Kong: Skull Island

kong_skull_island_ver2STARS3.5It’s hard to believe, but there have actually been 7 movies in which King Kong has appeared before Skull Island. The original (and best) is the 1933 classic starring Fay Wray. That masterpiece was famously remade in 1976 introducing Jessica Lange in her debut and then redone again by Peter Jackson in 2005. It’s been only 12 years since that director’s critically acclaimed, box office success, so why exactly is another version necessary?

Kong: Skull Island isn’t technically a remake per se, but rather an “original” story meant to serve as the second entry in a series not unlike Marvel’s cinematic universe. Here in this so-called MonsterVerse, the combatants will feature Godzilla and Kong. Although this new shared universe is a fresh franchise, the idea of pitting Godzilla against King Kong is not unique. It dates back to the 1962 Japanese feature King Kong vs. Godzilla from Tokyo-based distribution company Toho. Provided these contemporary films continue to be successful, Mothra, Rodan and Ghidorah, the three-headed monster, will show up in future pictures as well.  Stay for a post-credits scene, by the way.

Kong: Skull Island flaunts an accomplished cast of actors with at least 10 speaking parts. John Goodman plays a senior official in charge of a group of scientists (Jing Tian, Corey Hawkins) funded by the U.S. Government. They’re escorted by Samuel L. Jackson as a U.S. Colonel and his right-hand man, an Army major portrayed by Toby Kebbell.  Jackson heads up an Army helicopter squadron of soldiers (Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Eugene Cordero) from the Vietnam War. There’s also a British hunter-tracker played by a ripped Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson as a luminous looking photojournalist. I guess you could say the last two actors are the two central human stars but they don’t really register as such.

It’s a sizable cast. While all are adequate, hardly any of these underdeveloped characters have the charisma to enthrall us. Sure we’re given some superficial details about these people that are meant to captivate our interest, but we honestly don’t know them. It’s a shame to see such a notable assemblage of talent so underutilized. It harks back to the days of the casts in those 70s disaster flicks where spectacle was the star, not people. I suppose that’s not surprising given the title of this movie. The CGI creature is the presumed headliner. The fact that John C. Reilly stands out, however, is proof that he can outact almost anyone.

Kong: Skull Island pushes the old adage that bigger is better and this is the biggest Kong yet in terms of size. This upright walking gorilla is a 100-foot tall digital creation by Industrial Light & Magic. His colossal size will make the inevitable showdown with Godzilla more of an even match. Technically speaking, this is the most impressive version of the creature yet. That’s surely saying something too because Peter Jackson’s movie won an Oscar in that category. The special effects are state of the art. Besides Kong, there’s his natural enemies, the Skullcrawlers, which look like massive two-legged lizards. There’s also a giant spider, a colossal red squid, and an enormous water buffalo. Of course, if you’re familiar with this story, we all know who the real monster is, right?

The foundation looks incredible. The island is its own living breathing ecosystem. It’s a spectacular display and the scope of the creatures gives us a sense of awe. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts certainly delivers the goods. We don’t even have to wait long for the main attraction. Kong appears within the first 30 minutes. Nevertheless, character machinations are ridiculous. The dialogue is silly. This is strictly a B-movie with a much heftier budget. Screenwriters Max Borenstein and John Gatins toy with the events to give us a slightly different take. For one thing, we never leave that darn island. On the one hand, I guess it’s admirable they’re not merely giving us an identical account as previous incarnations of Kong but is what they offer really an improvement? The best part in every iteration of this fable – be it 1933, 1976 or 2005 – has always been the moment where our hairy hero is let loose in the city to contend with a world he doesn’t understand. I miss that part.

Kong: Skull Island is a mindless popcorn flick but it’s still pretty entertaining. This is a lot less ambitious than previous interpretations. Kong’s noble savagery is still apparent, but the main thrust of this action is little more than monsters run amok. The original fantasy had a self-contained plot with a poignant message. This entry exists as an intro to a beast that will go on to star in more installments. That modifies the narrative in a pretty significant way. In more cosmetic changes, the production is envisioned as a period piece as it moves the time frame back to 1973. 70s rock music blares on the soundtrack as helicopters loom in search of a mysterious figure in the jungle. Allusions to a certain Francis Ford Coppola directed war film are deliberate. Yet, I’m still not sure whether it’s intended to be so intellectually shallow. I suppose there’s joy in the simplicity of just the spectacle. Let’s put it this way, the less you think about it, the better it gets.


13 Responses to “Kong: Skull Island”

  1. Eric Robert Wilkinson Says:

    I found this really fun and have been saying since seeing it that if it doesn’t slap a goofy grin on your face in the first few moments you will be miserable but if it works you’ll keep grinning for two hours. I did. I didn’t find it so shallow. The reason for it being in Kong’s turf is as a metaphor for the U.S need to invade external conflicts without real exit strategies and Sam Jackson’s hard charging leader suddenly lacking purpose as Vietnam ends is no coincidence either. Allusions to apocalypse now platoon and even Jurassic park abound… It lacks the sweetness of Jacksons overlong but charming 2005 iteration but that’s still the only one I’ve seen previous. I agree this is fun (fairly) mindless (pre summer) blockbuster popcorn entertainment

    Liked by 1 person

    • Samuel L Jackson was on The Tonight Show (with Jimmy Fallon) in early March. He was joking that critics were taking the film too seriously. He said, “Everybody’s talking about the underlying environmental message and the fact it’s set at the end of the Vietnam war and the politics of the movie. Hell no! It’s a monster movie. We’re being chased by a thing and we’re running from them.” I had to laugh. That pretty much sums it up.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Eric Robert Wilkinson Says:

        Perhaps… I saw again today saw a tad more depth and also enjoyed for different reasons…


  2. smilingldsgirl Says:

    I wasnt able to get on board this one. I found it really inconsistent even in its B movie attributes. Like I loved Kong but I thought the lizards looked really bad. Samuel L Jackson seemed like he was in a completely different movie. In fact a lot of the actors did. I like a good monster movie but this didnt do it for me

    Liked by 1 person

    • The lizards (Skullcrawlers) didn’t look real, but then none of it did really. I mean the idea of an ape as massive as he is here is inherently silly. And yet I suspended disbelief for the duration of the film because of the grand spectacle of it all. You could say I enjoyed the special effects and John C. Reilly too. He was great. The rest of the performances, not so much, but I guess the humans are dispensable in a film like this. Probably didn’t need to hire name actors though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        I thought Kong looked pretty darn real. I do agree that John C Reilly was best part


      • smilingldsgirl Says:

        Like the Great Wall had similar looking lizards but that’s all it had so it was consistent. Here I thought Kong looked awesome. But I can see how you had fun with it. I felt that way about Great Wall


  3. This sort of is giving me flashbacks of that Everest movie where every single person, no matter major or minor character, was a recognizable actor. And I mean really recognizable. It’s such a wonder to me why these films hire all this talent, then suppress them with bad screenplays or screenplays that remove humanity from the equation. It’s annoying to hear how this movie once again removes humanity from the equation for the sake of big spectacle. Why hire so many talented people when you’re not going to use them. Why spend that kind of money.


  4. Staying for the post-credits scene with Kong: Skull Island is basically a requirement considering how much exposition is packed into those few moments. I was annoyed about that because I feel like the movie should be doing that kind of heavy lifting. I agree that the characters are underdeveloped and none have the charisma to enthrall. John C. Reilly is certainly a standout. You’re right that the special effects are state of the art, and that this is the most impressive version of Kong yet. To your point about it being intellectually shallow, I got the sense it wasn’t intended to be that way. My impression was that it was much sharper in earlier drafts, but as more writers got their hands in the pot, the story got diluted as they tried to cover too much ground.


  5. I thought this was ok. I felt nothing from the main characters. Especially Samuel L. Jackson. He was awful. John C Reilly was my favorite. I did like the look of the movie. Pretty realistic. The post credits were exciting too. Can’t wait for what’s to come. 3 1/2 stars.


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