Legendary Pictures is operating with a big pair of balls these days, as the stories they are trying to make new encroaches on decades of movie monster history. A few years ago, Monsters filmmaker Gareth Edwards was tasked with modernizing and remaking Japanese studio Toho’s Godzilla, a leviathan lizard that first emerged on the scene in 1954, appearing in thirty films (including a terrible Roland Emmerich version). The Edwards version did pretty well and, besides the panning of the human side of the film, really gave us a great new vision of this beast. Now, another of the monstrous big boys hits the screen with Kong: Skull Island. King Kong who is twenty-one years older than Godzilla, but for whatever reason has been featured far less often than the “King Of The Monsters.”
Skull Island takes us back to the 1970s, just after the end of the Vietnam War. A geologist (Corey Hawkins) and a senior government official (John Goodman) convince a senator to sanction a side trip for them to an uncharted island in the South Pacific. They also request an escort by a tough as nails Lieutenant Colonel (Samuel L. Jackson) and his platoon before they whole crew heads back to the U.S. Enlisting the help of an explorer (Tom Hiddleston) and an embedded war photographer (Brie Larson), the expedition flies in with their helicopters, only to get batted out of the sky immediately by the ruler of the island, Kong. Now stranded on the ground in a couple separate groups, they find that Kong is really the protector of the landscape, as there are much, much more terrible and terrifying creatures to contend with.
At the conclusion of this movie, it’s pretty obvious what Legendary is working their way towards – a “Destroy All Monsters” expanded universe – and Kong: Skull Island is a very interesting piece to this puzzle. Both monsters, Kong and Godzilla, exhibit protection towards humans, which jives with adding villain monsters like Mothra and Ghidorah to the mix. What is different about Godzilla and Kong, as movies, definitely come from the better cast of human characters the fill out Skull Island. Hiddleston and Larson provide the base of main players but the colonel, driven to madness by the destructive actions of Kong, adds an interesting psychological element of his grandiose ego. He wants to take down a massive monster, something we could see a Sam Jackson character trying to do.
The success of Kong: Skull Island definitely lies in its production value, (especially in the visual effects, which are spot on) and the partnership between cinematographer Larry Fong and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Shooting beautiful island landscapes and searing sunrises and sunsets, the visuals just pop under the eye of Fong, making up for his last time out, Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice. This is all under the control of Vogt-Roberts, who makes his biggest film to date, using a budget of $190 million. His only other feature, Kings Of Summer (an excellent movie), likely cost under a million but shows what kind of value he can deliver. Kong is a wild step into a new field for this filmmaker but what he delivered is a massively fun thrill ride through a treacherous landscape that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible, the mighty IMAX. 4/5