What I love about “Kong: Skull Island” is that while it’s essentially a good old fashioned matinee monster movie at heart, it’s also a pretty clever take on the Vietnam war. “Kong: Skull Island” implements the classic trope from the classic giant monster movies taking a group of armed men and women in to the wilderness, and uses that as an allegory for the Vietnam war. Like the aforementioned war, US soldiers storm in to a wilderness they were unprepared to do battle with, except they face an unparalleled force of nature. Also very effectively setting up a cinematic universe, Jordan Vogt-Roberts aspires for a lot, and succeeds as a simple and harrowing adventure with big monsters, and menacing creatures far and wide.
Set during the tail end of the Vietnam war in the sixties, Bill Randa, as played by John Goodman, is anxious to survey an uncharted island somewhere in the pacific. He’s convinced a string of explosions from the military were not acts of war, but efforts to kill an undocumented beast lurking within the forest. Recruiting a team of soldiers to accompany them on the trip, including mercenary for hire James Conrad, Randa and his assistant Houston (Corey Hawkins) set out to the island. They get more than they ever hoped though when their activity unleashes the force of a giant ape that brings down the military helicopters leaving the pair of troops stranded on a mysterious island.
It’s not long though until they realize the island is filled with unlikely menaces big and small as they begin fighting for survival against a slew of giant monsters, all hungry for human flesh. “Kong: Skull Island” is exactly the approach to King Kong that’s suited for a modern audience. It’s simple, it’s action packed, and it evokes much of the spirit of the classic fifties Harryhausen movies that audiences celebrated for a long time. Vogt-Roberts’ Kong movie is so much more in the spirit of the original “King Kong” than Peter Jackson’s, as it does away with the bloated exposition in favor of charming and entertaining characters drawn in shades of gray. “Kong: Skull Island” brandishes a fantastic ensemble cast, including Brie Larson as war photographer Mason Weaver, Corey Hawkins, and Tom Hiddleston as a grizzled mercenary who come face to face with beasts on Skull Island.
Especially great are John C. Reilly and Samuel L Jackson, two characters that present polar opposite glimpses of war. Reilly is Marlow, a man perpetually trapped in a circumstance that keeps him planted in a period during the war. Meanwhile Samuel L Jackson is the unlikely antagonist Preston Packard who has nothing outside the military and wages a personal war against Kong that reaches deep in to his resentment toward Vietnam. “Kong: Skull Island” kept me hooked from minute one with its realization of Skull Island and re-imagining of King Kong as less a monster and more a force of nature serving a purpose like everything else. Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ “Kong: Skull Island” is a raucous, exciting, and harrowing action picture that works in clever ideas about war underneath its classic tale of humans fighting giant monsters.