Kong: Skull Island Review

March 9, 2017.

Brie Larson: We must protect Kong! Don’t kill him please!

Samuel L Jackson: …

Brie Larson: Please Samuel L Jackson I am a photographer on this island and know everything about Kong he is a good guy plz do not hurt him.

Samuel L Jackson: BITCH PLEASE!

This hilarious scene near the end of Kong: Skull Island perfectly sums up the campy tone that the film is going for. Kong: Skull Island is not meant to be taken seriously. That’s the fun of it. If you’re looking for a film with emotional character development or the exploration of resonant themes that are inherent to the story of King Kong such as man’s exploitation of nature then this isn’t the movie for you. The film isn’t very smart, and the characters are pretty shallow and one-dimensional, but the best way to enjoy Kong: Skull Island is to buy a large popcorn, shove it in your face, and don’t think anything too much.

Kong: Skull Island is directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and stars John Goodman, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, and Samuel L Jackson as a group of scientists/soldiers set out to explore the uncharted Skull Island located in the South Pacific. There they encounter Kong and all the other wonderful creatures on the island. Vogt-Roberts is dead-set on speeding up the story and doing away with anything that would help develop his characters, and instead gives us about fifteen minutes before we are rushed into Skull Island. This gives us no time to really get to know any of our characters. Immediately he thrusts us into Kong smashing helicopters with trees. Action scenes like these are hammered into the movie’s core, and will be the reason it makes so much money at the box office. This is nice, but it’s hard to care for the action when we don’t latch onto any of the characters. This was a glaring problem for me, and my thoughts on this fully solidified when the human character I was most attached to showed up over half-way through the film. It’s hard to not compare Peter Jackson’s King Kong movie to this one. Jackson’s film ran over three hours, while Vogt-Robert’s film is a little under two. What Jackson nailed in his movie was the character depth. It took us about an hour to get to Skull Island, and he used that time effectively to draw out the relationships between his characters. Vogt-Robert’s chooses the exact opposite approach, and it hurts the storytelling and emotional aspects of the film. Lack of character development was my biggest issue with the film, but the special-effects and action department were firing on all cylinders.

This movie is surprisingly bloody for a PG-13 film. It’s not super gory or anything, but the imagery is tense and evocative. A big marketing selling point for Kong: Skull Island is the strong parallels it’s trying to make with Apocalypse Now. Both are set in the Vietnam War in a remote area, but instead of Martin Sheen hunting down Marlon Brando we get Sam Jackson and co. hunting down Kong. The IMAX poster is the same poster as Apocalypse Now but with Kong, and the movie has its very own ‘Flight of the Valkyries’ scene. Kong: Skull Island does a great job at paying homage to Coppola’s 1979 war film without feeling like rehashed ground. The creature design in this film is outstanding. It blends new monsters with old perfectly, with the standout being this log-stick monster and the skull crawlers. All of the monsters that inhabited Skull Island looked genuine. I thought they really did an excellent job with the CGI. The action is as big as you would expect from a blockbuster of this caliber, and the set-pieces help mesh the tone and the mood of every scene perfectly. The boss battle scene at the end of the film is worth the price of admission alone, and mirrors the King Kong v. Tyrannosaurus Rex from Jackson’s film well. The fight is big, bold and nasty. The natural environments of the island as well as the artificial aspects are blended into the action seamlessly. 2017 is shaping up to be the year of incredible action in movies, and Kong: Skull Island helps continue this trend.

As you probably know, Kong is set in Legendary Entertainment’s proclaimed “MonsterVerse” along with Godzilla. I was not a big fan of Godzilla. I thought the monster clash was dull, and it was a terrible idea to kill off the only interesting character halfway through the film. However; I do give props to the film for being as realistic as it possibly can be for a Godzilla movie. It jumped from location to location, but the film still remained kinetic and the character choices were realistic. This is not the case in Kong: Skull Island. Brie Larson falls from a cliff side, straight onto the water, right on her back, and wakes up fine. The scene after that is probably the most badass in the film, but was almost ruined for me because what happens with Larson and Kong makes no sense and is not possible. She should have died. Hiddleston’s character stumbles upon a vital item in their search for a lost soldier, and he doesn’t go out of his way to tell anybody until more monsters come, and more unimportant side characters are killed off. After all this he decides that sharing what he found is important. It is very apparent that the filmmakers threw logic and thought-processing out the window, and were more focused on delivering vivid action scenes. I did enjoy Kong more than Godzilla, but the dumb human characters really took me out of the film.

I disliked 90% of the characters in this movie. However; there were two exceptions. Samuel L. Jackson is by far the most interesting character in the movie. He is a Vietnam War general who would rather fight every day in hell than be sent back to America. He cares for his men like his own sons, and after what happens to the majority of them after they attack Kong, he is dead-set on destroying the ape and won’t let anything get in his way. His character is just so over-the-top and campy you can’t not like him. John C. Reilly is the other exception. He plays an old World War II pilot who was stranded on the island almost 30 years ago, and hasn’t been able to leave. He is surprisingly sane for all his time spent there with locals who can’t speak a lick of english. His character arc was easily the most emotional of the movie, and was the funniest part of the movie. I was most attached to him, and he was the one character who I actually wanted to survive. John Goodman, Tom Hiddleston, and Brie Larson’s characters are all flat and boring. I felt no emotional attachment to them. I couldn’t care less if they died. Hiddleston’s mercenary-for-hire character was super pretentious, and not as smart as he was trying to sound. Larson was completely wasted in a one-dimensional role, and Goodman was as well. The two young actors who played Dr. Dre and Eazy-E from Straight Outta Compton also starred in the movie, and I was disappointed that they had barely any screentime. All the performances in the movie were fine, but if you have mostly flat characters with no emotional depth, the stakes are dramatically lowered and you’re not as involved watching the film.

Overall, Kong: Skull Island is a fine movie. There are a lot of problems with it, but the movie knows exactly what it is. The monster fights are great, it sets up Kong v. Godzilla well while simultaneously standing on its own, visually the movie was great with beautiful special effects and creature design, and its tonal inconsistencies actually made the movie a lot more fun. (Side thought: people who critique the tone of any movie by saying that it’s “all over the place” and count that as a negative are boring people. Tonal shifts in movies create wild fun, and if that’s a negative you are really reaching to find something you don’t like.) The hurried pacing at the beginning and mostly weak characters really stop this movie from being great. Kong: Skull Island is just a big, dumb action movie with a lot of merit. My advice is to not think about it too much, and you’ll end up having a great time.

Grade: B-

Corbin Stewart

SplittingEdge Reviews. 

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