After the roaring success of Godzilla, the resurgence of the monster movie was officially in full swing, giving studios the green light to release several more remakes and reboots of classic monster films. And while we wait for them to unearth Steve McQueen’s The Blob (crosses fingers), we’ll have to settle for more popular franchises like King Kong.
Kong: Skull Island does everything it needs to be a crowd pleaser minus one pretty important piece. It’s heavy on the action and comedy, providing a fun escape to the theater, but the overflowing humor and lack of solid, likable three-dimensional characters weaken the stakes. It has great potential, but it doesn’t seem to care to go any further.
Written by Dan Gilroy and directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Kong: Skull Island is set in the 1970s at the end of the Vietnam War, following two scientists who lead a secret mission to Skull Island in order to prove that monsters still exist. Once they arrive, they find the mighty Kong and face off against him, but ultimately lose. Stranded on the lost island, they must fight to survive through the ancient jungle and find a way to escape.
I have to admit the cinematography and direction in this film is stunning and beautiful. Vogt-Roberts clearly did his homework, trying to recapture the style of the 1970s. While most of the cinematography looks like it was put through an Instagram filter, it’s still perfectly implemented for the time period. From the record players, old televisions, radar systems, and even those classic slide projectors, all the set pieces perfectly build the environment.
And Vogt-Roberts direction doesn’t seem interested in sticking to the standard ways of doing things, looking to break out of the box and tell a story with some style. That hip style with some of the fun, visceral fight scenes between Kong and the giant lizards makes it incredibly entertaining to watch. Overall, it’s like watching a hipster version of Apocalypse Now but with giant monsters. And I don’t say that in jest.
Unfortunately, when you remove the flashy cinematography and the fun direction, the story itself only takes you so far. The stereotypical characters make it difficult to truly care about the mission. With the exception of James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), you get tiny pieces of motivation for each character but it’s just enough to explain why they want to be on the island. I’m still not sure why Conrad wants to be there. There’s nothing about who they are and what the stakes are if they don’t make it out alive. Hiddleston’s character is the biggest disappointment. He did his best to play an exceptionally hollow guy who is essentially there to shoot things and look like a badass. On the same note, Brie Larson doesn’t do much besides take pictures and act as the eventual damsel in distress for Kong to rescue.
On the other hand, Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) is a breath of fresh air, acting as the only fully formed character in the movie. For a character that at first glance is supposed to be the comic relief, Reilly took it many steps further, showing dramatic depth, heart and sincerity from a character that didn’t really require it. Kong: Skull Island is John C. Reilly’s movie for all I’m concerned and with the exception of Kong himself, he makes it the most worth watching.
Of course, like Godzilla, Kong is the hero of the story. While you can only get so much character out of a giant non-talking ape, the writers succeed at making him relatable, empathetic and the character he deserved to be. Also, on a side note, Kong is so much bigger in this film than in Peter Jackson’s King Kong, and he’s better off for it.
While John C. Reilly’s humor is great and will likely make you laugh, the consistent and over consuming nature of it watered-down the stakes. While comic relief is a great storytelling tool to bring levity to a story, if overused, it can make the life-threatening stakes feel less dangerous, pulling the audience away from the conflict.
Kong: Skull Island is a full, standalone movie and doesn’t try to expand cinematic universes at the end, something I think we can all appreciate at this point. However, it is without question part of a larger cinematic universe, leading up to an eventual collision course with Godzilla. So, buckle up, more is coming.
In contrast to the latest Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island excels at throwing style, action, and fun at the audience, making it more of a popcorn film rather than a serious drama about a giant ape fighting lizard monsters. While the popcorn route will see immediate results, the overall shelf-life is in serious question. All in all, it does its job but future installments would be wise to expand upon the characters and go a little easier on the humor.
Photos courtesy of: Warner Bros. Pictures