So I watched Kong: Skull Island…
I really enjoy it when a film has a clear sense of identity. It realises what it is and (most importantly) what it isn’t and plays to its strengths. This film is a perfect example of this. You’re not going to leave this movie with an enlightened sense of self or deeper understanding of the human condition. You’re going to leave with a few popcorn stains on your shirt and your mouth in spasm from all the times you said, “whoa!”.
Okay, basic plot: Bill Randa (John Goodman) is a scientist obsessed with proving the existence of strange and terrifying creatures. His latest journey to this end takes him to Skull Island – one of the few uncharted territories left on Earth. He assembles a military escort led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) – a man struggling to come to grips with the end of The Vietnam War. Along for the journey is ace tracker, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) another soldier who hasn’t taken well to life after war. The group travel to Skull Island under the guise of a ‘mapping expedition’ but Randa’s intentions reach further than just exploring a new land. He’s looking for something, someone – a gargantuan gorilla called Kong. Kong doesn’t take well to strangers on his island and the trespassers soon learn that Kong is king!
I have to start by heaping a mount of praise on Jordan Vogt-Roberts – this movie’s director. As I explained earlier, this film has a wonderful sense of self. It’s a monster movie and Vogt-Roberts shoots and compiles it as such. The best thing he does in this movie is put Kong at centre stage. This is his movie. He doesn’t speak or really express himself other than by beating his chest and swatting helicopters out of the sky but he’s the most important character in this piece. This is in stark contrast to 2014’s Godzilla which seemed more interested in being an Ang Lee-esque nature documentary instead of a kickass movie about a giant lizard who can spit fire. Vogt-Roberts understands what Kong: Skull Island is meant to be and delivers that.
Now, unfortunately, this does come at a price. This movie doesn’t have much in terms of story. I imagine there wasn’t much of a script; or the script that was there consisted of endless pages of “Character X runs away from/gets squashed by Kong”. This isn’t really a problem given the nature of the film but it is a tragic waste of this film’s ensemble cast. There are seasoned veterans like Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reily, John Goodman; up-and-coming talents like Thomas Mann, Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell. If that’s not enough, we have Oscar-winning Brie Larson, phenomenal actor Tom Hiddleston and underrated Toby Kebbell. There’s just so many notable actors in this film and they’re given the bare minimum amount of lines for this count as a speaking role. I feel the film would have truly benefited from having less prominent actors because their notoriety actually distracts from the quality of the action.
Actually I have to say that there was one actor who did a fantastic job and that’s Shea Whigham. Whigham stars as Captain Earl Cole – a member of the military presence on the island. Cole is a down-to-earth, often simple-minded character whose penchant for telling stories wrong and misinterpreting idioms really earns him a place in your heart. Whigham – with all due respect – is the perfect actor to have in a film like this. He’s recognisable but not exactly a household name – the perfect amount of fame for a film like this.
You know I really enjoyed 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. You know who else enjoyed it? Hollywood! You can feel the influence of Guardians in quite a few movies lately. From it’s pop-song heavy soundtrack to the bright visuals. Suicide Squad, Thor: Ragnarok and now Kong: Skull Island have all clearly been studying the formula Guardians used. It works well for Skull Island because its setting during the time of The Vietnam War blends perfectly with the pop ballads that ring through the film’s soundtrack.
Lastly, I have to say that although it’s something that seems standard, I have to praise the aesthetic feel of Kong. The technology used to create him and the other terrifying beasts that call Skull Island their home is truly exceptional. You almost feel like you can reach out and touch him/run away from him. There isn’t a single moment of poor CGI that I noticed and this further solidifies Kong’s status as this film’s central character. You can’t really have a character be central to a story if you never see him/don’t believe it when you do.
Overall, Kong: Skull Island is a kickass movie that plays to its strengths and serves up an entertaining popcorn muncher. You can fault it for poor story and moments of sketchy acting but I don’t think anyone who made this film will particularly care if you do. It’s everything you want from a monster movie. 7/10