We’ve all seen those remakes where one staggers out of the cinema wondering why in the world any film company worth its salt approved it. I felt that Peter Jackson’s 2006 monster beat-down King Kong was doomed to be one of these; I was wrong.
Kong: Skull Island manages to again breathe fresh life into a story that has been retold countless times, while also paying homage to previous depictions. This time, the story deviates from the questionable premise of a failed director coincidentally finding a map to a prehistoric island. The year is 1973. Tricky Dick (Richard Nixon) is in the White House, the US is withdrawing from Vietnam, and those damn Commies are pulling ahead in the geopolitical standing. Enter Bill Randa (John Goodman) stage left. The head of a geographic, cartographic, something-or-other interest group. Randa produces satellite images of Skull Island, a small landmass undisturbed for millennia. In order to beat the sneaky Russians to the discovery, a powerful senator approves a military consort in short order. Preston Packard, (Samuel L. Jackson) a Major tired of kicking around Saigon with no action in sight, eagerly agrees to lead it. Randa hires James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), an “expert tracker” (in other words, a soulless mercenary) to “assist with the expedition” and a war photographer (Brie Larson) to record the mission. Aaaaaand we’re off- cue giant monsters.
While the characters are fairly generic, with Packard’s character in particular directly lifted from Moby Dick, the performances are stunning and the dynamic between the leads is wholly convincing. The central conflict between Packard and Conrad is particularly strong, and is reminiscent of Vietnam greats such as Platoon (1986) and Apocalypse Now (1979). The giant CGI monsters all look epic, with this version of Kong the size of a twenty-storey building. The humbling sense of complete human ineptitude carries over from Godzilla (2014), for which this is ostensibly a prequel, and leads to even more exciting monster pugilism than the latter. The action scenes are a stand out, with IMAX really at its best. And there’s enough satisfying dialogue and character development in the medial scenes to carry the film along.
In conclusion, Kong: Skull Island is a surprisingly excellent revamp of a classic monster film. Great action coupled with a reasonable story and well acted characters make this Skull Island well worth discovering.