“Kong: Skull Island” Review

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The following review is spoiler-free. Also, yes, I know I look goofy in this picture. It was very windy.

“Kong: Skull Island” has plenty of issues. I’ll be the first one to admit it.

But “Kong” is also a movie that features a gigantic gorilla swatting down helicopters like flies or Tom Hiddleston wielding a sword and slaying bird monsters. I’m a sucker for ridiculous set pieces like these.

As a whole, “Kong: Skull Island” nails its huge cinematic, action moments, but falls short in its human drama. However, its lightning fast plot and self-aware tone save the movie from mediocrity, and ultimately leaves “Kong” as a fun, but forgettable monster movie.

To start with the positives, “Kong: Skull Island” has some absolutely brilliant CG effects. Despite being his fourth major motion picture, Kong remains a marvel to witness, and his new larger size makes him more remarkable than ever. Skull Island’s many other creatures are impressive as well. While I was disappointed in the overall lack of bizarre monsters, the designs for these creatures are memorable, and the scenes that feature them are the most tense and exciting moments of the movie.

While the monsters are the highlight of “Kong: Skull Island”, its human characters are its biggest weakness. The movie’s cast of diverse and colorful characters are established quickly. They are given thin backstories and motivations that I’m sure the writers thought were “good enough” to warrant these characters finding a skyscraper-sized monkey.

“Kong: Skull Island” may have an absolutely fantastic cast (Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman… the list is quite extensive), but most of the performances are pretty generic. Samuel L. Jackson, especially, plays his character like typical Samuel L. Jackson. Almost none of the characters are worth caring about. Many are in the movie simply to die, and their deaths are often more hilarious than emotionally impactful.

This, however, is intentional. “Kong: Skull Island” sacrifices meaningful characters for its humor and quick plot. “Kong” knows what it is, and why its audience has come to see it. It’s a movie about giant monsters, and the human characters are just there to move the plot.

And the plot certainly moves fast. There is never a dull moment in the film, as the story moves quickly enough to brush over any slow scenes. While this doesn’t forgive the movie for its flaws, as the fast pace keeps audience members from growing connected to the characters, “Kong” isn’t trying to be a compelling human drama in the first place.

The writing may fail in its characters, but “Kong” is quite funny. John C. Reilly, who absolutely steals the show, is fantastic as an island castaway found by the expedition team. The role fits Reilly perfectly, and every line of dialogue from his character made me smile. Humor comes through in other, more strange ways, like in the many human deaths or certain cutaway gags.

This humor makes the movie more fun. 2014’s “Godzilla”, which I still enjoyed, lacked both humor and compelling characters, so its only saving grace was its action. “Kong” has both humor and incredible set pieces, which makes this movie better than “Godzilla”.

On this topic, “Kong” is set in the same Warner Bros. “MonsterVerse” universe as 2014’s rebooted Godzilla film. “Kong” provides some interesting hints at the future of this universe. While the movie’s plot is enjoyable, it is clearly written to establish future monster films, and adds to the movie’s forgettable nature.

Another forgettable aspect of “Kong: Skull Island” is its visual style. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, using every generic action movie shot in the book, never establishes a distinct style. These shots include lens flares, rack focuses, and lots, and I mean lots, of slow motion. Some of the shots used in “Kong”, especially in its opening scene, are downright cheesy, but they work in terms of the movie’s humorous, self-aware tone.

While its visual style may be forgettable, the movie’s setting and time period is distinct. “Kong: Skull Island” is set in the post-Vietnam era of the United States, and the movie often resembles a Vietnam war movie at the surface level. The movie reinforces this aesthetic a little too much (especially in its excessive use of ‘70s rock), but it makes “Kong” stand out among the typical present-day settings of most action movies.

To end on one last note, while its licensed music may be generic, the orchestral score of “Kong” is quite good.

Conclusion

“Kong: Skull Island” will not be remembered as one of the best movies of 2017. As it shares many of the usual plot points, it doesn’t stand out much from previous King Kong films either. Its characters are written simply to carry the plot. This plot lacks a message, and most of the human drama isn’t emotionally compelling. The cast provides fairly generic performances (although John C. Reilly is the notable exception to this). Despite these flaws, the plot moves at an immensely enjoyable pace, and creates a rollercoaster ride of a movie that is incredibly fun, but ultimately forgettable. Both the visual and written humor are executed well, and add to the movie’s self-aware tone. The movie tries to be nothing other than a crazy, action-packed monster movie, and with its ridiculously cool set pieces, “Kong: Skull Island” succeeds in its mission, and left me walking away with a huge smile on my face.

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4 thoughts on ““Kong: Skull Island” Review

  1. I think that, while most of the review is fair, you failed to mention the heart this film has. While most of the characters serve only the plot, there is one character that is the very real beating heart of this film: Lieutenant Marlow. He is the through-line of this movie, and the scene during the credits (which I won’t spoil here) is a very touching moment which contains more heart than most action movies these days.

    As a whole, I feel like this review is a discredit to the love and fun that went into the creation of it. To call it, ‘a dumb action movie that knows what it is,” is a disservice in my opinion. A movie can be light on character work and that doesn’t have to be a negative as you put here.

    In -any- story, characters are vessels to propel said story. Watch a film like ‘Die Hard’ which is hailed as one of the greatest action movies of all time. John McClain is a cop who goes in, blows stuff up, and kills some bad dudes. There is very light character such a some mentions of his marriage troubles, but other than that, he’s killing dudes. But you can’t call it, “a dumb action movie,” because it isn’t dumb. Just because a film is focused on action and puts extremely deep characters in the passenger seat, it doesn’t make said film any worse than a movie like, “Boyhood.”

    (I ain’t sayin’ Kong is on the same level as Boyhood obviously, just that it is no less than Boyhood just due to the fact that one focuses on characters, while the other focuses on plot-progression and action.)

    I do think it’s important to acknowledge it’s flaws, however. You were right in that the plot was mainly predictable. I can remember quite a few times during the film that I was calling things that I knew would happen. And yeah, some of the deaths elicited some questionable emotional responses (however, I think a lot of that is due to how uncomfortable many of the deaths made me feel).

    Finally, I just think it’s important to acknowledge that films of all different genres can be “great.” An action film that focuses on action can be great, a comedy that is stupid fun can be great, and drama with tons of character depth and exposition can be great. As for Kong, if you walked out of the theater with a big smile on your face and a good feeling in you chest, I think it’s fair to call the movie great.

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    1. Thank you so much for reading! I completely agree with your point about Marlow. He is, no doubt, the heart of the film.

      I also did not mean to use “dumb action movie” as an insult. I should have made this clear. I love “dumb” action movies. You’re exactly right in saying action movies can be just as good as any film in other genres.

      Like

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