The King's return to screen dares to tread new territory

If there’s anything that makes the movie work, it’s that it does away with the familiar.

Kong: Skull Island

But if there’s anything that makes the movie work, it’s that it does away with the familiar.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts strips the movie of the familiar story thread that has trailed it over its original and remakes, and this is what makes this one an enjoyable blockbuster.

Hollywood is at a point where it sees remakes of classics as a gold mine that’s easy to milk, and this has made it attractive for film makers to churn out lazy duds and milk a movie’s enduring popularity by rehashing the story, sprinkling some new age technology on it and smiling to the bank.

The brains behind Skull Island do things differently as they attempt to at least satisfy the viewer with a fresh take on the story while they cash in; everybody wins.

Viewers expecting a dumb remake of this classic might be a tad disappointed because while the movie treads dangerously close to that tag, it is also more imaginative than most Hollywood remakes.

In what is a departure from the movie’s direction, the island isn’t visited this time around by a film crew, but by a mysterious government task force headed by Bill Randa (John Goodman) who gets approval to explore it before the Soviets discover that it exists at all.

He is assisted by Houston Brooks, a seismologist played by Corey Hawkins of Straight Outta Compton fame.

Well aware of the danger that the island poses, Randa is smart enough to ask  former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) who is now a hunter for hire to come on the trip, as well as a military escort that is led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), who is still quite bitter about the end of the Vietnam war in 1973, the period the movie is set in.

Anti-war photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) also joins up with the team, for some reason, before they sail into the deep wild that is Skull Island.

One of the movie’s wisest decisions is the visibility of its major attraction, Kong.

2014’s Godzilla caught a lot of flak for relegating its monster to the role of sideshow, and this must have informed Vogt-Roberts’ decision because Kong’s imposing frame first made an appearance on screen before the pre-credits even start to roll.

This works for the movie in the way that it already gets the viewer wide-eyed in anticipation of a reunion with the monster again as the movie sets up its story.

Again, the director makes the wise decision of setting off the fireworks immediately our band of human plunderers penetrate the serenity of the island and Kong is set loose on humanity’s imperialistic ideals.

Despite this being the movie’s highest point where you expect things to spark, it’s also where you start to dwell on the annoying little things like character motivations and development.

When one pilot of a downed chopper in the movie screams in panic to his passengers, “Prepare to crash!”, it is a warning to the viewer too.

Skull Island blunders through Hollywood’s hall of blockbuster movie cliches so badly some of them make you laugh.

Save for John C. Reilly’s performance as Hank Marlow, a stranded war veteran on the island; and Samuel L. Jackson basically playing Samuel L. Jackson, the other characters in this movie are simply too forgettable.

Hiddleston never really dominates, and Larson is just there to fill the Ann Darrow role from the 2005 remake without actually going the entire way. The two characters serve as mere surrogates, eyes with which the viewer explores the island.

It says enough that the viewer would likely not feel too badly if any of these characters met an untoward end before the credits roll.

The movie's attempt at wit to ease the plot's tension is a bit hit and miss too, especially in the first two acts of the movie.

The movie also annoys with its portrayal of actress Jing Tian as San Lin, a young biologist who is also a completely useless character you get the feeling they only tossed her in there as a harebrained scheme to win over the Asian market.

You'll only start to enjoy this movie once you get around the trouble of getting to grips with the fact that nothing sensible really drives the characters but the need to advance the plot through any and all cliched nonsense they could think of.

Out of the rubble of this mess though emerges the magnificence of the new Kong who brings his A-game to the table as you would expect from a titular character.

Played by Terry Notary, the towering 100-feet tall ape is magnetic every time he shows up on the screen to remind you why he's royalty on the island.

On the rare occasions where he is afforded the opportunity to be a little more than rampaging beast, he exhibits better depth than most of the other human characters. A considerable part of the craziness of the movie boils down to his influence.

The movie pushes a wide array of jungle monsters to amp up the tension in this movie and it largely succeeds as not only do they put the characters in jeopardy at all times, their super sized monstrousness also offers Kong formidable competition and a real sense of danger that makes you care for the outcome of every fight.

If Skull Island makes any attempt to sermonise, the lesson it would teach is humans need to be more open to the idea of the other and not always react brashly to them.

Jackson's war-mongering Packard is overly-rigid in his views about the monster and this leads him to making a few questionable decisions. The tone-deafness of his character signifies a cancerous imperialistic attitude that only results in chaos and doom.

Above all, what works best for Skull Island is its entertaining action set pieces. The viewer can easily tap into Kong’s rage while he fights threats both foreign and domestic, as well as feel a pang of the human characters' fears as terror taunts and dances around them.

With the narrative structure of the movie, especially in the third act, one would be forgiven for thinking they're watching a Godzilla sequel.

This might be because the movie is the second in Legendary Entertainment's MonsterVerse, a shared universe involving Kong and Godzilla; setting up for 2020's highly-anticipated Godzilla vs. Kong movie, as it was shown in the movie's post-credits. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.

Skull Island is a solid popcorn blockbuster movie with all the trappings of rip-roaring entertainment that is unintentionally a form of apology for its average storytelling.

If there’s any one thing to say about it, it’s that it’s fun to watch.


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