Two things are happening as I write this:
2. Hollywood is feeling a cool autumn chill after the worst Labor Day box-office take in 17 years.
The year is two-thirds finished, folks. And if there's one thing that's come out of it, this not-so-good bad year for movies, it's that Kong: Skull Island is actually really good.
Sure, Kong: Skull Island isn't Oscar bait, and I very much doubt it will be the movie you will, on your deathbed, tell your grandkids they have to see if they really want to understand what life was like back in your day. But, even taking into account the flaws in the movie that Vogt-Roberts himself has acknowledged, I think it's safe to say that Kong: Skull Island is a movie rich enough to merit a rewatch. Or, if you're feeling skeptical, you can read this list first, which recounts some of the strongest and most visually satisfying scenes from Kong: Skull Island.
Opening WWII Sequence
Kong: Skull Island is a story, more so than anything else, about man's ignorance of the danger nature presents. And the very opening sequence, wherein Marlow and Gunpei land on Skull Island, does a beautiful job of illustrating that theme. Two toy soldiers continue fighting a world war that's so far over that it doesn't even matter when Kong's giant hands sneak up on them.
Yes, this is but the first of many "how does a giant ape keep sneaking up on people" moments, but it's still an extremely effective way of getting across this concept that when man fights man, they'll probably both lose out to nature.
Kong vs. Helicopters
Once all of our characters are introduced, we get the first full proper action sequence, and it is a doozy. The extended sequence which sees our travelers traverse through a dangerous hurricane to an even more dangerous island is bookended by the quaking of a bobble-headed Nixon doll. Which is pretty apt considering the extent of Nixon's folly.
And 'folly' is the word to describe Monarch and the army here. They see themselves as smart and powerful, as they use their science bombs to confirm their suspicions that the earth is hollow. And then a giant ape throws a tree through one of their helicopters, nearly kills everyone, and leaves the surviving parties grounded with no easy means of escape. As man vs. nature battles go, I'd rank this among the best I've ever seen.
All that and a great visual set-up where we see Kong's clenched fist as Colonel Packard watches the chaos with a brooding, calculated rage.
Kong vs. the Giant Octopus
If man vs. nature is starting to bore you, don't worry: there's a cool nature vs. nature sequence that breaks up the tension in a funny and empathetic way.
Once the soldiers are separated into a few parties, one soldier, Chapman, finds himself alone. Quietly, he goes into a river to wash his wounds when, suddenly, Kong ninjas himself (again) into the scene, also to wash his wounds.
Then an octopus rolls up and Kong has to kill it. And then he eats the octopus.
But the parallel is that both Kong and Chapman are injured. And neither of them is an ally to the giant octopus. So, without any need of dialogue, we begin to associate Kong as being similar to humans and therefore a potential ally.
Man vs. Giant Spider
Monster movies and even most popular horror movies these days aren't all that gruesome. So imagine my surprise when a soldier suddenly finds himself with a giant spider leg thrust down his whole body.
And then said giant spider attacks all the other soldiers with its stickiness and its enormous mouth before finally being fell by Packard. Honestly, it's one of the most gruesome scenes I've seen in a big budget motion picture in the last decade.
If you love giant spiders, Kong: Skull Island is basically worth it for this scene alone. And if you're terrified of spiders? Same.
The Camera Sequence
In addition to Kong and creepy birds and the giant spider, there are also these great two-legged monsters called skull crawlers who are scary by merit of just looking wrong.
And as our crew has to fight them in this yellow fog, there is a point at which John Goodman gets eaten with his camera going down the gullet of the skull crawler at the same time. From that point onward, you see out on the fog the auto flash as the crawler stalks the remainder of its prey.
And while I will say that a gun-mounted Tricerotops skull and a sword fight are also cool during this sequence, it's really the auto flash going off that most effectively builds the suspense. Without that element, it's just another action scene. With it, it's one of the most tense scenes in the whole movie.
Kong and Packard Parallels
"It's time to show Kong, that man ... is king."
One of the core struggles in the movie belongs to Colonel Packard. He's furious that the war in Vietnam has been abandoned and is chomping at the bit for a war he can win. He decides that war is one against Kong.
And what's cool about Kong and Packard is that they seamlessly change roles during the course of the film. Early we see Kong as villainous, fist clenched and standing above the burning embers of the army's downed helicopter. But, by the end, it's Packard who stands, surrounded by fire, clenching his fist as he stands over a defeated Kong, a Kong who is the only reason any of humanity is even still alive on Skull Island.
The clenched fist motif is a cool visual parallel and serves as a beautiful way to represent the reversal of fortune that is Packard and Kong effectively trading places over who is hero and who is villain.
Skull Crawler vs. Grenade Expectations
Filmmaker Max Landis, bless him, sure does have a lot of opinions. One of them is that Kong: Skull Island is incredibly nihilistic. And while I'm not sure I agree that the entire movie is about how none of our decisions matter, I do think there's one scene that is nihilistic as @#$%.
You know how in most action and horror movies there's a character that sacrifices themselves in some way to save their friends? That's Cole in this movie. Cole tries to distract the giant skull crawler away from his friends while holding some grenades. So they skull crawler eats the grenades, right?
NOPE! Momma Skull Crawler ain't raise no fool, so Cole gets knocked to the side and blown up by himself. Apparently some people hated the futility of that, but I loved it. Nihilistic? Yup. And also a fantastic subversion of action movie expectation.
Kong vs. the Giant Skull Crawler
But of course nothing is better than two giant monsters fighting. And Kong vs. the Skull Crawler is a feast for the eyes. So much action, so much danger, so much engine on a chain flying into a monster's head. Once again, this is probably the best giant monster movie I've seen in a long time and fight scenes like this are the reason.
Among a lot of throw-away characters, the beating heart of Kong: Skull Island is John C. Reilly as Hank Marlow. We begin the story with him, he is the uniter that gives hope to everyone else trapped on Skull Island, and despite being a crazy person, he's basically the only sensible person on the team.
In short: if you were invested in nothing else, you were invested in Marlow's wish to get home and see his family one last time. So when he pulls up in that cab, when he greets the son he never met and holds the wife he left behind, it means something.
And then he drinks a bear, eats a hot dog, and watches the Cubs win that fateful game in Pittsburgh in 1972. He hears Jack Brickhouse's famous line, "The impossible dream just became the possible dream!" It's a thing of beauty and the perfect ending for Kong: Skull Island.
Okay, almost the perfect ending. Kong is part of a shared universe, after all. And I will say, as post-credits sequences go, this is one of my favorites. We knew that Kong and Godzilla would face off, but we had no idea that Rodan, Mothra and Ghidorah were coming to the party, too! I didn't just cheer the first time I saw those cave drawings: I cheer every time. And I know I'm not alone.