With the release of Godzilla in 2014, the Monsterverse was created; with the concept of fellow monster alumni such as King Kong getting involved in future crossovers. With that idea in mind, we have Kong: Skull Island hitting the screens, setting up the imminent showdown between the two!
Peter Jackson’s King Kong was the last major appearance of Kong on the silver screen, it was a 3 hour epic, which retold the story were all familiar with Kong. Skull Island goes in a different direction, a far more action orientated movie. Jordan Vogt-Roberts directs an adrenaline pumped version, filled with guns, military and brutal deaths! It’s a smart way to go, rather than rehashing the same story about taking Kong back to NYC for his journey up the Empire State!
So Skull Island takes place soon after the Vietnam War, and the film plays various homages to that period of time. The helicopters, the jungle shots, the sunsets! All the clichés! Bill Randa (Goodman) leads an expedition team to the mysterious Skull Island, which he believes is hiding a dark secret. Joining him on the mission is Conrad (Hiddlestone), former British military and survival expert, Lt Packard (Jackson), a frustrated US army leader, and Weaver (Larson), a war photographer & pacifist.
It doesn’t take long for the film to get into top gear. Once were done with the obligatory introductions, the mission is pretty much is doomed before it barely begins! Unlike King Kong, there isn’t much build up or suspense; it’s straight off the bat! Kong makes his mark right away, swatting away helicopters like nothing, and pretty much laying waste to half the team! This leads to our group of survivors attempting to reach the rescue point, and make it off this monstrosity of an island.
The monsters make up all the great parts of the film! Obviously our main gorilla, Kong steals the show whenever he pops up, but the island is crawling with all sorts of wonders. The bamboo spider sets up one of the more memorable scenes in the movie. You also have ancient pterodactyls, reigning terror upon our desperate survivors. Though these monsters are not exactly evil, more a case of humans wondering into their territory, it’s the threatening Skull Crawlers, which provide the real threat, a race of ravenous beasts that were subdued by Kong, are now free to wreak havoc.
It’s the scenes with the human characters where the film starts to stumble. They frankly, are just not that interesting. Hiddleston may have the charisma, but his role is something any actor could pull off. He doesn’t really do much, and apparently, he has expert samurai sword skills! Sure he walks around all confident and talks the talk, but the film never really shows us why he was worth bringing into the mission. Brie Larson is just there. As a war photographer, you think she would be used to the horrors, and still be able to take the pictures she was there to take. Any photographer on somewhere like Skull Island would be taking photos non-stop, to the point of annoyance!
The characters worth screen time would be the delirious Lt Packard, who is so driven by the deaths of his men; he vows to take down Kong, regardless of the consequences. Even though he should be aware, Kong was just defending his island, the Lt. is driven to the edge, and he does bring some degree of motivation to the script. He is more than aware he may not survive confronting Kong, by he just doesn’t care! The other bright spark is Marlow (John C Reiily), a lone survivor who crash landed back in WW2, and has gone slightly crazy to say the least! Though his character, as fun as it is, feels very much out of place here, and would have fit better if the film followed another tone. He is pretty much just the exposition guy, just there to fill in all the plot details.
Most of the cast lack any real emotion, which really hurts the movie. One scene sees a survivor get torn to shreds, limbs being ripped off. After the initial shock, the characters just continue to move on, just brushing off what they just saw. It would take more than just ‘’oh his gone now’’ for anyone to accept what they just saw, especially for any of the non-military characters! During the confrontation in the graveyard, toxic fumes fill up the area, yet the characters barely seem affected by it, apart from some coughing! There also is an abundance of characters that really aren’t needed, such as Lin (Jing Tian), who seems to have been solely added for the Chinese market, and contributes pretty much nothing, which is a shame.
But let’s be honest, we’re here to see the monsters, the final showdown between Kong and the lead Skull Crawler is a joy. The battles between our survivors and the beasts are thrilling. The graveyard scene is pure popcorn fodder. It is stupidly over-dramatic, but that’s the vibe this film wants to set. If the film focused a lot less of the dull characters, and more on the dangers of what lurks on the island, the film would be up there with the likes of Pacific Rim, an over the top monster movie. One thing Pacific Rim had going, was some character motivation and development. If Skull Island wanted to focus more of the humans, they should have been written to be far more interesting, as opposed to the bland persona that were created. The film though, does enough to set up Kong as a valiant hero, and his inevitable duel with Godzilla should be a thrill to see!