Two Cents Film Club – APE-RIL Concludes With a Trip to KONG: SKULL ISLAND

A distinctly different on cinema’s original giant ape

Two Cents is a Cinapse original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team curates the series and contribute their “two cents” using a maximum of 200-400 words. Guest contributors and comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future picks. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion. Would you like to be a guest contributor or programmer for an upcoming Two Cents entry? Simply watch along with us and/or send your pitches or 200-400 word reviews to [email protected].

The Pick: Kong: Skull Island

It’s been a swell “APE-RIL” in honor of Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, and we’re finishing out our simian cinema lineup with 2017’s Kong: Skull Island. Unlike last week’s Peter Jackson epic, Kong Island is a radical reimaginng of the Kong lore, as is interconnected with Warner Bros.’ larger “MonsterVerse” franchise, of which G x K is the latest outing. Set against the early 1970s, Skull Island tells the story of a group of explorers who set out to explore the mysterious Skull Island, only to discover far more than they bargained for. Technically part of a larger franchise, Skull Island has the benefit of being easily watchable as its own stand alone story, and one of the stranger entries in the storied Kong legacy.

Featured Guest

Jemarco Shaw


The Vietnam War rages on, the nation has never been more divided, and as tension arises,
everyone gathers to ask one simple question: What if cool monsters existed?

Now granted, Jordan-Vogt Robert’s Kong: Skull Island may not reach the artistic heights of
Peter Jackson’s 2005 epic, but what it lacks in subtlety, it makes up for in relentless balls-out

The story follows Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), two representatives from the super secret monster organization known as Monarch, who assemble a crack team of scientists and Vietnam soldiers to travel to the mysterious Skull Island. The crew includes Sam Jackson as Col. Preston Packard, chewing scenery as he does so well, Brie Larson as photographer Mason Weaver, Tom Hiddleston as James Conrad, tracker, ex-British Secret Service, and the resident badass. Rounding out the group are an assortment of lovable jarheads from Jason Mitchell to the MVP Shea Wingham. Once the journey begins, the gang realizes they are far from alone: This island already has a king. His name is Kong.

From the moment the group encounters the big guy, Roberts throws everything at the screen,
seemingly all at once. Helicopters ablaze while Black Sabbath blares in the background, using trees
as baseball bats, and perhaps the greatest “guy getting eaten” transition ever put to celluloid. While
Randa is there strictly for scientific purposes, Col. Packard makes it his life’s mission to kill Kong,
and anyone that gets in his way. Meanwhile, Conrad and Weaver get to hang around John C.
Reilly’s Hank Madow, a soldier marooned on the island, clueless to the world around them.

Skull Island is a movie that shamelessly wears its influences on its sleeve, pulling from anime, video
games, and its predecessors to create something that may not be as thought-provoking as previous
installments, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a sugar rush, directed with the same frivolous glee as a
kid smashing two action figures together. So turn that brain off, grab some popcorn and enjoy the

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The Team

Austin Vashaw

Toho Studios could scarce have realized when first pairing up King Kong and Godzilla in the early 1960s – each at that time with only a couple films under their belts – that these titans would still be box office hits, and coexisting in a shared universe under Warner brothers, some 60 years later.

Skull Island introduced Kong to the “Monsterverse”, retaining the character and Skull Island mythos – but not the plot – of the classic King Kong tale and its remakes. Even from 1933, the Kong films have been pretty intense for their time, in light of a general family audience, and that trend continues with this treatment, set at the end of the Vietnam conflict and packed with weird  monsters and gnarly kills. In my opinion Skull Island does a better job than any previous film in actually feeling the immense scope of Kong and his world – kudos to the digital artists who rendered this all so marvelously.

I feel like director Jordan Vogt-Roberts definitely saw his opportunity to tip his hat to his favorite Vietnam movies and make a tangential film that’s as much about war as it is creature adventure. Most notably with a tortured commander in Samuel L. Jackson’s LTC Packard, a warrior who finds himself without a war and therefore, he believes, without a purpose.

On this rewatch I was particularly taken by John C. Reilly’s character, a downed WWII pilot who was stranded on the island and becomes the group’s navigator. The coda of his story plays out over the credits and I’d forgotten how wonderfully touching it is.

Austin on Letterboxd

Jay Tyler

Skull Island is a movie I have a lot of affinity for, and I truly think a lot of its strength comes from the initial surprise of it. I may not be as versed in all the various Kong variants throughout the history of cinema, but the delightful surprises of how Jordan Vogt-Roberts directing pulls from unexpected influences to inject into Skull Island creates a distinct vision that makes it stand out. In many ways, it feels like an artifact from an alternate reality where Sam Raimi was given the keys to a Kong movie, and that vibe is exhilarating when it fully reveals itself.

The best part of Skull Island though is the incredible cast. Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson as ostensible leads are passable enough, but it is the supporting cast that elevate this to a true gem of a horror-action romps. Samuel L. Jackson as the post-Vietnam shellshocked Colonel Packard blends elements of Moby Dick and Heart of Darkness to create a truly memorable foil for Kong. John Goodman offers a balance of humanity and sly menace as the conspiracy-nut-proven-accurate. And John C. Reilly serves as the heart of the film, offering a ballast to all of the madness. Each piece of cast settles into place to create an ensemble the gives weight to the mad chaos of action between Kong and his unsettling foes. The oddness of Skull Island being a building block for the larger Monarch franchise doesn’t lessen its magic as one of the stranger ventures into the Kong lore, and certainly one of the most distinctive. I wish some of his zany Looney Tunes energy leaked into some of the other Monarch films, but as a singular object, I still think it’s pretty special.

@JaytheCakeThief on X

Frank Cavillo

It should be made clear that Kong: Skull Island is fun. A lot of fun. Anyone going to a film such as this is expecting spectacle, which is exactly what the filmmakers give their audiences from start to finish. The film generously boasts a number of adrenaline-fueled sequences between creatures fighting humans, creatures fighting each other, and virtually everyone fighting Kong. Each sequence is packed with the kind of action-pumped flair that leaves an audience member on the edge with their eyes widened and their jaws left hanging. Not only are the sequences plentiful, but they’re also rather artful, with one stunning frame of monstrous carnage after another on display. Kong: Skull Island also features some of the best camerawork for a film of its genre to come along in decades, making the most brutal and intense action come off as beautiful and almost operatic. This is especially true in Kong’s battle with the most gigantic octopus the screen has ever seen and in the group’s heart pounding first encounter with the big ape himself as he welcomes everyone to the island in his own personal way.

Read Frank’s full review

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