Kong is back! And since Warner Bros. are really doubling down on the Universe they want to create, they need this to kick things into gear in a way audiences will enjoy. Does the latest venture to Skull Island manage that?
Set just at the time when the Vietnam War ends, two members from the organisation Monarch are desperately seeking funding to take an expedition to an island which is one of the final undocumented places on Earth. The end of the war gets them some luck, and they begin to assemble a team to aid in the geographical studies. But what they find on the island surrounded by storms is is anything but ordinary, and everything shifts to a survival mission against the enormous creatures who roam the land, along with the giant Kong.
Let’s kick off with the cast, since there’s a lot of names to go through. John Goodman and Jing Tian are the members of the secretive organisation Monarch, and ol’ John is not quite on the flying form you’d expect him to be. He’s fine, but doesn’t quite have the material to match his energy and charisma. Tom Hidlleston plays as the Tracker, with Brie Larson as the professional Photographer capturing all the moments. Their relationship is once again, just okay. There’s not a whole heap of inclusion for their skills beyond necessity, or to throw some fancy black-and-white images on the screen of things you had just witnessed a second ago. Samual L. Jackson leads the military side of the mission, and at least has some good background as someone who is incredibly frustrated at how the Vietnam War ended, and is seeking a true victory for his name at all costs. Samuel has some venom and yelling to play with, but it would strike all too high on the scale that he can reach. Still, probably the one character who stands out the most.
The supporting cast is your usual mix of Vietnam Army stereotypes, which you will either enjoy or dislike based on that fact. It plays with a lot of material you will have seen before, some that still has some entertainment to it, and others that are a bit tired by this stage. More importantly is that their characters are once again, just “meh”. I’d like to say they have some personality but there’s little on the ground for them to work from beyond sme weak attempts at comedy or comic relief.
But let’s be frank about that – it is bloody hard in a monster or disaster film, to have the main characters be interesting. They are simply the onlookers of the destruction for most of the time, and so aren’t given deep backgrounds or details for the audience to think over. I feel that Tom Hiddleston was not cast well for this movie, his theatrical talents are used nowhere at all. And that is where the snag with this movie hits you – the humans are only okay, and hold little attention when they are on screen. Depending on if you are expecting better, or seeking a ridiculously dumb popcorn fest, you will either enjoy their badness, or fall asleep.
I found some issues too with the style placed upon everything, it leaps and jumps from one visual aesthetic to another with no real coherence to bind it all together. The majority is made to feel like the gritty times of war in the 70’s, but there are some odd camera orientation decisions made here and there. Still, examples like when the first helicopter goes down, and it is all shot from inside looked great – utterly disorientating and scary in exactly the way you’d imagine a helicopter crash would be. I did appreciate too how some areas of the island are given a distinct colour which identifies each of them. Maybe it was done in too much of a saturated way, but for me it worked.
But none of us will have gone to see a Kong movie for the humans, we go to see Kong and the monsters. And the big badass himself looks fantastic. Really impressive CG work which passes the test both in the faraway shots, as well as the close ups. And he has bounds of personality that you pick up from just how he is standing, or his facial reactions. Really and truly, he’s brilliant, completely brutal and destructive at one moment, and then in another scene quiet and almost serene. Don’t worry too, unlike Godzilla previously, you get a good view of him about twenty minutes in, no waiting required.
The same can be said to varying levels of positivity for the other island inhabitants, they are menacing and almost unhinged. The classic choice of taking a small insect and making them gigantic still has you tense up in a bit of fear, and there’s plenty of creativity going on that keeps each encounter and battle unique. The big finale for Kong and the baddie is in a nutshell, what you paid money to see this film for. I absolutely loved it, every stage of the fight keeps amping things up in brutality, and is magnificently well thought out. Sometimes, seeing two big monsters smash into each other is all you need to be entertained, and I certainly was for that sequence.
But coming full circle in order to give a rating for “Kong: Skull Island”, I am finding it tricky. Yes, Kong is fucking awesome and is by far the best part of it all, but the human interactions (besides the few exceptions like Samuel and to a small extent John C. Reilly), barely hit par. They’re not bad, but very little of it is all that fun ether. It feels like they tried SO HARD to get the big names on the cast, and then wrote generic scripts for them that don’t allow for real personalities to be generated. And so there’s a lot of talent being miscast as a result.Even if you are a die-hard monster fan, you will find this aspect hard to omit as a problem.
And yet that ending and final act left me with a big dumb smile on my face. I was almost giddy at the prospect of where things can now go with this series of movies. The parts that are good, are really good, and I cannot take that away from this film. On that last point, this is one I will recommend, I mean hell, of course you’re going to see it. But now you know that if you can suffer the dull moments, you will be rewarded with the times that are brilliant. Definitely better than Godzilla overall, but it would have achieved that by simply having Kong peek his face around the corner for more than five seconds.
Thanks for reading!