Kong: Skull Island is a fun, action packed movie that moves along at a steady pace and does a good job of being a stand-alone movie while also advancing the shared kaiju-verse that is being created by Legendary.
The movie takes place in 1973 as the Vietnam war is winding down. Bill Randa, a Monarch bigwig, sees this as his last chance to prove that Monarch isn't just a joke of a government agency and that monsters do exist. He has found Skull Island using satellites and wants to explore it. He is granted an expedition made up of soldiers, scientists, a hired tracker, and a war photographer. They reach the island, which is surrounded by near impenetrable storms and fly in on helicopters. They start dropping depth charges which angers a certain giant gorilla who proceeds to lay the smack down on them. The expedition is scattered and has to try and reach the designated pick-up site in three days while also surviving all the dangers lurking on Skull Island.
I love King Kong in all his various forms and I was stoked for this movie. I even watched Peter Jackson's King Kong (the extended edition) yesterday. In many ways, Kong: Skull Island is the anti-Peter Jackson King Kong. K:SI is a little under two hours. It wastes no time in getting the characters on the island and also wastes no time in showing Kong in all his glory. It's not really a remake or loving tribute to the original. It's an entity unto itself. The main female character, Brie Larsen's Mason Weaver, has little interaction with Kong and there is no "romance" between the two. It's more a respect thing than anything else. There is also no New York sequence. All the action takes place on Skull Island.
Something that surprised me was just how much of an ensemble this film was. There are some major stars here yet they all share the screen time more or less equally. Hiddleston's tracker character Conrad is certainly a hero in the film and has a cool scene where he is using a samurai sword to slice carnivorous birds to pieces while rescuing one of the soldiers but he can't really be called the main star of the movie. Larsen's Weaver has plenty of screen time and does have a small connection with Kong but she doesn't get any more attention than any of the other main characters. What I did love is that she's never the damsel in distress. She's certainly in major peril at times but that's the same for all the characters. She gets her own badass, heroic moments. For a movie with only two female characters (the other one might as well not even be here given how little she does and says) it's nice that she defies the tropes and is her own unique character. Samuel L. Jackson plays Colonel Packard, a man who thinks everything he has accomplished in Vietnam is being flushed down the toilet by the withdrawal. He sees Kong as his personal enemy after Kong kills a lot of his men and starts to go a little unhinged and decides that this is one war he won't withdrawal from. John Goodman's Randa is a man desperately trying to prove that monsters do exist and makes some questionable choices to get that proof. Thomas Mann plays a young soldier who gets some funny lines and works well opposite John C. Reilly's Hank Marlow.
Honestly, Reilly steals the movie as Marlow. He has been stranded on the island since 1943 and has gone a little crazy. He left behind a pregnant wife and wants to get home to her and his son, but has resigned himself to never leaving the island until the expedition shows up. He gets the funniest lines and makes a lot of the scenes pop. He also has the biggest emotional arc as well, and gets a few tear inducing scenes.
Most of the rest of the characters are more or less cannon fodder and they do die in droves. Some attempts are made to flesh these characters out so audiences will hopefully feel something when they die.
Kong himself is huge. This is probably the biggest Kong has been. The movie doesn't shy away from showing him in all his glory either. He makes a spectacular entrance about 20 minutes in and continues to pop up throughout the movie and fights several other creatures. He's definitely a good guy (even though he does kill a lot of U.S. soldiers to start with but in his defense they were bombing his home and stirring up the true villains of the movie, the skull crawlers). He's the last of his kind, his family having been killed in the last battle between the Kongs and the skull crawlers.
The action here is good and varied. The best set pieces are probably the Kong vs. army helicopters scene and the final fight between Kong and the skull crawler apex predator. Both are worth the price of admission, IMO. The rest are good as well and keep things interesting.
There's some good suspense in the movie as well, thanks to the humans getting stalked by various creatures on the island. Jump scares are utilized quite well and there were a couple that caught me totally by surprise.
The movie has good pacing. It knows when to speed things up and insert some action and also when to slow things down and explain things or flesh out the characters. I do wish we had gotten to know the characters a little bit better before they arrived on the island, though.
While this movie is setting up a larger universe, that goal never overwhelms the narrative. Monarch is obviously a big presence here as it was in Legendary's Godzilla movie and there are explanations and mentions of other giant monsters but for the most part all of that is downplayed until the end credits scenes. That's right, Virginia, there is a scene at the end of the credits. I don't want to spoil it but it warmed this Godzilla fan's heart.
Skull Island is populated with a plethora of creatures but none of them are dinosaurs. The main threat comes from the skull crawlers which have been shown in the trailers. They're pretty creepy monsters and just one of them wreaked havoc on the humans. I won't spoil the other creatures that pop up but most are pretty cool. In fact, I was left wanting to see more of the creatures that populate this Skull Island.
The movie looks gorgeous and there are some great visuals, like Kong slowly emerging from a heavy fog to face two of the main characters.
Kong: Skull Island wastes little time in getting to the action and never slows down from there. It's a solid entry into the kaiju-verse and left me wanting to see it again and has me excited for the upcoming Godzilla Vs. King Kong movie.