In KONG: SKULL ISLAND Tom Hiddleston plays a tracker who accompanies a group of scientists and soldiers to the uncharted area of Skull Island. Once the group arrives on Skull Island, Tom Hiddleston doesn’t do much tracking. I guess he does a little, but most of the tracking he does in the film is all pretty pointless and not that helpful. He kind of just stands around in the background and glares mostly. I think he points his gun a couple times, and tells a few of his favorite tracking tales as well. I’ve seen quite a few people make the claim that you could completely excise Hiddleston’s character from the film and nothing would really change plot-wise. That’s probably not wrong, but I think that would be a bad idea.
I’ve been on the internet quite a few times. I’ve been to Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Not so much Snapchat. But if there is one thing I have learned during my time on the ‘net, it’s that there are a lot of people who find Tom Hiddleston sexually attractive. In KONG: SKULL ISLAND, Hiddleston wears a lot of tight t-shirts, carries a sword, and has this big hero scene where he kills a bunch of flying dinosaur-bat things with that sword. I have a theory that the people who are sexually attracted to Tom Hiddleston really like these parts of the movie a lot. That’s the reason you shouldn’t excise the Hiddleston character from the movie; The eye candy. And eye candy is pretty much what KONG: SKULL ISLAND is composed of.
The year is 1973 – near the end of the Vietnam War, and the start of Watergate – and conspiracy theorist, Bill Randa (John Goodman) know there is some funky shit going down. Randa approaches Senator Richard Jenkins and explains to him that he strongly believes that there is some weird stuff happening on the uncharted “Skull Island”, and he convinces the senator to bankroll an expedition to the island to explore it. The exploration team assembles and consists of Preston Packard (Sam Jackson), a military commander who can’t get over the war in Vietnam; Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), an anti-war photographer, and the aforementioned, Tom Hiddleston as Captain James Conrad. Oh, and a bunch of soldiers and scientists who end up being Kong fodder.
The 1973 setting is a nice change of pace for the franchise, but it never really serves as anything more than a way for the movie to throw in a bunch of references to other movies- particularly movies about the Vietnam War – and play songs like Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Run through the Jungle”. SKULL ISLAND feels like a movie that was directed by someone who mainly knows the Vietnam War through movies like APOCALYPSE NOW and PLATOON, but that’s probably because the movies director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts is only 32 years old, so I guess that’s not really his fault. In interviews, Vogt-Roberts has said that a bunch of films, not just war films, inspired KONG: SKULL ISLAND. He’s stated that films such as, APOCALYPSE NOW, THE CONVERSATION, PLATOON, THE HOST, NEON GENESIS EVANGELION, PRINCESS MONOKE, and POKEMON all served as inspirations in some form or fashion. That’s cool and all, and I like movies too, but I kind of think if you’re gonna play up the war aspect of the movie, as SKULL ISLAND does at times, maybe throw in a documentary or something. HEARTS OF DARKNESS doesn’t count btw.
At the end of the day, the movie references don’t really bug me that much. It’s something that film nerds will recognize, but I don’t think it’s overwhelming. It’s fine. They also – purposely or not- fit in with the rest of the KONG franchise. The original 1933 film, and the Peter Jackson movie, both follow film production crews to the island where they meet Kong; so, in a weird way the constant film-nods in SKULL ISLAND kinda work as a callback to those films.
SKULL ISLAND doesn’t feature a ton of callbacks to the other films in the series though. The movie feels like more of a response to Peter Jackson’s 2005 film, than anything. I like Jackson’s movie, but I’ll admit that the film is po-faced and overlong for the most part. KONG: SKULL ISLAND isn’t that at all. It’s fast, funny, and full of color. Vogt-Roberts brings a youthful energy to SKULL ISLAND that is missing from Jackson’s film, and honestly missing from a lot of blockbusters these days. That’s the tradeoff, I guess. A movie that is all at once flashy and vibrant, but also keeps the viewer at arm’s length with constant references, and an attitude that makes sure you know that it’s never taking itself too seriously.
That attitude is both a good and a bad thing for SKULL ISLAND, particularly when it comes to the human side of the film. The only human character in the film that works on any deeper level shows up halfway through the film (after a short introduction at the beginning), and that’s Hank Marlow, played by John C. Reilly. Marlow is an American soldier from World War 2 who has been stranded on the island for 29 years after his plane went down during a battle over Skull Island. Marlow provides a nice balance to the cynicism that exudes from the soldiers and scientists on the expedition, and provides a look into the attitudes of those involved in both wars. Marlow is idealistic and virtuous, almost like an everyman Captain America, and he provides the film’s biggest laughs, and most heartfelt moments. He’s easily the best human character in the film.
The best monkey character in the film is Kong. I mentioned earlier that a lot of this film feels like a response to Peter Jackson’s film, but it also feels like a response to the GODZILLA movie from a few years back. Where that film teased full-on Godzilla action, before constantly pulling back before the big payoff and reveal of the monster, SKULL ISLAND lets the big ape loose from the get-go. Kong doesn’t hold back either. The action scenes in SKULL ISLAND are one the movie’s strengths, and they are also where Vogt-Roberts seems the most comfortable.
Kong also is still a pretty sympathetic fella, but maybe a little less so in this one. He does have a tragic backstory involving other creatures on the island killing his parents, but there isn’t the beauty and the beast story that unfolds in a lot of the other Kong movies. There are a couple of nods to that story, but this one seems to be mainly concerned with Kong punching monsters, and eating giant squid like he’s Oldboy.
SKULL ISLAND ends up being a fun, but flawed, monster movie. For me, it’s probably the second or third best solo Kong movie. It never comes close to the original, but I feel like it’s a toss-up between this and the Peter Jackson movie for second place. As bloated as Jackson’s movie is, it still has some amazing high points – high points that are never reached by KONG: SKULL ISLAND, but also never attempted by the film. That’s fine. The movie is still a lot of fun for what it is. I just hope these monster movies don’t completely ignore their human side by focusing too much on the eye candy.