You need to watch the most ferocious sci-fi monster movie on HBO Max ASAP
On Skull Island, Kong is King.
How you do make a monster movie feel exciting and refreshing in the 21st century? It’s clear there are a few different approaches a filmmaker can take when confronted with this particular question.
Godzilla vs. Kong director Adam Wingard leaned into the promise of his film’s title as much as he could, delivering a blockbuster that was fun to watch and filled of monsters fighting each other — but which didn’t bring much substance, originality, or logic to the proceedings.
Gareth Edwards, meanwhile, chose to focus on serious mood, spectacle, and scale in his 2014 Godzilla movie. Consequently, the film ended up more visually impressive than 95% of modern-day Hollywood blockbusters, though it was severely lacking in terms of compelling human characters.
Jordan Vogt-Roberts, however, took a very different approach when he directed 2017’s Kong: Skull Island. And by that I mean that Vogt-Roberts delivered a film so wackily colorful that it practically forces you to at least admire the sheer insanity of what you’ve just witnessed. In all likelihood, you’ll even leave the Kong: Skull Island wondering how in the hell Vogt-Roberts convinced a major studio like Warner Bros. to let him make it. Mostly, you’ll be thankful for his vision.
Kong: Skull Island is available to stream now on HBO Max. Here’s why Inverse recommends that you add it to your watchlist ASAP.
Set in the early 1970s, Kong: Skull Island follows a group of unsuspecting humans — including an anti-war photographer, a British Special Air Service Captain, American soldiers, and government-funded researchers — who find themselves on the wrong side of King Kong’s wrath after unleashing a flurry of seismic airstrikes on Skull Island.
The legendary ape responds to the attack by mercilessly swatting, smashing, and crushing every helicopter in sight. It’s here, during Kong’s first attack on the film’s human “heroes,” that Kong: Skull Island shines brightest.
The sequence is a collage of fiery, bone-crunching chaos, with Vogt-Roberts and cinematographer Larry Fong alternating between close-ups of humans falling from the sky as helicopters explode on the ground to ultra-wide shots of Kong towering over his targets. There’s even a quick insert shot of a Richard Nixon bobblehead jiggling on a helicopter’s dashboard as the aircraft plummets to the ground, adding a sliver of thematic commentary to the film’s use of Vietnam War-era iconography.
Altogether, the sequence swiftly flips the film’s established power hierarchy on its head, with Kong handing down an impressive ruling as to who is and isn’t welcome on his island.
Like basically every monster movie that Hollywood has produced over the past two decades, Kong: Skull Island doesn’t offer much by way of memorable human characters.
The film boasts a stacked cast of performers, including Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, Tian Jing, and Shea Whigham, but few of them are given much to do besides stand around and look good (to be fair, they all succeed on this front with flying colors). John C. Reilly is the only cast member who makes much of an impression in the film, as a marooned WWII pilot who has grown accustomed to being stranded on the same island as Kong.
But Kong: Skull Island isn’t concerned with crafting dimensional characters. Instead, the film wants to leave you feeling two things: entertained and impressed by the sheer might of its take on King Kong. Fortunately, Skull Island thrives here, delivering so many striking images of mayhem and madness that you’ll realize just how many other modern-day Hollywood blockbusters lack its same energy.
Ultimately, there is no image from Kong: Skull Island more awe-inspiring than Kong, his form silhouetted against the burnt orange light of the setting sun, standing unwaveringly in front of a legion of approaching U.S. military helicopters.
It’s the ultimate depiction of nature rising up to meet the destructive force of humanity, and it’s fitting that such a shot appears in a film that, for all its flaws, showcases Kong’s power and ferociousness in a way that no movie has before.
Kong: Skull Island is available to stream now on HBO Max.