It’s hard to judge Kong: Skull Island without comparing it to its many genre bretheren, specifically 2014’s American remake of Godzilla. Movies about giant have been guilty of focusing exclusively on shallow violence, but the 2014 remake didn’t even deliver on that. With the need to surpass Godzilla’s action, as well as give audiences something new in the king’s 8th film to date, expectations are high. But whether you’re looking for a starting point for future monster mashs, a reinvention of the franchise or just a fun action film, the film succeeds through an abundance of style and action, if not substance.
Not following in previous iterations of the well-known Kong story, Skull Island‘s post-Vietnam setting helps distinguish itself throughout. No longer concerned with the mystery of Skull Island, the film instead explores the many threats that inhabit the island, boasting plenty of sylized monsters throughout large portions of the film. These aren’t the same dinosaurs and big bugs from previous films either, with even simple ideas like giant spiders given plenty of unique details and visually touches to add to the more fantastical tone of the film. The effects team should also be commended for putting most of these scenes during the day, putting their work in clearer view for the audience, and further showing off their great work.
Those unique monsters help keep each action scene to feel distinct from one another. Highlights include a palm tree attack from giant spiders, helicopter air assaults on Kong, and the military’s first encounter with the Skullcrawlers, which serve as the main antagonists. With the human action scenes playing more as horror/chase scenes, the Kong fights instead focus on brutal hand to hand combat between Kong and various creatures. For an 2 hour movie, about half the film is a non-stop action thrill, all complimented with stellar direction and cinematography from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts.
Speaking of Kong, Skull Island’s interpretation falls more in line with the 2014 Godzilla film, more then it does with previous Kong films. He’s now less of a gorilla, and more of a guardian like figure, standing upright and watching over the island and protecting its people. Less concerned is place on empathizing or connecting with Kong emotionally, rather giving a sense of awe at his mere presence, much like the characters in the film. It’s the kind of action film where the audience can probably guess how it’ll end, so the film instead tries to have as much fun as it can getting there, and succeeds as a throwback to classic monster flicks of the 70’s and 80’s.
But while the monster and visual elements are at the top of their class, it seems almost everything else faulters in some way. There are far too many characters, and with so little time spent between them, you go through the film caring only about a handful of the 20 or so involved. John Goodman and Samuel L Jackson get a lot of material to work with, and they manage to be their usual good selves. Meanwhile, Tom Huddleston and Brie Larson add almost nothing to the film, outside of visuals and very basic character arcs of “I don’t care about anything” to “I care about something.” For everyone else, the large cast just serves as overqualified cannon fodder for the creatures, with big name actors coming in only die for the audiences enjoyment.
This problem becomes paramount anytime a character opens their mouths, with most of the side characters being given awfully written dialogue. Over reliant on cliches and unfunny jokes, you simply don’t care about anyone (outside of Jackson and Goodman), and aren’t affected in any way by their deaths. The only exception to the bad comedic elements is John C. Reily, who you can tell is enjoying his time on set throughout, and remains a constant source of energy and fun in even the most grim and serious scenes.
There’s also an issue with the afdormentioned style, as it often shines further problems on the film’s script. The film leans heavily on Larson’s photographer character to create artificial scene transitions, giving us 4-5 separate times of her taking pictures of people and scenery, none of which makes any impact on the plot. It’s interesting the first time, then quickly grows tiresome, and just serves to inflate the films runtime. And while the post-Vietnam is an interesting backdrop for the events of the film, the constant callbacks to the eras music borders on excessive, with musical transitions in the double digits.
With those problems being said, there’s something unmistakably fun about Skull Island that previous films haven’t come close to grasping. Consistantly vibrant, visually engaging and overflowing with creativity, Kong: Skull Island gets everything a monster flick should get right, even while succumbing to some of genre’s shortcomings. But, much like Skull Island itself, you should come for the inhabitants on the island, not the people visiting it.
Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 8 Weirdly Cute Giant Stick Bugs out of 10