Last time I talked about Godzilla 2014, a flawed film but yet was intended to start a shared universe. Now the film wasn’t bad but its failings did stand out. So what do you do? Act like you acknowledge the problem while at the same time doubling down on the very thing people actually didn’t like, and rather than having the characters grow from the incident rush into a crossover that butchers several classic stories and making the worst version of Lex Luther in history? Oh wait that was Batman V Superman… No let’s look at the right thing to do.
Kong: Skull Island was released in 2017 and is the second film of the monsterverse. The film opens up in WW2 as 2 planes crash, one American and one Japanese. Their pilots continue to fight each other when suddenly a giant gorilla hand rises up as the looming figure of some great beast is reflected in their eyes.
Next we leap forward though a montage of America’s achievements post WW2 leading up to the end of the Vietnam War. The film here shows its ace. You have access to elements from 2 of the most important wars in America’s modern history and the difference between the two. One considered America’s finest hour, the other its great shame. Anyway, two members of Monarch, Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brook (Corey Hawkins) approach representatives of the White House so they can lead an expedition to Skull Island in hopes of proving the validity of their organisation and its not getting closed down.
They are accompanied by a military detachment for protection led by Preston Packard (Samuel Jackson, cause of course we had to get him at some point ) who very early on makes it clear he feels betrayed by them abandoning the war, even refusing to call it a defeat. What comes next are some amazing references to Vietnam war film imagery, such as the helicopters flying towards a sunset, only now simulated against the setting sun is Kong himself. And that’s the end of the first act.
I mentioned that the human characters (mainly the lead) was the weak point in Godzilla, well here they are vastly improved. Packard becomes a Captain Ahab style character wanting revenge on Kong for the loss of his men even to the point that his quest for revenge kills even more, but it’s clear he is supplanting the abandoning of the Vietnam War with killing Kong. This is paired perfectly with Hank Marlow ( John C. Reilly ) the US pilot from World War two who long ago accepted the end of his war and now looks forward to returning home, the parallel character development of one man from one war, and another from an earlier works greatly in the films favour.
The other two main leads (arguably the main leads) are James Conrad ( Tom Huddleston… Loki) a tracker hired by Monarch who is former British Special Services and Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) an anti war photographer. They’re both good characters but don’t have nearly as much in terms of development as Packard and Marlow. Still they get good scenes. Conrad showing himself to be highly skilled but not consumed to the point of self destruction like Packard is while Weaver is… kind of every strong female character you get nowadays… really it’s there because Kong kind of needs a girl in it. Reading back that, I am being too negative. They are much better than the lead of Godzilla 2014 and unlike that film they actually do impact the film and their skills come in handy.
But Onto the Kaiju. Kong here is much bigger than he has ever been in an American film (he has to be, they want him to fight Godzilla in 2020 ) they leave a fair bit of mystery about the beast, hints of things that allow people to ponder theories for years until/if they are ever revealed. Brought to life with Mo-Kap by Terry Notary and Toby Kebbell he stands upright and has elements both akin to a gorilla and a man. The other Kaiju are the skull crawlers. Somewhat based on the two legged lizards from the original King Kong the creatures come in a number of sizes allowing for not just Kong to face them but also our human leads (Kong fights a really big one at the end of the film). There are a lot of other monstrous beings on Skull Island and it makes it a far more diverse place than earlier films depicted it (though we do get the obligatory giant octopus… nerds know why).
I went into Kong Skull Island hoping for an improvement on the missteps of Godzilla 2014, I got that but did not expect to also get a film filled with imagery and contrasting character development. While the original King Kong is a classic I think this may be the next best film starring the gorilla. So with the film makers showing they learned from their mistakes, let’s see where they take Godzilla next, as this film’s post credits scene showed a ancient painting of him fighting a very distanced 3 headed monster.