With cinematic superhero crossover universes currently competing, so too it looks like monster universes are about to fight it out with The Mummy possibly being the first of a modern Universal Monsters reboot franchise and Godzilla facing Kong in an upcoming sequel.
Kong: Skull Island introduces us to the mighty King Kong in a prequel of sorts where a group approved by the US government travels to the evasive Skull Island with a military escort in the 1970's. Don't expect Kong to get chained up and brought back to New York City where he climbs up the Empire State Building etc. in this one. There are some clever nods to these familiar events throughout the film but it's mercifully not just a straight-up retread and, stylistically, it is very different than Peter Jackson's King Kong from 2005. Kong: Skull Island owes a lot more to the likes of Apocalypse Now, Predators and the more over-the-top classic Kong sequels than the 1933 original or any remake. The early trailers for Skull Island made it feel very much in the same vein as the recent Godzilla reboot, that is to say moody, epic and very serious. The actual film is frankly more of a B-movie and its tone is far sillier than you'd expect.
Packed with every horror and Vietnam War cliché you could think of, one-dimensional characters and hilarious death scenes à la Jurassic Park, this is a proudly hammy monster movie with far more action and carnage than Godzilla but zero realism. And although one wonders how both films will come together in a single crossover, there's something to be said about each film in a shared universe being radically different and not simply copy-pasting whatever template was set early on. Kong: Skull Island has a solid cast that includes John Goodman, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson and John C. Reilly. The latter effortlessly steals the show as the eccentric Lieutenant who spent too long living on the island but who is, ironically, the sanest of the lot. Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman are both reliably good but the rest of the cast is unfortunately wooden, mostly due to their characters being underwritten. The film's monster is also its hero yet Kong arguably looks more intimidating than we've seen him look thusfar, which is a valid depiction.
Story-wise, Kong: Skull Island is simple enough yet it does get side-tracked often and, as a result, the film feels a bit longer than its 2 hour running time. Once the crew lands on Skull Island, the action starts right away, which is cool, but the build-up before that is borderline dull. By the time Samuel L. Jackson's war-hungry Colonel decides to take the group on a side-quest, you'll be wishing for the third act. That said, there are plenty of impressive action sequences to keep you entertained as Kong battles various larger-than-life creatures plus the military in full attack mode while the humans get killed off one after the other in increasingly entertaining (and brutal) ways. Whether it's a giant spider literally stepping inside someone's throat or flying creatures picking off a dude and cutting him to pieces Jurassic World-style, this movie is so cruel to its characters that it makes it consistently impossible to predict who will go next and in what ridiculous fashion.
This is by no means a perfect film and some, no doubt, won't be able to look past its flaws but this is a good old fashioned shut-your-brain-off kind of blockbuster: very dumb, yes, but in a good way. Visually it's a treat and it delivers a lot more spectacle than Godzilla so monster movie fans should leave the theatre satisfied.