Kong: Skull Island Review: Monstrously Lackluster
Three years ago, Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures released their first entry into their MonsterVerse franchise with the Gareth Edwards directed Godzilla (2014). While mildly disappointing due to its lack of the titular lizard for most of the film, it still raked in enough profit for the studio to move forward with plans for a second installment in the franchise – and thus we’re given Kong: Skull Island.
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Skull Island is a reboot of the King Kong mythos set in the 1970’s just days after the US announces its withdrawal from Vietnam. The film’s soundtrack and overall aesthetic lean heavily on the nostalgia and feeling of films like Apocalypse Now – with the soundtrack blasting classic rock staples like Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Run Through the Jungle” and Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”. It’s a cliche’d move that is doubled down on when we get the military personnel blasting these songs over the loudspeakers from their choppers as they exercise their mission. I know it’s a monster movie, but it feels a little too hamfisted, and seems to be done only as a way to check the box that this movie is indeed set during the Vietnam War era.
Vogt-Roberts seems to do ok, with what he’s given, as it’s pretty apparent that the largest problem with this film is the script, which was written by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly. We get half-realized characters, that you find yourself not really caring for, set in a situation that should be epic with high stakes, but in the end is underwhelming and somewhat disappointing. The dialogue is also a bit stilted and most of the humor falls flat – though there are a few spots that absolutely hit, but they only come from John C. Reilly and most are already shown in the trailer. The pacing seems to be off, as well. At just under two hours, the movie drags in moments that end up making it feel a bit longer than it is.
The cinematography by Larry Fong (Batman v Superman) is fairly solid, giving us some really great shots of the landscape, framing the action nicely and keeping the film bright and beautiful. The effects by Industrial Light & Magic are also very well done! Everything from the scenery that is CG, to the massive creepy crawlies, to Kong himself was top notch.
The cast, as well, do a pretty great job with the generally sub-par script that they’re given. There’s actually a ton of A-list actors here, including John Goodman as Bill Randa, a Monarch researcher who is looked at as a crackpot by the government people he’s begging funding from; Tom Hiddleston as James Conrad, the jack-of-all-trades type who is hired as a tracker for the expedition; Brie Larson as reporter and activist Mason Weaver, who sort of takes on the Ann Darrow role, but never quite ends up being the damsel in distress; Samuel L. Jackson as Army Col. Preston Packard, who leads his men into the expedition and then begins his quest of vengeance against the massive gorilla for the death of his men; and John C. Reilly as Hank Marlow, a WWII pilot who was shot down over the island and managed to survive for nearly 20 years, and now serves as the troupe’s “native guide”.
Overall, this ends up being a film that does little more than what it set out to do: which is to set up the franchise. Coming out only a mere dozen years after Peter Jackson’s epic remake of the original 1933 film, I can’t help comparing it to that effort and realizing that Kong: Skull Island falls short of what it could be. It fails to quite hit the epic notes, and continually sabotages itself with humor that, most of the time, seems to miss. If you’re a big fan of monster movies, you might like it, as watching Kong go apeshit is definitely fun. If you absolutely have to see it in theaters, I’d recommend a matinee showing; otherwise, just wait for it to hit your local Redbox in a few months.