STARRING: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Eugene Cordero, Terry Notary and John C. Reilly
A team of scientists explore an uncharted island in the Pacific, venturing into the domain of the mighty Kong, and must fight to escape a primal Eden.
Kong: Skull Island takes us to 1973, where a former British Special Air Service Captain named James Conrad is hired by government agent Bill Randa to guide an expedition through an uncharted island known as Skull Island. Randa also recruits a group of soldiers known as the Sky Devils to escort them to the island. As their mission of discovery becomes one of survival, they must fight to escape a land in which humanity doesn’t belong….and where Kong is king.
After 2014’s Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island is the second film in Legendary’s Monsterverse before the upcoming Godzilla sequel and the main event bout that is Kong vs Godzilla. While Godzilla was set in the present, Kong: Skull Island is set in 1973 during the Vietnam War. This also marks Jordan Vogt-Roberts first big budget studio film, following up his 2013 indie film The Kings of Summer, which I enjoyed, and work with a rather impressive ensemble in the leads right down to supporting for a monster film.
First and foremost, I will say Larry Fong’s cinematography work is visually gorgeous, from the shots of the helicopters flying towards Kong whose head rises to block part of the Sun, to a rather out of nowhere sequence involving Hiddleston’s James Conrad wielding a sword and wearing a gas mask. While certain scenes can be bizarre and chaotic, it must be said that Fong makes the majority of the film look good. As for scenes involving Kong, thankfully they get it right in creating such a spectacle of him tackling the helicopters and the monsters that appears during the course of the film including the Skullcrawlers. The special effects for Kong are terrific and for the most part they work well in the action sequences. In terms of providing performances that made the film more memorable, Samuel L. Jackson gives it his usual chew-scenery bits as Lieutenant Colonel Packard, a man clearly suffering from the results of the War and the Kong introduction clearly pushes him over the edge as he sets his sights on killing Kong. Then there’s John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow. Initially I was worried that his character would feel out of place going from the trailers but actually Reilly provides the films best performance for me and also the only character that has any kind of arc/character development that makes the audience care and has a satisfying conclusion to his journey. Also worth mentioning that I did enjoy Henry Jackman’s score for this film.
The problem with definitely feels effected by the criticisms that were directed at Gareth Edward’s 2014 monster flick Godzilla. While Godzilla, for better or worse, went for the less is more approach with the title monster, it feels obvious that the response effected Kong: Skull Island and the studio and Roberts decided to go full-blown monster mayhem. Kong is pretty much introduced two minutes in when the group arrive on Skull Island and then….vanishes pretty much in his own film until the last twenty minutes, minus a random monster blow in the middle that doesn’t involve a Skullcrawler. As the group can’t seem to catch a break from Kong and the various monsters on the island, there is a severe lack of suspense created leading up to these horrific survival sequences. While this film has an impressive ensemble of talent, clearly they’re brought onboard to many to the fold and very few of them are given much material to make an impression. Hiddleston and Larson, while both obviously talented, clearly aren’t given enough depth with their characters here to make the audience care, Corey Hawkins and Jing Tian are like John C. Reilly’s character minus the arc in that they’re exposition pieces as unfortunately John Goodman’s Bill Randa. Jason Mitchell, Thomas Mann and Shea Whigham are your generic soldiers whilst Toby Kebbell is also one of the soldiers that’s given the unfortunate role of cannon fodder for the story. The script feels paper thin and some of the dialogue feels generic, with the fact that the screenplay had three writers working on it, it feels like they tried to mash together the best ideas of the trio and structurally the film feels all over the place for it. I will note that there’s two scenes involving Kong and human characters on a cliff top….the green screen feels terribly noticeable.
When Kong’s on screen it’s entertaining as is the monster battles in general but unfortunately if you go in hoping for memorable characters to keep you entertained in between, unfortunately besides John C. Reilly and maybe Samuel L. Jackson, you’ll find this film to be something of a disappointment. The special effects are really good and Larry Fong’s cinematography work is worth the price of admission to see the film on the big screen. 5/10