"Kong: Skull Island" was a roller coaster ride that continued to build Legendary Pictures' monsterverse. It revamped the franchise following Peter Jackson's 2005 film, and took it in a more gritty, aggressive direction. One of the major things that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts had to achieve was to make it more action-oriented than Gareth Edwards' "Godzilla" reboot, which felt like more of a slow burn, a la "Jaws."
He did just that, as the movie was a frenetic blockbuster that not only brought commercial success, it also pleased fans of the old films while proving accessible to new ones. It was a near-perfect modern interpretation of Kong asserting his dominance in the jungle as a king. With that in mind, CBR decided to dissect 15 reasons why this reboot kicked major ass and put Kong back on top of the monster kingdom!
SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers ahead for "Kong: Skull Island"
15 MONSTERS UNLEASHED
The monster fights in "Kong: Skull Island" were nothing short of epic! The creature designs, from Kong to the lizard-esque Skullcrawlers to the spiders to other roaming beasts, all of these were a spectacle to behold, but it's when they went at it that you saw them in their true majesty. Kong taking on an octopus for dinner was just a tease of things to come, because when he battled the Skullcrawlers, that's when the creatures were truly unleashed.
These antagonists were apparently what Kong was bred to protect the island against, and after taking out the babies, the movie's climax threw the big kahuna at Kong. This was where he showed who was king, using things like chains, a ship propeller and even a tree as a stake in this brutal combat sequence. The C.G.I. was superb and you could actually see what was going on in these smartly choreographed fights. It wasn't like the fights in the "Transformers" franchise where you couldn't tell what was happening. Everything here was crisp and fluid, keeping you on the edge of your seat!
14 KONG: KING & PROTECTOR
At the movie's end, Kong took out the Skullcrawlers, especially the dangerous alpha, and proved why he was truly king. But what was most touching was that he was always meant to protect the island, its people and the other creatures from these malicious monsters. In the indigenous cave paintings on the island, we saw his species in an everlong war against the Skullcrawlers, with his parents eventually falling to them. We actually glimpsed their remains in the field of battle, too.
We saw that Kong's destiny was more than just a fighter. It was that of a true protector. What made it even more heartwarming was that Kong, who was still growing, was seemingly the last of his kind. Even though he was alone, he still ensured that, despite the human threats to the island, his role as its protector still had to be fulfilled. No wonder he was revered like that by the natives. Kong was like a father figure, even a deity, and not just because of his mammoth size, but because of his giant heart.
13 THE GEEK-APPROVED CAST
Geeks certainly appreciated the familiarity of the movie's cast, especially as they all played their roles so well. It wasn't just about packing the film with names for nerd cred, though. Tom Hiddleston took the lead as James Conrad, a dashing James Bond-esque debonair of a tracker, unlike the schemer we saw with Loki. Brie Larson, who'll be playing Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, also impressed, as well as Sam Jackson, who basically played a reckless Nick Fury.
Toby Kebbell had a small but pivotal role, redeeming his Dr. Doom failure; meanwhile, Corey Hawkins from "The Walking Dead" and "24: Legacy" was given major screen time. John C. Reilly put down his Nova Corps gear and portrayed a key figure who was stranded on the island for over two decades, providing insight on how to navigate Kong's terrain. Shea Whigham was also in ABC's "Agent Carter," and for good measure, John Goodman took over the role that Jack Black had in the 2005 film, leading the expedition in a sinister manner. It was a well-rounded ensemble effort that gave us thrills and laughs alike.
12 THE ORIGINS OF MONARCH
In "Godzilla," we were introduced to Monarch, a governmental organization responsible for monitoring kaiju activity for decades. We saw them analyzing the nuclear fallout of the past, and of course, Godzilla's existence, along with other monsters hidden in the deep recesses of the Earth. This film delved into their origins, with Goodman's Bill Randa and Hawkins' Houston Brooks as the spearheads that went after funding to ensure their cryptozoology program was kept alive on a larger scale.
Seeing how Monarch was set up in the past, and how the Kong experience would give them the evidence they needed to become a powerhouse organization in Edwards' movie showed that Legendary wanted a comprehensive story that was all tied together. Basically, "Skull Island" showed how Monarch became the S.H.I.E.L.D. for these creatures, not just by finding whispers and rumors, but by documenting these monstrous experiences first-hand. Monarch proved that they were ready to get stuck into the grimy underbelly of the planet to ensure it was equipped to defend itself when the time came.
11 CAPTAIN AHAB SYNDROME
Sam Jackson's Preston Packard led the army that was responsible for taking the Monarch contingent to the island. While his platoon just wanted to go home, he made sure they undertook this last mission, because deep down, all he had was war and nothing to go back home to. When he got there, his first experience with Kong saw him lose several soldiers, which put him on a warpath with the ape, similar to Herman Melville's Captain Ahab.
Kong proved to be a Moby Dick to Packard, even staring him down to remind him who was boss. Packard's obsession was relentless, with Jackson as intense as ever. He brought the human expedition into conflict, as even his own soldiers realized he was ready to use them like pawns in this suicide mission. Whether it was PTSD or a craving to be the alpha warrior, you couldn't help but empathize with him because all he wanted to do was avenge his men, and protect the outside world.
10 NOT FOLLOWING GODZILLA
"Godzilla" had a major flaw in that it focused a lot on the human element of things, as opposed to the monster itself. This didn't make sense because we wanted a reboot following the 1998 film, to see the creature cut loose like a mean kaiju should. "Skull Island" didn't make that mistake; right from the get-go, it had Kong destroying the army's helicopters and making sure everyone knew who wasn't welcome.
That said, while a lot of this film focused on Kong battling monsters, the humans -- whether it was Monarch scientists or the army -- did play crucial roles. They were sprinkled in, however, instead of being a main ingredient. The movie didn't harp on about making Larson's Mason Weaver a damsel in distress, but instead a documentarian. The rest of the camp were spectators watching Kong in his majesty, while they tried to escape the island's clutches. Even the army realized they were out of their depth and eventually had to run. While "Godzilla" had humans dictating the pace of the story, this film simply had them accentuating Kong's kingdom.
9 THE KICKASS ARMY
The army was a big aspect of what made this movie tick. The way they went after Kong, recovering when he kicked things off by smashing their helicopters to bits, was very commendable. They never wavered under Packard's watch, and lay a brutal napalm trap for him near the movie's climax. These were guerrilla tactics at their best, reminding us that despite their upbeat attitude, they were soldiers at the end of the day.
Their personalities also packed charisma, making them even more likable. Shea Whigham's character, Earl Cole, was a selfless warrior, although he met an unfortunate end in a botched suicide mission. The other soldiers brought comedy relief to the mix, as they struggled in deciding whether to flee the island, or to follow Packard and enter the belly of the beast to slay Kong. This dynamic, and overall conflict, added to the shadow of Kong that loomed over them, intimidating them throughout the entire film. They brought the David versus Goliath dimension to life really well.
8 THE MONSTER FACTOR
It was obvious the human factor wasn't going to be a major issue, and that the monsters would take center stage. What highlighted this is that we didn't see Larson's Weaver kidnapped by Kong, and we didn't see any exposition into a romance with her and Hiddleston's Conrad. This movie was placing a spotlight on the monsters alone and any humans there were simply meant to realize Skull Island was a wrong turn.
Reilly's Marlow was all about leading the escape, with everyone else following his lead. They just ended up passing by the monster battle along the way, reiterating that this was a Kong story. None of these characters were given any major role in killing the massive monsters, showing that the action was kept for Kong and his opposition. Dwelling on the human aspect too much would have detracted from the story's pace, which was about the ape having to clean up the army's mess, and put the other rabid Skullcrawlers down... the hard way.
7 EPIC SOUNDTRACK
The "Skull Island" soundtrack cleverly took us back to the past, just after the Vietnam War. It gave the movie a rugged, old-school feel to it, which felt like listening to our dads' old records. Henry Jackman composed the film's score and to make the '70s period of things pop, he blended psychedelic guitars into the score. The music involved also had to represent this period for its soldiers, which gave a striking dichotomy as opposed to other monster franchises like "Godzilla" or "Pacific Rim."
Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit," Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" and David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust" helped create this atmosphere. Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising" and "Run Through The Jungle" also added a sense of despair to the party trying to leave the island, helping shift the movie into an era that still had to feel fun amid its darkness. The soundtrack acted like a character all its own, beckoning Kong to chaos, and acting like the ring announcer or arena entrance music that fans hear in the WWE or the UFC when titans are about to clash.
6 HUMAN ALLIES
The invading humans quickly realized Kong wasn't their enemy and Monarch's contingent started to stick up for him against the army, which wanted to exact revenge and kill the ape. Near the end, the entire battalion turned on Packard as he tried to burn Kong, because they knew that the creature was needed for the island to survive. When Kong took on the final Skullcrawler, the humans aided by firing at it, trying to help him gain an advantage.
Usually, we see humans sympathizing with the beast, but this was a rare case where they actually became Kong's allies in the field of battle. He needed help with the alpha Skullcrawler, and used spare parts to batter it. However, it was undeniable that the humans came to his rescue, at least as a distraction. When the dust settled, he looked at them and beat his chest in signature fashion while growling, so as to remind them just who was the ruler of this realm.
5 EASTER EGGS
When Sam Jackson's Packard started reciting lines ("Hold onto your butts!") from "Jurassic Park" in the movie, the audience lit up. The ride didn't stop there because even more easter eggs ensued, to our hearts' delight. We saw Monarch reference the nuclear bombs used to attack Godzilla in Edwards' film early on, while Marlow's jacket paid homage to "Akira" as well as "Taxi Driver's" King Kong Company.
The film also felt like a tribute to war movies like "Full Metal Jacket" and "Apocalypse Now." The latter's influence was strong in the movie posters and that in-film glorious silhouette of Kong, battle-ready with the sun behind him, prepping for the air raid. The buffalo we saw also honored Hayao Miyazaki's "Princess Mononoke," as the director wanted creatures that were ethereal, spiritual and intimidating enough to transport viewers to a realm that could be steeped in disquiet just as much as it could be set in disarray.
4 HUMANIZING KONG
Thankfully, Kong was humanized in a way that didn't feel gratuitous. Peter Jackson, as well as the old movies, had him falling in love and taken to the city for showcasing like a circus animal. In this case, it was simply about him defending his home. What made things stand out was how he looked after the island's people and policed against its monsters, while making sure he remained a king. His glares, grunts and that scene where Weaver and Hiddleston got up close with him, showed he was about peace.
Even when he helped her save the buffalo, it was glaringly obvious he was giving the humans ample chance to leave. His mannerisms reminded us of Andy Serkis' motion capture as Caesar, and it all boiled down to how his emotions ranged. From subtle at times to a hot temper at others, each motion painted a relatable picture. At the film's end, Kong still didn't bear a grudge because he knew that humans had potential, as long as it wasn't about firing weapons at him or his kingdom. He seemed to understand and forgive.
3 INVASION & TERRORISM
Early on in the movie, the army arrived and dropped seismic bombs to map the island out. This would infuriate Kong and also summon the Skullcrawlers to war. This was addressed later on when the soldiers started fighting among themselves, because the escaping party made it clear that Kong was well within his right to defend himself. They invaded, attacked, and after Kong retaliated, it was they who sought revenge.
The ape was simply defending himself and his home, which we saw when he took a bath and ate an octopus. His ecosystem was disturbed by conquerors, who came in without care for the island and its inhabitants. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, so the argument also touched on whether the island's natives would be hostile. After all, who would welcome invaders with open arms after they announced themselves in fiery fashion like the army did? We saw an invaded nation fighting back, and also how a civil war could erupt once the peace is disturbed by those who were never welcome in the first place, and who were there for exploitation's sake.
2 LINEAGE & ORIGINS
It was pretty exciting getting some backstory into Kong on the island. Rather than have him worshiped directly, the natives were in awe of him, while leaving him alone to be in his natural habitat. It was subtle yet effective storytelling. A neat twist was that we learned more about his parents, and how they were meant to keep the big Skullcrawlers from surfacing, which the humans mucked up with their bombs.
Seeing their skeletons and finding out that he was the last remnant also built the origins smartly, especially now that the role of protector was his and his alone. The origins were simple and done with some rock paintings to show that Kong's species were indeed peaceful and virtuous, left unprovoked. This knowledge helped our perspective when it came to balancing Kong as a combatant and victim. Skull Island was home to him and delving into his past actually made us side with him even more when the army and Monarch, who invaded without permission.
1 THE MONSTERVERSE
At the end of the credits, we saw Monarch and the surviving expedition reunited once more; but this time, bigger details were made available. It wasn't just about keeping Skull Island a secret; now, Monarch was able to dive further into the other monsters who claimed to be kings around the world. We saw a series of cave paintings depicting Rodan and Mothra, signalling that the monsterverse was way bigger than first imagined.
The highlight was seeing Godzilla tussling with Ghidorah, a three-headed behemoth that was similar to a dragon. These drew raptures from the crowd because they are all classic monsters, and definitely fan favorites. When the lights cut, we heard Godzilla's roar from the 2014 movie. Of course, there will need to be some time between this film and their inevitable clash. With Kong still growing physically, it would make sense that he needs a few decades to match up in size, as well as to be able to dodge the beast's atomic breath when they clash in 2020's "Godzilla vs. Kong."
Thoughts on our choices? Let us know in the comments what made Kong: Skull Island stand out for you!