It’s been a while since I actually hit a movie opening night, and the nerdy glory of Kong: Skull Island made it feel like too long. With set pieces designed by local artist WarWolf Projects and a green screen for Kong selfies provided by PopCulture Classroom*, The Alamo Draft House turned what I expected to be just another movie night into something a little more special.
The opening scene captures the heart of the film: Two World War II soldiers have shot each other down over a deserted island. No sooner have they disentangled themselves from their parachutes than they begin shooting again. The fight has all of the swashbuckling swagger of an Errol Flynn movie. And just as they are about to kill each other, Kong appears and we dramatically…
CUT TO BLACK.
The underlying theme that “we create our enemies” is revisited throughout the film, giving the otherwise pure action flick a genuine message. This doesn’t stop Kong from adopting a playful tone, however, and it is definitely aware that it is a ridiculous monster movie. Everything from the script to the mise en scene to the music to the post credit stinger revels in that freedom. While we never get off the island and back to New York in this particular version of King Kong, we get to see some of the most epic monster fights yet created on the silver screen. And if you’re a classic monster movie fan, that’s really what you’re coming for.
The story is kept simple and the characters are kept archetypal, with a few intelligent updates. The damsel in distress is now just a fiery dame. The primitive natives are now an ancient society that offers no explanation for itself, only help to the travelers passing through. The updates give way to great moments. Samuel L Jackson gets several epic staredowns with Kong himself. And there is a scene where Tom Hiddleston fights pteranodon-vampire-bats, in slow motion, through poison gas, with a katana. So, yeah. Skull Island is simultaneously ridiculous and epic, and a simple story with simple characters serve to highlight that wonderfully.
The cast seems to revel in playing a characters who know they are in an absurd situation. John C. Riley has the most fun of all, as the now much older World War II vet from the opening scene who becomes the explorers’ guide and conscience. His character walks the line between knowing that the monsters are kind of an inside joke with the audience, and knowing better than any of the other characters that they will kill everyone anyway if given the opportunity.
Anyone who ever fell in love with the old Godzilla/Kong movies will be able to appreciate the care for the source material apparent in Kong: Skull Island. Great special effects heighten the experience and are deliberately reminiscent of classic cinematic monster fights. It might just be the most perfect monster movie update yet.
*Editorial Disclosure: Chloe is employed with PopCulture Classroom. PopCulture Classroom is not affiliated with The Loresworn Order, and did not sponsor, commission, or approve this article.