By: Justin Pomerville
The King has returned! Wait...wrong movie.
As a giant kaiju/monster fan (especially for anything Godzilla related), I have to make a confession. I never really cared much for Kong (aka King Kong, aka Mr. Kong is you are just trying to be polite). I grew up watching all the Toho films when I saw both "King Kong Escapes" and "Godzilla vs King Kong", I didn't really care. I mean, in a fantastical film with so many creative monsters (mostly, I don't count Mothra among them), what was so special about a giant gorilla.
Then, I finally watched the original King Kong from 1933, which was in my opinion, the best representation of Kong. And then there was Peter Jackson's interpretation that came out in 2005, and that made me not care at all for the hairy gorilla.
I want you to know this, because before this movie came out, before the commercials, before the casting, back to when they decided that they wanted to give another whack at King Kong, I had no cares or feelings towards this film. Maybe it was because I was just die-hard Godzilla all the way, maybe I was just sick of them trying to make Kong relevant. Whatever the case was, I started already hating this idea.
But as commercials starting coming out and hearing the cast list and actually seeing what was happening, I couldn't help but start getting a little bit more and more excited. It felt like an adventure film that was more than just a random monster flick that was being made because of the success of "Godzilla"
Then, I finally saw it and I have to say, it's a great piece. Not only is it visualizing appealing, but it actually made King Kong feel more relevant and also felt much needed in this shared monster universe. But more on that later.
This film had a great cast, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, and Samuel L. Jackson as the leads. Bill Randa (played by Goodman) leads an expedition to an uncharted and unreachable island that so happens to be called Skull Island during the Vietnam War. He is the leader of Monarch, a organization that investigates unexplained sightings, weird events, or unexplained mishaps (usually revolving around monsters). He brings along expert jungle tracker, James Conrad (played by Hiddleston), anti-war photographer, Mason Weaver (played by Larson), Sargent Preston Packard (played by Jackson), and a bunch of soldiers, because you know, most expeditions need military escorts, as usual.
What they find on Skull Island is a world untouched by modern men (from that time period) that has housed many giant monsters including Kong, water bison, and all sorts of massive insects. But the most dangerous are the Skull Walkers that live beneath the island. When their transports get destroyed and everyone is scattered in groups, Conrad and Weaver come across stranded WWII pilot, Hank Marlow (played by Reilly), helps them on their quest to escape from the terrors of the island...mainly giant monsters that want to eat them.
This movie was much darker than most giant monster films that have come out in the past. Darker than Pacific Rim and 2014's Godzilla. Lots of death of characters in very scary ways, a good portion of them being squished under Kong's foot or hand. But the big take away from this film is that this a modern iconic monster that will play out later on in the third installment of the "Godzilla" franchise in 2020.
The characters were great, except of Tom Hiddleston's role. I was not a fan of his character because they made him seem very much more of a badass then they needed. Literally, his introduction in the film is doing fancy fighting moves with a pool cue. It felt a little forced and screamed "This is your big hero character! Look how awesome we made him". My favorite character in the film though was Hank Marlow. John C. Reilly was actually the big reasons I wasn't sure this movie was going to work. The commercials played up some of his typical comedic one-liners and I felt he would ham up the scenes too much. But, I was wrong. His inclusion made the film so much better and his comedic timing characteristics worked really well for this film.
Overall, this film did a great job balancing character development on all fronts, had amazing shots, and some awesome monster fights. I actually liked this film more than I liked 2014's "Godzilla", which is saying something. I liked that movie a lot, but this felt more complete and more of an origin, whereas Godzilla was more a simple introduction of the character for future installments. I strongly recommend seeing it if you are big on monster films. And if you are a fan of the Toho Kong films, there are some nods to it in this film. Also, there is a an awesome after credit scene that links Kong to the Godzilla franchise. I don;t want to spoil that too much.
I give this movie a big B+. I would watch it again many times.