Review: Kong: Skull Island
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
By Christopher Spencer
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and starring Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Jing Tian, Thomas Mann, Shea Wigham, Toby Kebbell, and John C. Reilly. The movie is set in 1973, with a team of scientists and soldiers setting out to find the mystical Skull Island and unearth its secrets, thus encountering the titular royal 100ft gorilla.
This film is designed to be a jumping-off point to a new cinematic universe, involving Godzilla and all other Toho characters, culminating in 2020’s proposed Godzilla vs. Kong. And Kong: Skull Island does feel like the 2014 Godzilla movie in a lot of ways. Good and bad.
Kong: Skull Island has an indie director at the helm in Jordan Vogt-Roberts, and like Gareth Edwards, brings his own unique vision for this classic character. Instead of a straight remake, Roberts takes Kong and throws it into a different, hyperactive and stylistic world, fuelled by the ridiculousness of B-movie creature features and the classic feel of 70s movies like Apocalypse Now. The way that Roberts uses camerawork, editing and lighting is dynamic and fresh that gives this movie a unique feel, elevating the rather generic script.
The movie has some strong story elements, with Kong being seen as a more morose figure, lonely and volatile, like an orphaned teenager who’s inherited a kingdom. I really enjoyed the story beats for most of the human characters as well, from Samuel L. Jackson’s Captain Ahab-esque vengeance quest against Kong, or Hiddleston’s Conrad and Larson’s Mason dealing with Reilly’s Lt. Marlow, a WWII pilot stuck on the island for 20 years. The themes of the mental and emotional consequences of wartime, and the awe experienced by seeing the great Kong rise up against sunsets and moonlight, gives this loud blockbuster some nice dramatic weight.
However, the movie is weighed down by its characters. The story may want to have the audience caring for the humans that fill the screen, but the script itself gives most of them nothing to do. This is a wonderful cast full of veteran actors (Jackson, Goodman), fresh faces (Mitchell, Hawkins, Tian, Mann), strong leads (Hiddleston, Larson), and John C. Reilly being funny and dramatic, just like his early work in Scorsese and Anderson films. Kong: Skull Island wastes many of them on cardboard cut-out roles, forgets to use many of them until they are randomly killed, and struggles to figure out which actor is the protagonist. It’s John Goodman’s Monarch scientist for a while, then its Hiddleston, then Larson’s photographer Mason gets a shot, then Jackson for a bit, and rinse and repeat.
These actors are fantastic and one can see that they are having fun playing in this incredible world of creatures and landscapes and giant apes, but I just wanted to care about them more. I’ve forgotten half of their names and I’m not that interested to see them in any further sequels. If this sounds familiar, thats because these are the same problems I and many others had with 2014’s Godzilla.
If Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla are to connect to a future Godzilla vs. Kong movie, then we need to have stronger characters. Sure, we can’t spend the whole runtime on these monsters, that would be too expensive. Humans are necessary to set this giant-scale action against, and we need to care about who they are and what they are going through.
The movie is flawed in this way, but the experience was still a giant load fun. Kong: Skull Island benefits from ambitious and kinetic direction, an epic scale, great creature designs and effects from ILM, and does delivers some kick-ass, smoothly-shot monster-on-monster