In Kong: Skull Island, we have the latest star-studded attempt to bring cinema’s favorite giant gorilla back to the big screen. Read on to see if this flick is worth the excursion!
It’s Got a Lot to Live Up to
Since the release of King Kong in 1933, Hollywood has remade the parable of beauty killing the beast at least twice (first by The Towering Inferno’s John Guillermin in 1976, and then in 2005 by The Lord of the Rings’ Peter Jackson), with less-than-stellar results. In both cases, the remakes failed to grasp just what it was that made the original so compelling, focusing on spectacle rather than trying to tell a compelling story (well, at least the ’05 one did, through copious amounts of inconsistent CGI; the ’76 one just ended up being boring when they couldn’t get their giant robot to work).
It’s Not a Remake
Aside from the sequels to the 1933 original (Son of Kong, 1933) and the ’76 Remake (King Kong Lives), the only real standalone King Kong movie was Japanese-American co-production King Kong VS Godzilla (1962), which put cinema’s two favorite giant monsters against each other in a battle for the ages (spoiler alert: the gorilla won).
While the narrative basics of a team travelling to a mysterious isle remain intact in Skull Island, gone is the third act in New York, and nowhere here does Kong feel the need to climb the tallest building in the city (The Empire State Building in ‘33 and ‘05, the World Trade Center Towers in ‘76). Gone too, is the central plot device of the giant gorilla falling in love with a beautiful blonde – here, we have an adventure specifically designed to maximize screen time of monsters beating the living daylights out of each other.
The 1970’s Setting is Surprisingly Refreshing
In place of the traditional 1930s setting or transposing the story to the modern day, this Kong is set immediately following the 1969 announcement of the end of the Vietnam conflict. Amidst widespread anti-government sentiment (“It’s never going to get crazier than this,” says one character) back home, battle-hardened military man Packard (Samuel L. Jackson, The Avengers) and his men are assigned to accompany scientists played by John Goodman (The Big Lebowski) and Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton, TV’s 24: Legacy) to Skull Island before the Russians can plumb it for secrets.
The Cast is Overqualified
Chockfull of talent, the cast is above and beyond your average blockbuster: Aside from the aforementioned Jackson, Goodman, and Hawkins, Skull Island boasts Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers, War Horse) as a former SAS operative-turned-mercenary, Brie Larson (who won the Best Actress Oscar for 2015’s Room) as a pacifist photographer, Toby Kebel (Black Mirror’s “The Entire History of You”), Jing Tian (Police Story 2013, The Great Wall), and John C. Reilly (Stepbrothers) as a pilot stranded on the island since World War II.
The Tone is All Over the Place
This is a movie where Hiddleston and Larson take turns seeing who can pull off the most heroic pose on a monster-infested island, while Samuel L Jackson goes fully mental, spouting inane platitudes and one-liners. Let’s not even start on the overly-schmaltzy home video that comes out of nowhere to play over the end credits.
Now, it isn’t hard to imagine this as a straight-up action romp a la Pacific Rim, but Skull Island’s filmmakers bit off more than they could chew in attempting to mine emotional material from characters who barely register as caricatures.
Now, when it sticks to monsters wailing on each other, the film is at its best; but the scenes in-between that should have been breathing room just come across as laughably half-baked, failing in their attempts to create pathos. The end result is a disparity in tones and performances that throw off what is otherwise an enjoyable giant monster movie.
The Visual Effects are Top Notch
Without question, the film outdoes itself in the visuals. Executed by the world’s foremost effects house, Industrial Light and Magic (established by George Lucas four decades ago to create the effects for the first Star Wars) King Kong has never looked this good. From the creature designs to the actual rendering of the monsters in motion, CGI has rarely looked this impressive, with the majority of encounters boldly taking place in broad daylight amongst various environments.
Too Much of a Good Thing
Remember the last ten minutes of Jurassic World, where the three-way fight between the Indominous Rex, the T-Rex, and a raptor brought the house down by being the most batshit crazy thing ever in a movie that was full of bashit crazy moments? Imagine that, but stretched out to a couple of hours – it’s fun for a while, but it gets exhausting!
Where Jurassic World built up to its prehistoric brawl for all across its entire runtime, Skull Island blows its load early with a spectacular attack on the heroes’ helicopters and tries to up the ante with one grandiose set piece after another.
Of course, it is only at the end of the film, after the credits have run, that we learn that the monster-on-monster fisticuffs of Skull Island was just the set up for..
Introducing the Monster Verse (SPOILER ALERT!)
In a move that should surprise no one at this point, the studio behind Skull Island is looking to create a multi-film series out of the King Kong property by placing him in a shared universe with other classic monsters. The monsters in this case hail from the classic Toho Studios stable, including Mothra, King Ghidorah, and yes, Godzilla himself. With a 21st century version of King Kong VS Godzilla already announced for release in 2020, we’re just hoping against hope that they get around to rebooting Gamera at some point.
Because there just aren’t enough giant flying turtle movies being made.
What are you excited about most in this movie?? Let us know below!