The monster movie is ready to become the next shared cinematic universe. Three years ago director Gareth Edwards, now acclaimed for his work on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story dazzled audiences first by rebooting arguably the most famous movie monster of all time, Godzilla in what was a modern day monster movie classic. I've lost count how many times I've seen it to this point, I love it that much.
Knowing that it was the first step toward what WB and Legendary Pictures are apparently calling "The MonsterVerse" served me well going into my viewing of Kong: Skull Island because knowing that the two movies are somehow connected gave me an idea of what to expect. For the most part I was right, but in some cases during the movie I was wrong. REALLY wrong......for the better, though.
Kong: Skull Island is one of the most relentless movies I have seen in recent memory and definitely a more relentless movie than even Godzilla (2014) is. What I mean by that is the movie has an incredible pace to it in that it doesn't really slow down. At all. Ever. At least not that I noticed. From the very first sequence of the film that displays a flashback to World War II all the way to the last scene before the credits start rolling, Kong: Skull Island is a ride that takes a lot of turns and twists through peaks and valleys, but it never really stops for the entirety of the two hours.
And that was one of the most refreshing things about the movie because for once it felt like a great deal of character study and development wasn't necessary because of how well paced the movie was. I didn't want it to slow down, I wanted to see what was going to happen next and the film obliged me and my girlfriend for it. At no point during the movie did it feel slow, plodding or time-wasting. It never got too fast, but it never ever slowed down.
The plot of the movie starts with John Goodman's character Bill Randa and his counterpart Houston Brooks played by Corey Hawkins. It's 1973 and they are appealing to a senator to get permission and a military escort to fly to a mysterious island to search for the unknown in hopes of aiding mankind. Coming along with them is former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad played by Tom Hiddleston, photojournalist Mason Weaver played by Brie Larson and the helicopter squadron of Colonel Preston Packard, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Each of them has their own motivations and intentions for going to Skull Island as does Randa as well, and obviously when they arrive there things do not go nearly as any of them had planned, which is where the fun begins.
Usually when someone tells you that a movie doesn't have a great deal of character development in it that's usually not a good thing, but in the case of "Kong" it's actually a benefit in my opinion because we all SHOULD know why we are in that theater in the first place: To see King Kong in action and watch the humans die one by one in terrible ways as the rest of the island tries desperately to kill them. That's exactly what we get in this movie and it's visually stunning. Larry Fong, the director of photography for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice among other films is masterful with the camera here, striking some hauntingly beautiful landscape shots and perspective angles in addition to the insane monster action done by the VFX teams, which was also a complete triumph. Kong himself is the beast that he should be, in size, stature and ferocity, while also being gentle at the right moments as defined by the story. If it was still awards season, there would be no reason to think Kong: Skull Island wouldn't be nominated for a major VFX award of any and every kind.
Knowing that it's a monster movie gives you an expectation of what to find with the acting performances in it, but I would say that "Kong" surprised me by avoiding some of the classic corny tropes with these kinds of movies. There's definitely some highly-stylized slow motion action going on, but there isn't too much of it and the cast is not so wooden that it just seems painful. That being said, there's not a whole lot to say about Hiddleston, Larsen, Jackson, Goodman or any of the other cast of the movie because this was much less about them and more about the island and the monsters within it constantly on the attack. Like I said, it is a relentless movie. That's no exaggeration.
One thing that really amazed me is that somehow, through all of the marketing and spots that I saw for this movie it never occurred to me once that it was a period piece. I had prepared myself for a modern day movie and was legitimately surprised that it was 1973. Not only that, but using the end of the Vietnam War as a backdrop and subtle character development for the cast was clever and well executed. This doesn't feel like a traditional monster movie at all, it really feels like a war film at times and emulates that atmosphere very well. It also allowed the filmmakers to give us a FANTASTIC soundtrack from that era to hear in the movie. We get The Chambers Brothers, Jefferson Airplane, Creedence Clearwater Revival and David Bowie himself to name just a few of the great tunes that lend themselves to the atmosphere of the film. This is of course in addition to another excellent score by composer Henry Jackman who once again demonstrates how vibrant and powerful his music can be when he is "unshackled" so to speak. Jackman's score for Kong: Skull Island goes right up there with his scores for X-Men First Class and Kingsman: The Secret Service as some of his best work.
So now for the fun part: STAY UNTIL THE END. SERIOUSLY. I know this has become commonplace to do especially with the Marvel Cinematic Universe's frequency of putting end credit scenes in just about all of their movies, but in an IMAX theater on a Thursday night with maybe 30 people total in attendance, only seven or eight of us were still in the theater when the end credit scene rolled, so I'm warning you now to stay for the whole credits if you want to experience the awesome at the end, and trust me it is AWESOME. I mentioned before that this is now being called "The MonsterVerse" for WB and the end credit scene for this movie is a MAJOR part of that establishment. Stay through the credits and watch it, it is more than worth it.
The bottom line here is that Kong: Skull Island is an impressive big budget feature directorial debut for Jordan Vogt-Roberts and definitely serves the modern day reboot of monster movie storytelling well. Just as its MonsterVerse predecessor did in 2014, this movie takes the classic features and tenets of the old monster movies and re-imagines them in a way for modern audiences and VFX that still pays respect and homage to the original works and how they were done. The only negative here for me in all of this is that we've got to wait two years for the next Godzilla movie and then the following year after that for the big showdown between him and Kong that promises to be nothing short of epic and incredible at this point. The waiting won't be any fun, but it's just great to have monster movies back in the fold again for this generation.
KONG: SKULL ISLAND - 5 out of 5 - In Theaters as of March 10, 2017