Kong: Skull Island takes inspiration from Japanese interpretation of Kong
One of the most iconic movies in the history of film is the 1933 monster movie classic King Kong. The film tells the story of a giant gorilla who falls in love with a human girl, a story that has captivated audiences for almost 85 years after its original release. The effect of this film is so strong that it has inspired multiple generations of monster movies even decades after its release. It also inspired two, big-budget remakes: a modern re-telling by Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis in 1976 and a faithful period piece remake from Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson in 2005. Now, the giant ape has returned with Kong: Skull Island. Rather than simply doing another remake of the original, this new movie takes Kong and does something completely different. Despite having “Kong” in the title, this movie is actually the second installment in a new franchise of U.S. monster movies that started with the 2014 U.S. reboot of Japan’s iconic monster movie Godzilla, aptly titled Monsterverse. Considering its predecessor, this movie takes a lot of inspiration from the Japanese interpretation of Kong and sets the stage for the possibility of a sequel featuring a showdown between both monsters.
As the title implies, the primary setting of the movie is Kong’s homeland of Skull Island. After a United States satellite discovers an island that has long eluded scientists, government agent Bill Randa, played by John Goodman, leads a covert team to the island to learn more about it and to find any and all life forms that inhabit it. Upon arrival, they quickly encounter the guardian of the island, King Kong. But as they learn from a Marine, played by John C. Reilly, who was trapped on the island since World War II, Kong is actually a benign creature and the sole guardian of the island against the various monsters that threaten to kill the team.
Just going by its plot, this movie is a massive love letter to both King Kong and classic Japanese monster movies. In some ways, it succeeds in emulating the latter movies more so than the recent Godzilla reboot. Even details like the overall story and campy dialogue are accounted for. While people in rubber suits have given way to modern CGI technology, the fights between the monsters are just as spectacular and over the top in this film as they were previously, especially the climactic battle between Kong and the enormous lizard-like creatures that roam around his island.
This movie handles monsters far better than Godzilla. Rather than rehashing designs from recent U.S. monster movies of the 21st century, the filmmakers draw upon inspiration from both Eastern and Western monster movies. Indeed, a handful of the monsters themselves do not seem too far removed from a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel, rather than just a Japanese monster movie. Finally, there is Kong himself.
Going into this movie, the filmmakers really wanted to make their version of the ape to be the most impressive to appear yet. Compared to Jackson’s more anatomically correct interpretation, the new Kong takes a lot more inspiration from previous versions, with his overall design being heavily inspired by the original 1933 Kong. Like Jackson’s Kong, this creature is brought to life via motion capture, provided this time around by Terry Notary.
Despite CGI advancements in the more than 10 years since the last Kong movie, the new Kong still lacks the impressive detail that Jackson brought to the table with his take. For that matter, the special effects of every subsequent Kong remake after the original all seem to lack the groundbreaking feel that the original stop-motion models had on audiences then and now.
That is not to say that this is a bad version of the character, because his scenes are undoubtedly the highlight of the film and the action sequences with him work especially well in IMAX. Like any other classic monster movie, the human characters are given less focus. This time around, the displacement of focus does not result in forgettable human characters. Goodman, Tom Hiddleston and Samuel L. Jackson all play the traditional monster movie character role of mad scientist, dashing male lead and action commando respectively. Each approach their role with a sense of love and admiration for the genre, without making it too hokey.
With the success of rebooting Godzilla and now Kong, monster movies are now on the cusp of finally being taken seriously by Western mainstream audiences.