Five things Kong: Skull Island gets right about modern monster movies

Ben Skipper
Contributor
Poster artwork for ‘Kong: Skull Island’. (Credit: Legendary Pictures)

Set for release this week (10 March), ‘Kong: Skull Island’ marks the great ape’s first big screen appearance in over a decade. It’s also the second film in a Legendary Pictures mega-monster cinematic universe that began with 2014’s ‘Godzilla’.

The idea, following 2019’s ‘Godzilla 2’, is for the King of Monsters to face off with King Kong in a earth-shaking, skyscraper-bothering rematch, following their big screen clash in 1962.

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Legendary’s “MonsterVerse” didn’t got off to the best start, with Gareth Edwards’ ‘Godzilla’ met with mixed reviews, but the outlook is brighter with ‘Skull Island’, which is faring much better.

We certainly didn’t dislike Edwards’ film, but we loved Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ blockbuster and a big reason why is how well it pitches monster movies to a modern audience.

So, with that in mind, here are five things ‘Kong: Skull Island’ gets right about monster movies.

It doesn’t waste time

A huge criticism of ‘Godzilla’ is that it spends basically the entire duration of the film teasing its title character, cutting away from fights and generally not giving viewers what they want.

The payoff is a fantastic final battle against the two MUTOs, but it wasn’t worth frustrating audiences to generate anticipation that wasn’t really necessary.

In ‘Skull Island’ Kong appears before any of the principal cast, and the first action scene involving him is roughly half an hour in and plays out in full – showing off the King in all his glory.

It certainly seems like a direct response to those ‘Godzilla’ complaints.

John C Reilly’s character provides comic relief, but is also one of the most well-rounded in the film. (Warner Bros.)

It’s fun

‘Godzilla’ was also accused of being too po-faced.

Though, given the level of destruction in that film and the more serious nature of the ‘Godzilla’ series, especially its origins, it makes a certain amount of sense that it wouldn’t be a laugh-a-minute romp.

It could have used a little more levity though, and that’s something ‘Kong: Skull Island’ has to spare. For example, seconds before the proverbial hits the fan, one awe-struck military helicopter pilot asks simple, “Is that a monkey?”

The script offers laughs but there’s also a joy to way Vogt-Roberts has shot the film, and in some of the particularly gruesome scenes in which Kong encounters Skull Island’s other residents…

Harryhausen DNA

… And there are a lot of other residents. There for Kong to protect and for him to fight off, chief among them are the Skull Crawlers – which pose the biggest threat to the great ape’s island life.

These terrifying creatures, designed to be as alien as possible compared to the humanoid frame of Kong, have the appearance and presence of death. They’re nasty buggers, but unlike ‘Godzilla’, the film doesn’t stop with one additional monster.

One of the Skull Crawlers. (Credit: Legendary Pictures)

Throughout the film there are others: giant spiders walking through bamboo forests, a large stick insect thing one soldier tries to take a break on, and an enormous moss-covered water buffalo to name just a few.

It’s the spirit of Ray Harryhausen lovingly honoured in modern cinema, and evokes the original 1933 creature feature as well.

It successfully casts Kong as a heroic figure

Godzilla certainly isn’t the villain in the Edwards’ film, but the film doesn’t quite convey him as heroic until the end, when he happens to win the climatic fight and then decides not to do any more damage.

That survivors of the San Francisco mega-scrap started cheering at the end of that film, in the wake of thousands upon thousands of deaths, doesn’t sit right.

One of ‘Skull Island’s best shots. (Credit: Legendary Pictures)

By comparison Kong is cast as heroic throughout the film by simple virtue of being in the right. He’s Skull Island’s great protector, and he even gets some semblance of a story arc that makes the climatic battle mean just a little more.

Here’s a tragic loneliness to Kong that makes him a more sympathetic hero than most human ones.

The huge action scenes are shot clearly

Gareth Edwards is a master of shooting scale, which certainly helps when it comes to Godzilla. Vogt-Roberts proves he’s dept in this area as well, and it all helps convey the enormity of these creatures ahead of their big fights.

When these fights happen, Gozilla against the MUTOs and Kong against [let’s not spoil it], they’re effective and hard-hitting. They’re both shot clearly too, a compliment to each in a world of shaky cam cinema.

Both films provide immense kaiju tussles, and that bodes well for ‘Godzilla: King of Monsters’ in 2019, and 2020’s ‘Kong vs Godzilla’. Bring ’em on.

‘Kong: Skull Island’ is out in UK cinemas now.