King Kong and variations on the Giant Ape concept are older than even Godzilla. Kong: Skull Island has opted to not re-tell the story of King Kong. Instead, this is a new story. Not new in the sense of it completely new territory. You have the mismatched band of explorers arriving on Skull Island, encountering monsters and natives.
The film opens in 1944 where an American and Japanese pilot crash land on Skull Island. They fight until they stumble on a frightening sight that changes everything for them. The film jumps to 1973, with soldiers about to leave Vietnam. They are brought in by the mysterious Monarch company as a military escort on a top secret mission to visit and explore a newly discovered island. The company has also brought along an award winning anti-war photojournalist and a tracker to help then go through the wilderness.
Of course, the mission goes very wrong. Hope that does not spoil anything.
Really, the film sets everything up at a fast pace. They give you what you need to know without giving the film a chance to get boring. And unlike previous Kong film outings, the filmmakers introduce us to Kong very quickly. No hiding him, just Kong smashing helicopters.
The characters are engaging to various degrees, though John C. Reilly is the strongest and most memorable. Samuel L. Jackson is…well, Samuel L. Jackson. I found myself liking Hiddleston’s James Conrad and Brie Larson’s Mason Weaver…but I must admit, most of what separates the characters is who is performing them. You also know which soldiers are “important” because they get a lot of set up, while most of the soldiers are just “people to die”. Of course, they also give Jackson his motive for wanting to destroy King Kong.
But the truth is, I found Kong Skull Island a lot of fun. Yes, the post credit scene confirms that Legendary has plans of a “Giant Monster-verse”…and Kong Skull Island serves the purpose, in part, to set it all up (It is supposedly connected to 2014’s Godzilla film as well, with the tie being the Monarch organization). But I did a far better job of still telling it’s own story than some other attempts to create a shared universe franchise.
Really, Kong Skull Island is no game changer, but it is a lot of fun. Visually, it is good, and the digital monsters look great. The cast is great and make for an overall very entertaining film.