Movie Review: "Kong: Skull Island"
- by Steve Garcia, 13 March 2017
Like Colin Trevorrow’s "Jurassic World" and Gareth Edward’s "Godzilla" before it, the latest Hollywood trend in giving indie filmmakers big budgets to play with continues to yield questionable results. Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ "Kong: Skull Island", while ultimately entertaining, constantly struggles with the kind of film it wants to be. It strikes delicious B-movie action gold when it wants to, but every time it tries to evoke any sort of emotion for its characters, it falls flat on its face harder than all those times that big old ape fell off the Empire State Building.
Unlike Godzilla, the first installment in Legendary Entertainment’s “MonsterVerse,” audiences are exposed to Kong right out the gate. It was a welcome change, as Godzilla attempted to hide its monster until the climax, resulting in an end scene that wasn’t quite worth the buildup. The idea of “hiding the monster” is barely new, and when it’s done much more effectively in Jaws, for example, it makes the action a thousand times sweeter. A key difference between Spielberg’s creation and giant monsters like King Kong, however, is that one monster lurks in the eerie ocean depths to ambush her human prey, and the other is a giant ape that fights dinosaurs for a living. With that in mind, getting to watch a monster movie where the monster gets to kick ass and the audience actually gets to see it was a leap in the right direction for the franchise. The Kong action scenes were intense and electric, and in that way, I got exactly what I came for.
To Roberts’ credit, the pitch of “Apocalypse Now meets King Kong” is a fantastic premise. The biggest problem with the finished product, though, is because we haven’t followed any of the characters through the trauma of war, we lack any sympathy for them whatsoever. It also does not help that every single character, with the grand exception of John C. Reilly’s well-rounded comic relief, was frustratingly half-baked. For example, when the audience is introduced to Tom Hiddleston’s character, it was as a badass mercenary akin to Arnold Schwarzenegger's Dutch from Predator. Since his introduction however, there was absolutely no payoff from him, with the slight exception of some (albeit cool-looking) out of place action sequence that looked straight out of Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. Even still, that same scene could have easily been achieved with one of the dozen soldiers accompanying our protagonists, who were instead completely disposable and whined during their entire stay on Skull Island.
Expendable characters wouldn’t have been so much of an issue if it weren’t for this film’s drawn-out exposition scenes forcing audiences to at least try to root for them. In addition to Hiddleston, Brie Larson and Tian Jing were wasted talent whose characters contributed little to nothing to the plot, and all could have been cut in favor for a tightened story. And speaking of wasted talent, it was unfortunate that John Goodman’s character lasted about as long as Bryan Cranston’s did in Godzilla. The characters portrayed by Reilly and Samuel L. Jackson were the only ones with strong motivations, but their scenes were almost overshadowed by the unnecessary characters’ antics. By the time we get to see Kong again, it is a godsend. If a human element must be involved in what ultimately would have been better off as a non stop two hour action sequence, at least give it some swagger. Give us Dutch, not some bootleg knockoff.
Despite its character issues, however, I would still give Kong: Skull Island a soft recommendation. It was a visual spectacle and Kong’s action scenes were enough to keep me engaged, which is much more than I can say for more recent films in the monster movie genre. My only hope for this franchise going forward is that now that they have completed the mundane task of telling origin stories for characters that audiences have known since 1933, Legendary will finally allow a no holds barred showdown between their catalog of monsters in 2020’s slated “Godzilla vs. King Kong,” completely devoid of boring humans. As Godzilla’s Ken Watanabe advised: “Let them fight.”
7/10 is still pretty good, but we wish the grand daddy of big monsters would do better! What did you think of "Kong"? Let us know in the comments!