Kong: Skull Island is set at the tail end of the Vietnam war, and it is clear that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has re-imagined a whole new life for the giant ape – and not a prequel to the well-known tale.
Making so many changes to such an iconic character could have been disastrous, but Skull Island holds up. The film takes the audience on an exhilarating adventure, providing a refreshing upgrade to its predecessors .
The original struggling actress character has been replaced by a driven anti-war photojournalist, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). Meanwhile, the sketchy director is now sketchy explorer Bill Randa (John Goodman), and Captain Englehorn’s ship and crew has turned into a military escort led by Lt Col Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). The film also features former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), and second world war lieutenant Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), who has been stranded on Skull Island for 28 years.
Kong: Skull Island is an epic adventure full of laughs, monsters, and Tom Hiddleston’s biceps [Review]
Vogt-Roberts uses symbolism to great effect in this film. For example, as the group arrives at Skull Island and their helicopters coast by in the background, a dragonfly lands on a branch in the foreground, hinting at how tiny humans are compared to the creatures they are about to face.
Also, at the start of the movie, every scene is perfectly symmetrical. But once the explorers get to the island, they drop explosives to “test soil density”, which results in Kong rushing to defend his territory. From this point on, the symmetry deteriorates, symbolising the chaos of nature on Skull Island.
Because the humans are so clearly depicted as invaders, viewers’ sympathies are with Kong. And this drives home a thought-provoking message: humans do not own the Earth, a welcome undercurrent of environmental consciousness.
Skull Island also brilliantly reverses certain ethnic and gender roles. In the original, the white explorer “saviours” arrive at the island to find natives about to sacrifice a young girl to Kong, but in the updated movie, there are no sacrifices involved; in fact the natives are the ones who protected and sheltered Marlow all those years he was stranded.
Another welcome change: a female character in an action movie who isn’t purely decorative. (Just the one, sadly; the other woman, Jing Tian, is.) Mason helps save the day in not one, but two battle sequences. So it is refreshing to see her represented realistically: dressed in practical clothing, bare-faced, with hair that isn’t perfectly arranged, not in high heels (ahem, Jurassic World). As in the original, Mason is also the character to bond with Kong, the most reasonable voice, befriending the gorilla and saving her friends. And bonus: there is no forced romance between her and James. How refreshing.