‘Savage’ is a word that’s been become misconstrued in usage over time. As an alumni of a school that had to “rebrand” due to political pressures from that term being inappropriate, I know it carries weight for many in that way. More recently, I hear the word popping up frequently in social media, following particularly pointed verbal barbs with no regard for consequences.
Let’s take it back to a lesser used meaning. Savage can come to describe the danger, fierceness, and violent surprise that comes with the unpredictable nature of…well, nature. The term fits the setting of Kong: Skull Island, but it also fits its filmmaking style. Before delving too deep, I can broadly say that this newest take on the famous ape has an intensity and unpredictable nature to its action sequences that are a breath of fresh air. Walking in the shadow of the original black-and-white classic and many other iterations (including most recently the 2005 film directed by Peter Jackson), it’s the ‘savage’ qualities of this take that earn this film its own distinction. Taking much larger strides than 2014’s largely dull Godzilla in building a cohesive “Monsterverse”, this feels very much like a prelude to more (as moviegoers are now accustomed to with so many mega-franchises), but it does enough right to be worthy on its own.
As one can gather from this review’s featured image, this film is set in 1973, post-Vietnam, and it follows a military-escorted scientific expedition to an uncharted island in the South Pacific, filled with ancient dangerous creatures unseen by modern man. Kong has always been incredible to witness with his size and ferocity, but let’s just say he is not alone in this land lost in time. Viewers are given many, many people to follow, so don’t go in expecting full character arcs for most of them. There are only a handful you’ll remember by name (if you even do that), and that’s totally OK. Tom Hiddleston is a soldier-of-fortune, Brie Larson a photo-journalist, John Goodman a scientist, Samuel L. Jackson a Colonel, and John C. Reilly is the best part of the entire thing. They are all pieces of a story, more than they are characters, but all are geared toward staging a heightened reality, and ultimately, this is all primarily a ride for entertainment rather than traditional storytelling, be that through its visual awe or its unabashed humor. Sometimes, we don’t want complicated drama; we just want to have fun. That’s this film completely.
Many might knock the film for an inconsistent tone, but again, those considerations are really secondary here. The action is completely on-point from beginning to end, as is the comedy. As if winking at us the entire time, it’s obvious that this film and its makers know it’s a B-movie, and with the technology and abilities of filmmaking today, they are setting out to make one of the best B-movies ever made. I would say they succeed here. I missed this film in theaters sadly, but with the freedom that comes with viewing at home, I watched it, loved it, and, immediately, started it over again. Few movies can elicit that kind of reaction from me, but Kong did. The introduction of the titular ape amidst a bevy of helicopters is one of the best action sequences of recent memory, and that alone made it all worth seeing.
Speaking of that sequence, more than just cribbing from Apocalypse Now, this film outright lifts iconic shots. The script has fun with itself, allowing Samuel L. Jackson to reutter famous lines from another “monster movie” of his. Songs from Creedance Clearwater Revival and Black Sabbath blare out at all the right moments, because, of course! Out of nowhere, people die in incredibly gruesome ways (some surprised me with the PG-13 rating). All of this I mention to highlight that this is a popcorn film, all the way. While it is unapologetically self-aware, I absolutely loved it. Sure, the cannon-fodder… I mean characters didn’t really connect with me on a level I usually require from stories; still, I was too busy having fun with the whole thing to care.
From a content perspective, the language is exactly as you should expect from a film following a military battalion around. Along with all that, there was a very unnecessary F-bomb which I feel Hollywood slips in at least once to squeek past an R-rating. Violence is gruesome and often, so I would caution those considering it for young children. However, this is exactly the type of movie teenage boys live for: soldiers, monsters, explosions, and laughs galore. Also, there was no sexual content to speak of, nor was there any spiritual content, other than the conversations that might come afterward, such as about the responsibility of man in regards to nature and even how vengeance can cloud our better judgment.
In closing, I realize I really haven’t spoken about the big guy himself. While he doesn’t carry the pathos that comes along with Caesar of the Planet of the Apes films, that’s clearly not the goal (even if they steal the zoom-in on the eyes shot again here). Kong’s a full on action hero here, laying the smack down in ways that make you cheer. After this, I can’t wait for his inevitable meeting with Godzilla down the line. Of all the Cinematic Universes cooking up, my anticipation increased greatly for more of the great ape and all that follows. If the humor and the action keeps up in this expanding series of films, moviegoers are truly in for a great time.
SCORE: 7.75 (out of 10)