While watching Kong: Skull Island, you will witness a quite eventful minute for Brie Larson’s war photojournalist character, Mason Weaver. In the span of just a few seconds, Mason falls off of a mountain, lands in a lake filled with creatures, almost drowns, is picked up by a giant gorilla – then, my favorite part: with the same fist in which Kong is holding Mason, Kong punches a monster down the throat, ripping out its tongue.
Many years later, how does Mason Weaver tell that story to her future children?
“Mom, I had a bad day at school. Buddy Lancaster stole my lunch money.”
“Oh, yeah. Well, I was once inside a giant gorilla’s fist as he used that same fist to rip out a monster’s tongue and everything turned out okay. So, I dunno, maybe take a sack lunch tomorrow.”
Anyway, Kong: Skull Island is a hoot.
Admittedly, I really didn’t feel I needed another King Kong movie in my life. It was only 12 years ago that Peter Jackson made a pretty fine reimagining of the King Kong Story. But even with that movie, we knew the story: Kong is found on a remote island, he’s brought to the United States, he climbs a tall building and swats at airplanes. If Peter Jackson’s version couldn’t quite find its audience (Jackson’s King Kong got pretty good reviews, but was considered a disappointment at the box office), why would we think we needed director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ version in 2017?
Set in 1973 during the final days of the Vietnam War, Kong: Skull Island doesn’t really even try to associate itself with the story that we already know. In that way, it’s refreshing. Bill Randa (John Goodman) is a senior official at Monarch (we met some Monarch folks back in Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla) who is trying to secure government funding for an expedition to a previously unseen island that has been recently discovered with satellite technology. (Randa finally pulls this off by telling a senator, played by Richard Jenkins, that if the U.S. didn’t go, the Russians surely would and we wouldn’t want that. Anyway, those were the days…)
A giant expedition to Skull Island is put together. Bill Randa is there, but he and his Monarch cronies have hired The Best Tracker money can buy in James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston). The aforementioned photojournalist Mason Weaver is part of the team. And there’s a large military presence, led by Samuel L. Jackson’s Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard – in which Jackson gives a surprisingly subdued and quiet performance. (I’m kidding; Jackson even brings back his “hold onto your butts” line from Jurassic Park.)
So, if you’re at all worried that you’re going to buy a ticket to see Kong: Skull Island and have to wait until the end of the movie to finally see Kong in action, this will not be an issue. As soon as the Vietnam-era helicopters enter the Skull Island airspace, they are greeted in a very rude manner by Kong, who effortlessly swats them out of the air.
This creates a split in the team, figuratively and geographically. James Conrad and Mason Weaver soon discover that Kong is the protector of this island and Kong saw the helicopters as threats. Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard wants to kill Kong as revenge for the men that were killed from his unit and Packard doesn’t care about the consequences to the local ecosystem.