The Horror Honeys: 'Kong: Skull Island' is a Great Place to Visit!

'Kong: Skull Island' is a Great Place to Visit!

A New Release Review with Monster Honey Sarah

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

King Kong is a figure that has been a part of cinema for about as long as modern cinema has existed. The 1933 film was the special effects blockbuster of its day, more exploration and adventure than any kind of horror. Since then, Kong fought Godzilla in 1962, climbed the World Trade Center in 1976, and became a three-hour-long epic under Peter Jackson in 2005. Now, in the present day, we have a brand new blockbuster spectacular in Kong: Skull Island, and it is a movie that more than lives up to the legacy.

In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, a group of soldiers and scientists travel to the mysterious Skull Island, ostensibly for a surveying expedition. However, in reality, they are looking for something big, something ancient, and something which isn’t too happy about people invading his home.

One of Kong's lesser-known talents: finger-panting.
It’s hard to talk about Kong: Skull Island without at least mentioning Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla. Like that movie, Kong: Skull Island is helmed by an indie director, this time Jordan Vogt-Roberts, stepping up to the big budget plate. The films are also directly connected, both featuring the monster hunting Monarch operation and building to one of those shared universes the movies studios are so fond of these days.

However, whilst 2014 Godzilla was very well made and had some really great moments, it also had a certain grim-faced seriousness that was low on the fun factor. Kong: Skull Island makes up for that with action-packed entertainment in spades. There is no hiding the monster in the shadows or night-time scenes until the big climax; here we see Kong in all his glory almost right from the get-go and it is magnificent. At 100 feet, and still growing, he is the biggest Kong to date, and has a unique physicality closer to the bipedal stance of the original rather than Peter Jackson’s more natural ape behavior. He is big and he is dangerous, but nonetheless there is a lot of personality and even heart to the emotion in his eyes. The other key monsters, the Skullcrawlers, look delightfully horrific, all slithering lizard bodies and snapping jaws, a very worthy foe for both Kong and the foolish humans who have come to the island.

Action-wise, the movie absolutely delivers. The first big set-piece of Kong verses the military helicopters comes almost out of nowhere and leaves you reeling from the scale and brutality. Of course, the key with something like this is to escalate and raise the stakes. We get that with clashes with tree-spider-crabs and a wonderfully chaotic encounter with the skullcrawlers in the fog, which all builds to the all-out climax of man and monster.

How much sauce would you need for ribs that size?
The rest of the characters, that is to say the human ones, aren’t exactly the most complex. John Goodman’s Bill Randa is the madman whose desire for answers has led them here, Brie Larson’s Mason Weaver is a curious war photographer, and Tom Hiddleston’s mercenary James Conrad (nice Heart of Darkness reference there, movie) is there to glare a lot and kick arse. John C. Reilly gives the standout performance of the film as Hank Marlow, a pilot who went down on the island in World War 2, and who serves as both comic relief and exposition, although thankfully neither of those things ever feels awkward or forced.

The war theme is such a big part of the movie and is immediately present from the opening credits. This really is Apocalypse Now with monsters, in its attitude and style, and it works. Samuel L. Jackson’s Colonel Packard is a man for whom war is his life and the ending of the Vietnam conflict has left him adrift and without a purpose. Of course he then finds a new war, one against nature, in Kong. He’s the best kind of crazy here and a joy to watch.

It's just like shaking the last few M&Ms out of a bag.
The film also looks wonderful. The action scenes are highlighted with slow motion that lets you really relish in the details of the carnage, and many of the wide shots of the environment or of Kong are so beautifully framed, you will want to hang them on your wall. The soundtrack is suitably epic, both the Henry Jackman score and the choice of setting-contemporary songs. Everything comes together to give you the kind of cinematic experience that leaves you grinning in your seat and coming back for a second or even third helping.

Samuel L. Jackson is the only person who could stare down King Kong,
and you wonder if Kong is in trouble.
As mentioned, Kong: Skull Island is part of a wider cinematic universe with the 2014’s Godzilla. Whilst I am generally skeptical of such things (looking at you DC and the proposed Universal Monster universe with this year’s The Mummy), I think there is some real potential to get things right here, especially if they build on what they’ve done here in Kong: Skull Island. It also helps that whilst the links are there, you won’t be lost if you haven’t seen the other movie. I know I’m biased with an unabashed love of kaiju, but I’m very optimistic about where this could lead.

*Note: No spoilers, but it is well worth sitting through the credits.

Kong: Skull Island gets 5 helicopters out of 5