KONG: SKULL ISLAND:
GORILLA SIZED POPCORN FUN, BUT NOT MUCH ELSE!
By Nico Beland
Movie Review: *** out of 4
WARNER BROS. PICTURES
(From left to right) Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, and Samuel L. Jackson fighting for survival in Kong: Skull Island
What is this, like, the eighth film based on the iconic movie monster, King Kong? Alright! It’s amazing after all the Jurassic Parks, Marvels, Transformers, and whatever else is popular right now, classic movie monsters like Godzilla and King Kong still manage to last for many years.
The original 1933 King Kong film is a timeless classic and still dazzles movie-watchers even to this day and spawned a sequel, Son of Kong (which came out the exact same year as the first movie BTW!), the 1949 Oscar winning standalone film, Mighty Joe Young, two films released by Toho including the original King Kong VS Godzilla, and of course the 2005 remake directed by Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame. Now because every movie studio wants to be like Marvel these days (DC, Universal Monsters, %^&*ing Transformers is becoming one!), we have Kong: Skull Island, directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (Death Valley, The Kings of Summer, Nick Offerman: American Ham), the second installment of Legendary Pictures’ “Monster-Verse”, the first being 2014’s Godzilla, which will eventually lead to a rematch of King Kong VS Godzilla in 2020.
I wasn’t expecting this film to surpass the 1933 classic and let’s face it, nothing can top that landmark film. But seeing how I enjoyed the 2014 Godzilla film and was already dazzled in 2005 by Peter Jackson’s King Kong, I was curious to see how this film would turn out.
It’s monster movie fun, and that’s about it, I appreciate Skull Island for not being another remake of the same King Kong story because we got plenty of those. The action is exhilarating and the performances by Tom Hiddleston (Marvel Cinematic Universe, War Horse, Crimson Peak), Samuel L. Jackson (Jurassic Park, Pulp Fiction, Marvel Cinematic Universe), John Goodman (The Big Lebowski, Flight, 10 Cloverfield Lane), and John C. Reilly (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Wreck-It Ralph, Guardians of the Galaxy) are decent.
Unfortunately, the script isn’t written that well, at times the effects are lousy, the characters aren’t very engaging, and the pacing gets sluggish. Really, whenever you’re at a scene that doesn’t involve Hiddleston, Goodman, Jackson, Reilly, or any of the Skull Island monsters, the movie is kind of boring.
As much as the Peter Jackson movie drags, at least it’s a solid visual spectacle from start to finish, and the characters are developed well enough for someone to have an emotional connection with. Fortunately, Skull Island makes up for its mediocre storytelling and forgettable characters with some exciting action sequences and in terms of runtime, you won’t have bladder issues in the third act.
Set in 1973, the film follows former British Special Air Services Captain James Conrad (Hiddleston) being hired by government agent, Bill Randa (Goodman) to lead an expedition to map out an uncharted island in the Pacific Ocean known as Skull Island. Accompanying him is the Sky Devils helicopter squadron led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Jackson), who is recruited by Randa to escort him to the island as well as pacifist photojournalist, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson-21 Jump Street, Trainwreck, Room), who believes the expedition is a cover for a military operation and is determined to expose it.
Upon getting to Skull Island, Packard’s men start dropping explosives to determine if the ground is hollow, but unknowingly they awaken a species of monsters called Skull Crushers (I didn’t name them, John C. Reilly did) bent on destroying them. Not to mention the hollow ground operation ends with the Sky Devils squadron being attacked by a 100-foot-tall ape that rules the island, Kong.
Randa explains the true purpose of the expedition, to acquire proof of monstrous creatures that have been forgotten by humanity to prepare for their inevitable return. Meanwhile Packard and his men search for the survivors of Kong’s rampage, one of which being his right-hand man, Major Jack Chapman (Toby Kebbell-Control, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, A Monster Calls).
The expedition crew and helicopter squadron encounter Skull Crushers, ugly-ass birds, natives, a stranded pilot named Hank Marlow (Reilly) who has been stuck on Skull Island since World War II, and of course Kong on their journey to get off the island before humanity belongs to the monsters.
Overall, Kong: Skull Island is fun at best, but boring at its worst, all the scenes involving Kong and the other monsters are awesome, but when the film focuses on the human characters to discuss their mission or give the history of Skull Island, it really drags the movie to a crawl. The main reason is the characters aren’t that interesting, Hiddleston, Jackson, Reilly, and Goodman’s performances are good but their characters are forgettable, Hiddleston’s just the typical protagonist, Jackson is the angry colonel with a thirst for blood, Reilly’s a nutcase, and Goodman’s performance feels like a rehash of his performance from 10 Cloverfield Lane.
You’re pretty much stuck with these poorly-written characters just waiting for them to get attacked by monsters. Remember how Godzilla was lacking screen-time in the 2014 Godzilla movie? Well, this movie has the opposite problem for me, I wanted more engaging human characters so I can be emotionally invested in them and not have to wait, and wait, and wait for the next Kong appearance.
The effects are a mixed bag, at times they’re impressive and exciting to watch, but other times they look laughably bad and obviously green-screened. We’re in 2017 right now but the CGI in Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong still looks much more impressive than the CG in this.
Also the action kind of lacks variety, when you really get down to it, it’s Kong fighting the same monsters all throughout the film. Again, going back to Peter Jackson’s movie, despite its long running time, there was a lot of variety of action sequences in the film, Kong battled a T-Rex, giant insects, and of course the climax on the Empire State Building.
But with that said, the things that are good are very good, there’s so many cool moments in the movie that makes it hard for me not to recommend a viewing. It isn’t a bad movie, Kong: Skull Island delivers exactly what it advertises, so if you’re a fan of monster movies, you’ll have a blast, but if you’re looking for strong characters to get emotionally attached to, this isn’t your flick.