Everyone’s favorite simian monster is back and he is now HUGE!
King Kong makes his way back to the big screen in Kong: Skull Island, the next step in creating a Monster Cinematic Universe to include Godzilla. One of those future films is rumored to be a slugfest between Kong and Godzilla. To make that a reasonable fight, Kong had to be bigger. Now he is.
Kong: Skull Island serves as a re-introduction of King Kong to the world at large, while changing the ever familiar story of a doomed ape at the top of the Empire State Building.
This time, in the early 1970s in the final days of the Vietnam War, an expedition, led by Bill Randa (John Goodman), is formed to go an investigate the newly discovered Skull Island. Randa recruits tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) to help make their way across the island. Randa’s true goal is to discover proof that monsters exist.
Accompanying Randa is a military troop under the direction of Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), a man fresh off of a mission during the Vietnam War, who was unhappy that the US walked away. Also joining the crew was war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).
The group fly their helicopters through the deadly storms that surround Skull Island, keeping it isolated from the world at large, and plan on dropping bombs on the island to gain seismic information. Little did they know that their bombs would attract the island’s protector, Kong, who laid waste to the helicopters and many of the crew. Packard became obsessed with killing Kong, despite the information provided by Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), a soldier who was accidentally stranded on Skull Island in World War II and who had lived here since. Marlow told the group that Kong was like the island’s God and he was there to protect the island from the lizard creatures that lurked below the surface.
Kong: Skull Island has its positives and negatives to it. Unlike the new Godzilla movie, Kong is front and center in the film. We are treated to multiple scenes throughout the movie of Kong fighting, crushing monsters and just being awesome. This was in stark contrast to the Godzilla movie, which seemed to feature Godzilla’s conflicts off screen until the film’s finale. More Kong is a good thing, as the look of the monster is simply amazing. The CGI is impressive and does not disappoint. The scene of Kong crushing the helicopters was remarkable and the Kong actions scenes following that one were very exciting and tension filled.
The film was beautiful to look at. It certainly caught the feeling of Apocalypse Now, a film that was clearly an inspiration for the imagery and the marketing of Kong: Skull Island. The shots of Kong standing before the setting sun are spectacular and the beauty of Skull Island was not lost on director Jordan Vogt-Roberts.
However, the film was lacking in several key aspects. One, major problem with Kong: Skull Island was the humans were just cardboard cutouts that were nothing more than disposable characters. Samuel L. Jackson’s character was reduced to the basic revenges-seeking military guy. Tom Hiddleston’s tracker character was all over the place, being very inconsistent in his actions. Brie Larson was there to snap pictures and try to connect with Kong because, I guess, Kong has always had a soft spot for pretty blondes. The remainder of the army platoon that was led by Jackson hit every stereotypical army platoon character possible and were barely distinguishable from one another. John Reilly’s character was better- with more of a story behind him, but he was so weird that it was hard to feel any sort of connection to him. All of these characters were, at best, inconsistent.
Then, making it worse, some of the dialogue of the film was just terrible. I don’t think human beings talk like these characters talked at all. It was very noticeable several times and served to take me out of the film.
Finally, there were a couple of action set pieces (one in particular that takes place in a boneyard) that is so stupid in just about every aspect that it really damages this film. It’s one thing to have a film with weak characters, but if those characters are now doing stupid things, well… then you have some problems.
Still, there is no denying that there is a charm to this film because it knows what it is and does not try to be more than that. This is a giant monster movie where your main monster is your quasi-heroic one and there is a lot of fun action nonsense. The performances of the human actors were fine, though the characterization of what they were given was lacking. Hiddleston and Larson are likeable actors so they are likeable on screen, despite not being much more than a two-dimension creation.
Don’t forget as well to sit through the credits because there is a post credit scene that was fun and hinted at what may be ahead for this franchise.
In the end, I enjoyed Kong: Skull Island. It was not a great movie, but it was good, especially if you approach it with the idea that this was never going to compete for an Oscar. This is a fun, popcorn movie that rebrands King Kong for a bright future.