I’ll be very honest with you – Tom Hiddleston is the only reason I watched this movie.
Kong: Skull Island is a slightly updated take on the original, but it has more or less the same basic elements. Giant monkey? Check. Woman he becomes attached to? Check. Men who want to kill him? Check.
Read on for spoilers, if you haven’t already seen it. It’s been on Netflix for ages, so you’ve had time.
In the original 1933 movie, a producer takes a pretty blonde woman called Ann for a location filmshoot on Skull Island. She gets kidnapped by the local tribes who offer her as a sacrifice to King Kong. Enamoured with her, he kills a dinosaur or three to protect her (yes, there are dinosaurs). She gets
rescued, Kong gets captured and taken back to New York and put on display. He escapes, snatches up Ann and climbs the Empire State Building, where he gets shot by a bunch of biplanes and dies. On the deep and philosophical line, “twas Beauty killed the Beast”, the movie ends and the citizens of NYC presumably get on with cleaning up the massive mammal that just plummeted 102 stories onto their streets.
The new plot
The 2017 reboot is a little different. Set in 1973, the expedition to the island is for sciencey reasons instead. We have a mad scientist and his team who provide the impetus for the expedition but then really don’t do much at all, the gorgeous Brie Larsen as the pretty anti-war photo-journalist (the new Ann, only useful), Tom Hiddleston as a beautifully spoken mercenary who is apparently an expert at exploring uncharted territory, and Samuel L Jackson as the slightly unhinged commander of a bunch of American troops.
They all go flying into the island in a bunch of big helicopters and start dropping depth charges, allegedly to measure seismic echoes or somesuch. This confirms Team Mad Scientist’s theory that the island is hollow. Unfortunately, it wakes up Kong who beats 10 bells out of the helicopters, leaving the survivors (of which there are a surprising amount) scattered across the island.
After some initial fumbling around and the discovery that everything on this island is super-size, including the spiders, the expedition is split into roughly three groups: Team Explorer, made up of the two younger scientists, Brie Larsen and Tom Hiddleston; Team Kill Everything, led by Samuel L Jackson and composed of the surviving soldiers and the oldest scientist; and Team I’m Clearly Going to Die, which is a single soldier who writes a touching letter to his child. Team Explorer start bush-bashing optimistically but cautiously through the wilderness in search of the choppers coming to pick them up on the other side of the island. Team Kill Everything do much the same, but are instead searching for Team I’m Clearly Going to Die.
Team Explorer come across a tribe of very quiet native people who have been looking after an American soldier (played by John C Reilly) who crashed on the island in WW2 and became besties with a Japanese pilot who also crashed there, after their initial attempts to murder each other. He’s long dead by the time Team Explorer finds his American buddy, presumably because we already have a black man in a lead role, two black supporting characters who get actual spoken lines AND an Asian lady in a supporting role who gets at least two words, so we’ve filled our racial diversity quota. Anyway, we find out that the tribe worships Kong, who protects them from giant two-armed lizard things who killed his family. Kong is the last giant ape. There is a myth that when he dies the most giantest of giant lizards will arise from the earth and kill everyone else.
Meanwhile, having taken on killing Kong as his life’s purpose, Team Kill Everything are continuing on their merry way doing as the name suggests. In a twist NOBODY SAW COMING (I mean, he’d written a heartfelt letter to his child) Team I’m Clearly Going to Die gets murdered by a giant lizard thing (but not the really big one. Just a little giant one).
After various shenanigans, the two surviving teams meet up and instantly have a difference of opinion. Team Explorer wants to escape; Team Kill Everything wants to kill Kong. Because Team KE has all the guns, Team E has to sort of capitulate and starts to run away to the choppers. Unsuprinsgly, because they are main characters and clearly have some simmering sexual tension, Brie and Tom, joined by John C Reilly, tell the supporting characters to leave and then go and try and stop Team KE. They make a nice attempt but Kong still gets mostly murdered and super-lizard arises. There’s a long battle with multiple “is he dead? No, he’s got a last reserve of strength!” moments and eventually Kong survives, the lizard and Samuel L Jackson are both dead, and the remaining characters chug into the sunset on their makeshift boat.
If you want a straight-up action movie with good CGI and a plot that doesn’t get deep, yes. If you want to watch Tom Hiddleston play a badass who secretly has a heart of gold but also a dark past we never really talk about, then yes. If you want to see Samual L Jackson act a little crazy and get trigger-happy with the napalm, then yes.
Nothing about this movie is mind-blowing or unexpected, but it is a good little action romp with gorgeous scenery, some funny characters, and the occasional moment that tugs on the heart-strings. Brie’s character actually gets to do some stuff rather than just being scenery, which is nice. Tom Hiddleston’s character is a little inconsistent (stone-cold but also really not?) but he carries it off, largely due to speaking so beautifully you forget any other problems with what he’s up to. Samuel L Jackson’s character is almost bizarrely sympathetic – he clearly feels like he has no purpose with his role in the Vietnam war ending, he’s mad as hell that his men got killed, and he wants to avenge them. However, because Kong is also clearly sympathetic – he reacts to his home being bombed by coming out and taking out the bombers, and is actually largely pro-human – we as the audience expect Jackson to just get over it, forget all his dead soldiers and learn to be a functional civilian. He plays the character with just enough madness to take away just enough sympathy for us to be happy casting him as the bad guy (a spot he shares admirably well with Giant Lizard).
It’s clear that a great imagination has concocted this world, populated by a range of bizarre and beautiful creatures, and some phenomenal artists have clearly worked very hard to make this movie a thing.
The biggest let-down of the movie is its intense predictability. Yes, it is a remake, but they change so much about the plot that you’d have thought it wouldn’t be as clear where it is going. It is, though. In terms of the overarching plot, there wasn’t a single narrative point that surprised me.
Would I watch it again? If I was in the right mood. Does it rank amongst my top ten? Not even close. Is Tom Hiddleston’s voice still to die for? 100%.