Kong: Skull Island is Kong’s first cinematic appearance since Peter Jackson’s 2005 film King Kong, and the second entry into Legendary’s MonsterVerse, following Gareth Edwards’ 2014 film Godzilla. So how does it compare with either of its predecessors? Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as good as either, but it’s still decent fun.
What works in Kong is its visuals and style. Jordan Vogt-Roberts, along with Zack Snyder’s long time cinematographer Larry Fong, have created, at the very least, a great looking film. There are multiple scenes throughout the film that are exquisitely shot. All of Kong’s throw-downs are a blast to watch, but the two biggest standouts for me were scenes early on involving the helicopters flying in unison. Great camera work isn’t the only reason this film is so pretty to look at, as it also features some very noteworthy cgi. In lieu of dinosaurs, this Skull Island is inhabited by creatures that seem to be a hybrid of flora and fauna and they all look great. The main creature antagonists this time around are the Skull Crawlers, two legged creatures that use a tail to keep their balance and have an elongated, alligator like mouth. They are cool looking for the most part, but they all look the same and the lack of variety in design is noticeable. What’s also frustrating is that the final battle of the film is with another Skull Crawler that’s identical in design as the others, just simply a little bigger. The film being set in a post Vietnam War era, feels like a stylistic homage to the films of that time. Compared to films of that era though, this one is admittedly more lighthearted. The tone itself works fairly well, striking a nice balance between the gritty feel of Godzilla, and B-movie fun of kaiju films of old.
Despite all these elements that do work, something that hurts this film significantly is its characters and plot. A great many tried and true King Kong tropes of the past are discarded and, unfortunately, are not replaced with anything interesting at all. The only new addition to the lore is the idea that there are pockets of hollow earth around the globe that are inhabited by giant monsters and Skull Island is one of them. This really only works to help future movies in the MonsterVerse, but doesn’t really add anything for this specific film. The reasons for getting to Skull Island initially is to discover if something significant resides there, but once we get to Skull Island, the plot is reduced to now getting off of Skull Island. A simplistic plot like this wouldn’t have been so bad if the film had interesting characters worth following. However, aside from John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow and Samuel L. Jackson’s Preston Packard, these are some of the most bland characters in a big budget film. Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, and Brie Larson do as much as could be done with the characters of James Conrad, Bill Randa, and Mason Weaver repectively, but are failed severely by the script. Backstories are teased initially, but once we get to Skull Island, the movie loses any interest at all in exploring these characters. The bad writing in this film could have been excused the way it’s often excused in the classic B-movie monster films, but at least those characters were fun and entertaining despite being shallow. There is almost no reason to want to spend anytime with a good number of characters in this film, and we are stuck with them for very long periods of time. Fortunately, the characters of Marlow and Packard provide just enough reason to care about the human elements of this film as both characters are given actual arcs that feel fleshed out.
My declaration is that this movie is sane, but don’t be surprised if you read about it in the paper at some point. Overall, the film is fun enough. The post-credits scene did a great job of getting me excited for where this MonsterVerse is headed, and we now have two films to rewatch as we await Godzilla’s return in 2019.