The original King Kong is one of those monster movie classics that everyone should see (along with Dracula, Frankenstein, and the other Universal monster movies) that I’ve never actually gotten around to watching yet. It’s on my list and I’ll get to it eventually. I’ve also never seen the remakes or any sequels, but I know about them. What I have seen is King Kong vs Godzilla. It was great and I hope the remake at least does it justice. Legendary Pictures has been on my good list so far. Here’s hoping they keep it up.

Set in the same universe of 2014’s Godzilla but in the 1970s on the heels of the end of the Vietnam War, John Goodman plays the founder of the government agency Monarch, Bill Randa, who launches an expedition to map out a previously unknown island, Skull Island, that had recently been uncovered due to the invention of satellite images. He hires former British SAS Captain James Conrad, played by Tom Hiddleston, to guide them through dangerous terrain as well as Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard, played by Samuel Jackson, and his helicopter team to escort them there, along the way gaining a photojournalist played by Brie Larson, Mason Weaver, who’s trying to expose a possible corrupt military op. Once there, the group uses seismic charges on the island which get the attention of Kong who attacks to stop them from blowing up his front lawn, killing half the group and separating the survivors into two groups. One led by Conrad is trying to make it to the rendezvous with the resupply team three days later, along the way meeting a plane crash survivor from World War 2 played by John C Reilly, while one led by Packard is out for revenge against Kong for killing his men. It becomes clear to Conrad’s group that Kong’s not the threat. He’s their only hope against the real monster.

Let’s get this out of the way, Legendary Pictures didn’t have to make this movie good. There’s only two reasons this film technically exists and that’s to a) explain how there’s a bunch of giant monsters running around in the next film that no one’s ever heard of before and b) bring Kong into a franchise that would otherwise be populated with Toho Godzilla series monsters so that he can fight Godzilla. Those are the only contributions this film really makes to the Monsterverse, as they’re calling, so they really didn’t have to put so much effort into what was essentially an exposition film. But, you know what? They did anyway. This is a really good film. Not Pacific Rim good, mind you, but close.

As you can probably guess from the lack of his movies I’ve seen, I’m not a big King Kong fan. My friends are though and the film had three actors from Marvel which was enough to peak my interest. Samuel L Jackson especially plays a very good Ahbe-like character. I have no complaints with the main cast. This was the first time I’ve seen anything with Brie Larson in it and I already can’t wait to see her in Free Fire and Infinity Wars. What I was impressed by was how the film used the other military characters. I expected them to basically just be cannon fodder, but the film shows them interacting and joking around with each other, making it very clear that they’re more than just a unit. They’re family. Honestly, it reminds me of the crew from Aliens more than anything else, which is why you remember those characters more than whatstheirfaces who aren’t the robot from the first movie. (…Note to self, rewatch Alien and don’t be nodding off at the time) Hell, some of them who I didn’t think would survive actually did. Kudos. Also, there’s no forced romance. Double kudos!

However, the big show stealer is John C Reilly as Lieutenant Hank Marlow, the crashed World War 2 pilot who’s been stranded on the island for 23 years. He’s the main source of jokes that aren’t from the helicopter crew and he has the most emotional baggage outside of Packard. He’s gonna be the guy you remember out of all this besides the monster.

Speaking of hell yes, the monster fights in this are great! And praise whatever! You can see it! They’re not in shadows, everything brightly lit and the monster fights are the main focus. There’s no shaky cam. This isn’t Godzilla where the entire time you’re just thinking ‘Use. Your damn. Atomic Breath, for crying out loud.’ or ‘Why are we cutting back to the stupid humans? There’s a monster fight going on!”. A good chunk of the movie is Kong fighting monsters, as it should be, including an octopus. And yes, it was awesome!

Some interesting notes I found out, apparently quite a bit of the movie got some inspiration from anime, including Miyazaki’s work (especially Princess Mononoke) and Evangelion. …That explains a few things. If a film is lovingly inspired by anime in some way, I tend to enjoy it. Inception, The Matrix, Pacific Rim, …The Lion King (maybe?), and Scott Pilgrim vs The World are just a few examples.

Kong: Skull Island is leagues above 2014’s Godzilla in terms of American monster movies. I get what Godzilla was going for, trying to recreate the character driven style of the original 50s film, but it just sort of proved what we learned from the 90s film: America has trouble making Godzilla work. Focus on the monsters when they show up and your way out of it is science! It probably doesn’t help that the film was overshadowed two years later by another much better Godzilla movie from his native homeland. (Also, go watch Shin Godzilla. It’s really good!) If you’re a King Kong fan, you’ve already seen it by now. If you’re not or you were disappointed with the 2014 Godzilla movie, give this a shot. It’s giant monsters fighting, guys with guns, science stuff, and fun characters. What’s not to like? Yes, like any King Kong film, there is the issue of the natives, but this is probably the most subdued version of this very problematic aspect of the Kong franchise out there. Go check it out!