All monster films fall into one of two categories: the kind that takes its time revealing the monster, and the kind that shows you the monster right away and never leaves it for long. Think “Jaws” (fins and scary music for the first hour) as opposed to “Deep Blue Sea” or “Sharknado” (Shark-o-Rama pretty much throughout). Most versions of the King Kong story have fallen into the first category: the 1933 original, the 1976 remake, and Peter Jackson’s three-hour 2005 version unveiled the big ape gradually. “Kong: Skull Island,” on the other hand, introduces Kong after less than half an hour, then keeps him (and lots of other big, scary creatures) front and center throughout the film’s 118-minute running time. There’s even a moment where another character tells a story about Kong battling creatures and the movie cuts to images of Kong battling the creatures, in case you weren’t getting your fill of monster-on-monster action.
I’m not mentioning the difference in approach to condemn the new Kong: quite the contrary. This one—about a team of soldiers and scientists that gets stranded on Skull Island during a mission to map the island’s geological interior with explosive charges, which you absolutely should not do when visiting a place called Skull Island—is a half-magnificent, half-misguided example of a “show me the monster” movie. At its best it reminded me of “The Mysterious Island” and “The Land that Time Forgot,” films that were little more than collections of monster-driven action scenes hitched to a perfunctory story about explorers wandering a jungle, doing stuff they were warned not to do, and getting eaten.
Matt Zoller Seitz
Film critic and filmmaker.