Kong: Skull Island

Mar 20, 2017

Scary, spectacular, and sweet: a good movie time.

Kong: Skull Island

Grade: B+

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer)

Screenplay: Dan Gilroy(Nightcrawler), Max Borenstein (Minority Report), Derek Connolly (Jurassic World)

Cast: Tom Hiddleston (Thor), Brie Larson (Room)

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 1 hr 59 min

by John DeSando

". . . The land where God did not finish creation . . . the place where myth and science meet." Bill Randa (John Goodman)

In Kong: Skull Island, the real science is the creation by director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and writers of a believable myth, gigantism run amok with a hundred-foot gorilla and other nasty, very large pre-historic monsters. By paying homage to 1933 filmmakers Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedack’s Kong, this film shows myths can be reworked to maintain their original power while complementing the proceedings with new angles of vision.

Although Skull Island is a place of death as monsters battle for control, it still houses benign natives and visiting guests like tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). The dark side is Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), who not only represents the tunnel vision of present-day militarism but also the myth of the sexually powerful black man, a cultural companion to the imposing Kong.

However, this Kong has grown in sensitivity over 84 years: He protects the island’s good denizens from the devils below and he respects the new blonde Fay Wray, Mason Weaver:   

“People here used to live in fear, from everything. Then something strange happened: some of the monsters here started protecting them from the other monsters trying to kill them.” Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly).  This is a Kong to love more than fear.

Gone is the threatening sexuality of the early Kong with his probing fingers; here is a monster more like a schoolboy seeing a beautiful teacher and protecting her.

Notable are this film’s allusions to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (Conrad as last name of this hero and Marlow, Heart’s narrator, and the last name of this WW II leftover Hank, played by Reilly with a wry detachment, a welcome antidote to almost everyone else’s grave demeanor). The multiple shots of an oversized sun and makeshift patrol boat leave no doubt of this film’s debt to Apocalypse Now.

Kong: Skull Island, a still preposterous concept, is yet a modern fable about our collaboration with nature and the menace of the military-industrial complex (consider the current budget proposal’s lavish military spending). Beyond that, it’s darn good story telling accompanied by state-of-the-art graphics to make the experience a marvel rather than a menace.

“Kong's a pretty good king. Keeps to himself, mostly. But you don't go into someone's house and start dropping bombs, unless you're picking a fight.” Marlow

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at