KONG: SKULL ISLAND
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Starring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson
A well-intentioned new chapter of monster movies, Kong: Skull Island is on one hand every bit an exciting blockbuster, but on the other a slightly bumbling collection of special effects sequences and not much else.
There's a lot to unpack from Kong from the moment the film starts. It's compelling set-up and retro news footage gives the first act a special pedigree that promises an elevated film-going experience; one you wouldn't normally get from a monster flick. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts' most notable claim to fame thus far is indie favorite The Kings of Summer, a delightful and dark study of adolescence and the search for independence. He brings along some of the more mature elements as he navigates down Kong's beginnings, but the story doesn't support the plot like one would hope.
This adventure doesn't acknowledge other previous films surrounding King Kong, a gigantic gorilla. In fact, while his origins remain intact, the way this film introduces the beast feels almost slighted. The original 1933 film classic and even Peter Jackson's epic 2005 version deliver an emotional punch full of heart and good-natured drama. This new, Hollywood retelling skips past that element (though, one could argue that there are a few attempts to thread a bit of melodrama in between the action) and focuses on the destruction and death. It is understood that Kong has lived a rough life, losing his family and his home being invaded, but there's not much care taken to the payoff for that side of the story; a testament to the poorly structured storyline and too much attention given to the visuals.
While Kong's story feels thrown to the side, it's the humans that are even more ignored. John Goodman, playing his usual best, is an explorer bent on stepping foot on the mysterious Skull Island, an uncharted piece of land in the middle of nowhere. Samuel L. Jackson is the military leader assigned to the mission. Tom Hiddleston is the tracker hired to lead the expedition of military men and scientists. Brie Larson is a war photographer fresh from the frontlines of battle in Vietnam. John C. Reilly pops up halfway through as a stranded soldier who's finally coming in contact with Americans after two decades alone on the island with the local natives. Beyond these descriptions, not much else is needed in terms of backstory or development. Once the humans arrive on the island, the entire film is all about harrowing escape sequences and, again, special effects.
The effects are the meat of the production, with the 300-foot tall Kong as the prize. A lot of respect must be given to the amount of detail taken in giving the beast life. The way the hairs move the care taken in guaranteeing the scale of each and every set piece and person is consistent was undoubtedly a huge undertaking. When Kong is injured by the blades of a helicopter, the matting of his fur by the blood is remarkable. But, in even trying to suspend disbelief for the sake of the film, there's a certain element that is distracting in how video game-like the entire thing feels. In fact, Kong: Skull Island almost immediately takes cues from the equally over-digitized Jurassic World from the moment we finally arrive at Skull Island. It's disappointing.
But, that disappointment doesn't quite overshadow the fun. Most of the lines out of Jackson's mouth immediately brought loads of laughs and cheers from the audience. His casual badassness is infectious. The subliminal 70s wartime vibes found in everything from the cinematography choices (hearkening back to films like Apocalypse Now) and soundtrack cues give the film a very rigid atmosphere, which is a good thing. Vogt-Roberts takes care in the steady feel of the overall package, even when the individual ingredients aren't consistent.
The film is a fun, mindless ride. It'd be interesting to see how it would have played had it been a summertime flick. Plus, if sticking around until after the credits, a "hidden" scene shows that this is only the beginning when it comes to movie monsters. Perhaps Kong: Skull Island is a reintroduction to the genre (2014's Godzilla what a hit-or-miss, depending who you talk to). If you weren't already feeling over-saturated by franchises, here comes another one.
Runtime: 2 hours