KONG: SKULL ISLAND
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, John C. Reilly, Thomas Mann, Jason Mitchell, Toby Kebbell
We have seen many iterations of King Kong before. Kong: Skull Island is the latest take on this legendary creature. This version takes place in 1973 in the middle of the Vietnam War. John Goodman and Corey Hawkins play a government agent and seismologist looking for more money to spend on an expedition to a mysterious island off the South Pacific. Goodman wants to discover a land where “myth and science meet.” He gathers the money and a crew of explorers and soldiers including Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson and Toby Kebbell to name a few. Brie Larson also joins them as an anti-war photographer. The massive crew flies out to this island risking their lives in the process. The mysterious Skull Island is continually surrounded by a hurricane system making their entrance alone a massive risk. They make their way in only to find themselves face to face with Kong, a massive ape looking to kill anyone and anything that dares to harm the island. With a few swipes of his huge paw, he takes down a majority of their helicopters leaving the expedition crew scattered on the island. Kong isn’t the only creature endangering their mission. The island contains a variety of enlarged animals, mythical creatures, monsters, and a tribe of natives. The expedition team has no idea how to get off the island, let alone survive amongst these monsters.
Given the plethora of King Kong movies that have come before, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and his writing team of Dan Gilroy, Derek Connolly, and Max Borenstein take a different approach with the character as it taps into the myth and lore of that island. There is no attempt at bringing him to New York City and climbing the Empire State Building. Brie Larson is no damsel in distress like Faye Wray, Jessica Lange, and Naomi Watts before her. This is the first big budget film for Vogt-Roberts whose previous credits include the indie film The Kings of Summer and a few television credits. He’s clearly inspired by ‘70s Vietnam War movies like Apocalypse Now as well as Jurassic Park. These inspirations lead it to being visually more appealing than I would have expected. Too often movies of this size wind up being shot so fast and chaotic it’s hard to keep up. See any Michael Bay film as prime examples. That being said, sometimes the cinematography tries to combat that a little too hard by the over usage of slo-mo shots for dramatic effect.
The film boasts a huge cast of familiar faces ranging from the A-listers previously mentioned to up and comers like Thomas Mann (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), Straight Outta Compton’s Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell, and Toby Kebbell who previously battled apes in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. There’s been a trend lately with big popcorn blockbusters having a massive ensemble. It’s very tricky to pull off and movies like X-Men: Apocalypse or Batman v Superman get too caught up with introducing new characters and not utilizing them well. Kong: Skull Island falls into that category where it’s overstuffed with too many characters who are all trapped on the island and fighting to have enough screen time. The script doesn’t give these gifted actors anything interesting to work with outside of running around and acting scared. Samuel L. Jackson plays into his usual type going so far as recycling his classic line from Jurassic Park, “Hold onto your butts!” Is that a clever idea or cheap? John C. Reilly is the only one trying to make his character interesting as he plays the comic relief. He’s a kooky pilot that’s been stranded on the island for twenty years and now worshipped by the native tribe that lives there.
Some people may think I’m being too snotty about character development in a Kong movie, but it can be done. Logan, The Dark Knight, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story are all recent examples that have elevated the standard comic book movie or sci-fi epic by getting the audience to care about the characters. I didn’t feel that way in Kong: Skull Island, which makes the deaths of key players less effective. You learn early on that no one is safe or immune from Kong and the creatures, which brings a certain ruthless tone to him and an unpredictable nature to the movie. I just wish I had felt some sort of longing when a few of them meet their demise.
This movie works best when it focuses on being a creature feature with cheesy dialogue. Our title character appears to be the biggest and most destructive Kong to date. The wizards at Industrial Light & Magic brought him to life, and it’s impressive to say the least. There’s something fun and exciting to see him destroy the other monsters on the island including a water buffalo, a massive spider, and creatures known as Skull Crawlers. He’s still the main star of the movie, and once again, I felt a bit sympathetic to him. Kong: Skull Island comes just three years after the Godzilla reboot from Gareth Edwards who was a relatively unknown director at the time. Godzilla is the better of the two reboots. Kong tries to be a fresh and surprising take on the monster flick but doesn’t fire on all cylinders. Stay around for the post-credit sequence as it teases the eventual franchise bringing these two characters together along with a few other monsters we’ve seen before.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? There are plenty of flaws along the way, but watching King Kong pound his chest, roar, and show who’s boss makes it worth taking in on a large format screen.
RATING: 3 out of 5 TICKET STUBS