  22. Count me as a fan of this one. It’s obviously a movie that understands that there’s no real artistic reason for it to exist, and consequently puts all its efforts into just ensuring that anything that happens should be fun and cool to look at. And at that, it’s pretty wildly successful. It is, at least, surely the prettiest Kaiju film ever made. Even little things, like the obligatory exposition about the “skullcrawlers,” is handled at least in a visually nifty manner. it’s a movie which is utterly bereft of creative purpose, but absolutely sodden with creative flourishes. And frankly, that’s about the best anyone could have possibly hoped for with this. If the other movies in this proposed series are the same level of quality that GODZILLA and SKULL ISLAND managed to be, this will actually be one of the most consistently excellent corporate franchises anywhere around.

  23. How about a monster movie where Kong comes to America and forms a criminal gang made up of Godzilla, Mothra and all those other cats?

    Then they go to war with the human gangs.

    They could call it KONG: KING OF NEW YORK.

  24. Thanks Tawdry.

    I have always been a fan of uneasy alliances, and enjoy it when enemies or rivals have to put aside their differences and/or issues in the interest of a common cause wether that is doing the right thing or trying to survive.

  25. Tawdry – Tell this writer friend that I really loved the movie.

  26. In fact, my only problem is not with the movie itself but with the way this whole “MonsterVerse” is set up.

    I think it was a mistake for the 2014 GODZILLA to work with the idea that the general public have never heard of these giant monsters until the present day, I’d love to see a direct sequel to KONG: SKULL ISLAND with this version of Kong stomping his way around 70s era New York with Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston returning or something like that, it’s just that period settings seem to fit these giant monsters for whatever reason (that was one thing I really liked about the Peter Jackson KING KONG was keeping the 1930s setting)

    Maybe the public wasn’t quite aware of the existence of Godzilla or this “Monarch” organization but they could have thrown in a line about some “past problems with stuff like this” or something.

    Maybe they could do “GODZILLA: MONSTER ISLAND” as a 60s period piece where a group of groovy guys and gals find themselves trapped on Monster Island?

  27. I saw this and plowed through Night Manager all in the same week. I am officially OK with Tom Hiddleston as James Bond if he wants to do it.

  28. KING KONG (1933) may be my all time favorite movie but I don’t think the story is so precious it can never be touched again. As a monster movie fan, this one pleased me greatly. Flawed but WAY more consistent than GODZILLA (2014) which is a movie I enjoy and have gone to bat for many of times, but it also my gold standard with the modern Hollywood way of the movie clearly being multiple different scripts. KONG SKULL ISLAND was more consistent but it still had that multiple script feeling except this time it felt only like two script crammed together instead of GODZILLA’s nine.

    If it wasn’t for John C. Riley, just about everything with Tom Hiddleson and Brie Larson would have been terrible. Hiddleson in no way convinces me he’s this guy who has seen shit that would turn you white and Larson has what I call Kim Bassinger in BATMAN syndrome. We are told she is a tough-as-nail photographer and we’ll just have to take the movie’s word for it because we are never given evidence of this in the movie. I really loved everything with Sam Jackson and his crew. I wish the whole this was about them as a really in-your-face Vietnam parallel. Unfortunately the movie kept cutting to Hiddleson and Larson (who is another one of those the Internet loves her but I have no clue who she is and I’ve barely heard of her) and when it does that and Riley’s not on screen, the movie screeches to a halt.
    -For all the brave progressives who stood up to THE GREAT WALL for being racist, where were they when this movie totally wastes Tian Jing as nothing but eye-candy?

    Like GODZILLA (2014) it delivered in monster action department. That said I don’t think this movie does a single thing that Jackson’s KONG didn’t do better. The monster stuff here is cool but Jackson did most of it already better. Not a complaint per se, just seeing a whole lot of ‘Peter Jackson’s KING KONG was shit because it was long and totally delivered in everything it needed to deliver on.’ I mean I’ve been reading my fellow monster nerds bitch about his Spider Pit sequence, I mean how can you be a monster movie fan and bitch about that?

    The post-credit sequence was not worth waiting for.

    Joe: metaphorical high-five for fellow SHIN GODZILLA love. Love that movie the more I think about it and I loved it leaving it. Like Mr. M I find myself learning I liked this one more and more the more I think of it.

    Overal, I approve of this Monster-verse. Keep up the good work guys.

  29. I saw this last night, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the damn thing. It felt like what would have happened if Marvel Comics had created a King Kong series in the 1970s. I was actually pretty impressed by how brutal the film is. (The movie owes a debt to Peter Jackson’s version of Skull Island). I’m glad the director decided against making the film a tense, cinema verite experience, and decided on a pulpier approach. And while the two leads weren’t all that interesting, they were at least surrounded by great characters who were clearly and quickly drawn. I actually felt bad when these people ate it.

  30. Just came back från VIET-KONG:SUPER SOUNDS OF THE SEVENTIES and was surprised of how much I enjoyed it. Sure, it is a big dumb ape-movie, but made by smart people.

    I agree with RBatty. I myself was surprised at the gory moments this film had.

    The monster design was fun and neat. The dinosaurs having a hellish look and I liked the bamboo spider and the laidback water buffalo/bear/dog looking creature.

    I think I have heard some criticismm of Reillys character, but I cannot fathom what that was. I expected a Laurence Fisjhburne in PREDATORS kind of performance, but he ended up being that one character that was interesting and had some heart to him. Usually in these b-monster movies, especially the GODZILLAS, you have to put upp with human acting between the monster fights but it was handled very well in this one.

    And it looked great as well. NOt any drabnes but with bright warm colours and a sense of exotic adventure time I have been missing for awhile.

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