Kong: Skull Island is a typical yet satisfying creature feature – big, loud, silly and entertaining if you don’t expect anything past its visual effects.
A compelling original adventure from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, the film tells the story of a diverse team of scientists, soldiers, and adventurers, uniting to explore a mythical, uncharted island in the Pacific, as dangerous as it is beautiful. Cut off from everything, they know, the team ventures into the domain of the mighty Kong, igniting the ultimate battle between man and nature. As their mission of discovery becomes one of survival, they must fight to escape a primal Eden in which humanity does not belong. [WB]
In the second installment of the MonsterVerse (the 2014 Godzilla as the first), the Kong franchise explores the origins of its titular character.
Kong: Skull Island delivers the rip-roar (literally) entertainment it has promised in its trailers. Thanks to Industrial Light and Magic, CGI and practical effects combine to provide well rendered and stylized action scenes. While blockbusters usually have one big showdown in the climax, the action adventure movie throws in small action pieces in between its attention grabbing introduction and boss battle finish, so there’s a variety of moments to occupy your attention. Here, Kong smashing a Huey Helicopter looks as slick as Conrad slicing through an ugly cousin of the Pterodactyl in the middle of a smoke bomb.
These moments happen against a convincing backdrop created from exotic locations in Vietnam, Hawaii, and Australia, so the Skull Island looks distinctive from other movies. Production avoided backgrounds that were already seen from other films, taking on a huge logistics operation to the point of driving 12 hours just to get a crane for stunt work.
This detailing is also applied to the rest of the movie. The period is set in the early 70’s when NASA’s Landsat was taking satellite pictures, which gives the expedition a credible enough basis. The movie is littered with period nods like a Nixon bobblehead and Vietnam helicopter pilot helmets.
Vogt-Roberts, given an opportunity that female directors can only dream of, scores a big project after a successful directorial debut with the Sundance hit “Kings of Summer”, does well in utilizing these elements to make a story that’s essentially just getting from point A to point B interesting. Camerawork and cinematography provides vivid imagery.
While all of this makes Kong: Skull Island a fully realized world and an action adventure that has enough dumb fun to entertain the audiences, there’s nothing more to expect from this blockbuster.
King Kong is physically altered to have human-like features (he’s bipedal in this reboot), so if you prefer the old design he’ll look like a hairy Neanderthal walking around in an island that looks disproportionately small for his size yet somehow has plenty of room for MUTOs, including giant ants.
Illogical is not something that you would brand a movie that has a 100 foot ape in it. However, underneath all that expensive visuals is really just a B-movie action adventure with all its cliches such as the expedition gone wrong, stereotypical characters suddenly becoming stupid and contrived plot points to make way for action.
While the movie deserves kudos for casting a diverse crop of actors, there are too many characters so they all end up as poorly defined bugs to step on. The cast has nothing much to do but stand around at the right spot for the cameras, spew some inane dialogue, and react to stuff. The locals are used as silent props. John C. Reilly manages to liven things up, but its too little and too late.
In the end, its clear that this reboot is done to update the visual effects of a money-making monster franchise. Kong: Skull Island is big in scale and shallow in storytelling. Any of the allegorical elements of the original aren’t here and probably won’t ever be in future reiterations.
Still, the one part action adventure/one part origins story is a satisfying blockbuster if you don’t expect anything past its visual effects. It’s a creature feature plain and simple.
My Rating: 6/10