Bad Moon Rising
Kong: Skull Island is an action adventure film which puts a unique spin on the classic tale of King Kong. The monster movie is directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts of ‘the Kings of Summer’ fame, and stars an ensemble cast which includes Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson. The film takes place in the 1970s, at the end of the Vietnam War. Here, company boss Bill Randa (played by John Goodman) brings together a survey team consisting of a military escort led by Colonel Preston Packard (Jackson), former SAS agent James Conrad (Hiddleston) and anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Larson). The team travel to an island newly discovered via satellite imaging in order to learn about its geography and resources. Little do they know that Skull Island is home to an almost fantastical array of beasts, many of which are vicious monsters that don’t respond well to being disturbed. And then there’s the humongous silhouette of King Kong against the evening sun to deal with. A giant ape-like monster who is more than meets the eye. The film follows these endangered human characters through the forests and mountains of Skull Island, as they recover from an attack by Kong while trying to avoid the island’s many dangers to reach an exfiltration point.
The marketing material of Kong: Skull Island can be considered a great one by many. The beautifully stylised posters and trailers harken back to the vibes of Apocalypse Now meeting Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Add to that the fact that this version of Kong promises to take place mostly on the island, and not to involve bringing Kong back to New York and having ‘beauty kill the beast’, and you have a film that turns heads with a different take on the iconic monster. Furthermore, with the establishment of 2014’s Godzilla, Skull Island is the second film in Legendary Pictures’ Monster Cinematic Universe, hoping to rival the already-successful MCU. Could this be the revival of King Kong? Or will KOng KO itself critically?
Where I felt that Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla missed the mark by not showing enough of the monster itself, Kong: Skull Island seems to have learnt from its predecessor, giving us quite a lot of Kong in the film. What results is an action-packed, tonally consistent and fun-filled exploration of Skull Island and its many opportunities for a violent and painful death. Though it is not always tonally appropriate, and it has its fair share of ridiculous, unrealistic Hollywood moments, Kong: Skull Island is a solid film, as well as a solid representation of what we can come to expect from this new monster universe. The mythos surrounding the island and this new world of monsters is both refreshing and full of potential for more stories. If you love monster movies, or if the idea of an island with exotic creatures piques your curiosity, then Skull Island is right up your alley.
Run Through the Jungle
Right off the bat, you can tell that Kong: Skull Island is trying to sell you a certain feel. With its location fonts and its light-hearted music, the film lulls the viewer into a vibrant, adventurous spirit that is continued as the film progresses. The pacing never feels slow or draggy, and this is the result of exceptional directing by Vogt-Roberts as well as good editing and soundtrack choice. Featuring tracks from Black Sabbath, CCR and David Bowie, the film does a good job of immersing the viewer in that time period, while mostly avoiding the heavy-handedness that can easily plague a film of this scale and theme. Speaking of scale, let’s talk about the King himself. If you’ve seen the trailers (not a spoiler but don’t read if you want to watch the film blind), then you’ll know that Kong kills a bunch of soldiers and scientists as they drop bombs onto Skull Island. What you don’t see is that behind the apparently ruthless exterior of Kong is an actual character with feelings and motivations, an element that was showcased well in this particular screenplay.
How do you make a villain a misunderstood hero by the end of the movie? Introduce even worse villains for the first ‘villain’ to fight. The world-building in Skull Island is truly commendable as the island’s design is beautifully done, with lush rainforests, menacing graveyard pits reminiscent of the Lion King, as well as rivers and lakes that appropriately echo the deltas of Vietnam. Though not completely necessary, the variety of giant and/or dangerous animals on the island was an often magnificent sight to behold, adding to the thrill of having our human characters avoiding or fighting them, thus avoiding certain death. And of course, any modern monster movie wouldn’t be complete without the main monster being given some of these other monsters to fight. And Kong certainly ticks those boxes in an emphatic fashion, with an enthralling and climactic rumble towards the third act of the film.
Characters-wise, having so many recognisable faces in the cast is great from a marketing standpoint, as the cast also includes John Ortiz, Toby Kebbell, Jing Tian and Corey Hawkins. But this doesn’t always work very well from a character development standpoint (see next section). That said, the standout has to be John C. Reilly as Lt. Hank Marlow, who in introduced in the second act, and is the source of pretty much every line of attempted humour in the film. It is not so much the quality of Reilly’s script, but the charisma and conviction of his execution that makes the character so memorable.
You Shouldn’t Have Come Here
While none of the cast truly put in a bad performance, one has to factor in that the attention is constantly changing from cast member to cast member, making the audience derive each character’s personality and motivations from the limited lines and screen time they have. While this is always a working hazard when dealing with diverse casts, the main issue is that not one character (including Kong) has any sort of discernible character arc. This is most disappointing with John C. Reilly’s character, who is supposed to have the widest character arc of all, but is not properly fleshed out for the viewer to recognise it. Plot-wise, it’s pretty solid save for a couple of moments that just scream ‘Hollywood!’, and are borderline silly. These flaws are easily overlooked by anyone who just wants to see Kong: Skull Island to have an enjoyable time at the cinema, but the explosions and monster-fighting aren’t really an excuse for Skull Island to not have spent more time on its characters and plot as a film.
Other negatives of the film include the humour that sometimes not only does not stick, but honestly seems to try a little too hard and immediately breaks the viewer’s focus. That said, one can give this a pass with the humour that is executed well. Though the songs used are cool, at some points they feel slightly shoehorned in in an almost lethargic fashion, where a film like Guardians of the Galaxy utilised the same soundtrack style seamlessly.
Overall, the positives do outweigh the negatives significantly, and Kong: Skull Island is a good film to see with friends or family during the weekend. With its exploratory excitement and quick pacing, the film is more than enough to keep audiences satisfied. Remember to stay until the end of the credits as there is a post-credit scene which provides an amazing tease. With the establishment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe, are we seeing the rise of yet another series of shared universe films?
Overall Score: 7.4/10
Kong: Skull Island Trailer
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Nick Oon (author) from London on March 10, 2017:
@VestedTomb Thank you! Hope you enjoy the movie.
VestedTomb on March 10, 2017:
Great review! Makes me actually kind of want to go see this one.